By Julie Fossa
It's not uncommon for flea populations to explode five to
six weeks after warm weather gets here, and so do the posts from owners
faced with evicting the uninvited guests. While there are over 2000 flea
species, the cat flea 'ctenocephalides felix' is the species we encounter
on our pets, including birds. Rodents have their own species, however,
from what I could find, the standard eradication methods would be
effective for either.
Fleas are flat, side to side, with hair-like bristles on
their bodies and legs that aid in locomotion. They have three pairs of
legs to facilitate jumping and have an exoskeleton, eyes, and mouths
equipped to suck blood. They can jump 150 times their body length and 9-15
inches high. Adult fleas cannot survive or lay eggs without a blood meal.
A female will eat fifteen times her body weight in blood daily. Fleas can
be carriers of tape worms if your pet ingests them. If you see one flea,
there may be 100 more hiding in furniture or bedding.
Fleas and butterflies have the same life cycle. They have
four stages: Eggs, Larvae (caterpillar), Pupae (cocoon), and Adult.
Completion of the life cycle can range from 2 weeks to 8 months with an
average of 3-4 weeks. However, it can stall as long as two years.
While sources vary on the percentages, flea populations
are comprised of 50% eggs, 30% larvae, 15% pupae and 5% of biting adults.
Another source claims 34% eggs, 57% larvae, 8% pupae, and 1% biting
adults. It doesn't really matter which source is right, you can still have
a big problem if you only see one hardworking female adult.
A happy, well fed female can lay as many as 15 to 20 eggs
in a day. Another source claims she can produce more, 31- 46. She can lay
up to 600 during her lifetime. If your pet has just 10 females for one
month, they can multiply to an army of over one-quarter of a million
strong in various life stages.
Once the female finds a host, she will take two to three
blood meals so she will have extra droppings to feed the young larvae.
Feeding periods last from four to seven minutes. She will lay her eggs two
days after taking her first blood meal. This pattern will continue for her
lifetime which can be from 12 up to 113 days.
Flea eggs are not sticky, like many parasite eggs,
so after they are loosely laid on the hair shafts, they will drop off
where the pet sleeps, plays or rests. These eggs will then hatch anywhere
from two days to two weeks, becoming larvae. If the eggs are deposited
indoors, the larvae will reside in cracks and crevices in floors, along
baseboards, under rug edges, in furniture or beds.
If the eggs drop off and hatch outdoors, the larvae will
thrive in sand and gravel, preferring moist sand boxes or under shrubs.
Larvae take anywhere from a week to several months to
develop. Their food consists of digested blood from adult flea feces, dead
skin, hair, and other organic matter. Larvae do not live off of fresh
blood from the animal. The larvae will establish a silky cocoon made of
pet hair, carpet fiber, grass cuttings, dust, or whatever is available,
for it's next stage of development. Once in it's cocoon, the pupae will
develop into the adult flea. Fleas usually survive the winter in the
larval or pupal stage. They grow best during warm, moist, temperate
seasons. Optimal temps for fleas are 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, with 70%
Adult fleas can emerge or remain in the cocoon until the
environment is right for their survival. They will emerge at the detection
of vibration -- caused by the movement of the host, pressure -- such as an
animal laying down on them, or presence of heat, noise or carbon dioxide
-- indicating a potential blood source. Adult fleas emerge fully ready to
populate their environment. They can hibernate in the cocoon from two
months to one year without feeding.
Given fleas' ability to multiply and survive, how do you
protect your pet and home? There are several options, beginning with
treating your yard to prevent you or your pets from bringing in a hitch
Products known as Insect Growth Regulators (IGR) prevent
the completion of the life cycle. This is applied to your yard and is
effective for 30 days. There are some links at the end of this article for
sites that offer these products. Also, local pest control companies
usually offer this service.
There are a number of products available to protect your
pet. Using these products will help keep fleas out of your home. These
include Frontline, Frontline Plus, Advantage and Revolution. The Frontline
products and Advantage work on the surface of the skin and oil layer and
are NOT absorbed into the skin. Revolution and Program are absorbed into
the bloodstream. These products not only eliminate fleas but will
eliminate ear mites and skin mites. Revolution will protect against heart
worm and Program is also used to treat ringworm, a fungal infection. We
will look at them individually.
Advantage: Benefits include stops fleas from
biting in 3-5 minutes and starts killing fleas within the hour. The
fleas stop laying eggs, so no eggs means no larvae, no pupae and so no
new fleas. The literature claims 98-100% of adult fleas are dead
within 12 hours. New exposures die within 2 hours and 99% of the
larvae are killed within 20 minutes. Per the FHL archives, the dose is
one whole tube of the 'less than 9 pound' cat dose. It is off-label
use for ferrets, but safe and effective.
Frontline and Frontline Plus: Comes in a spot-on
and spray Dose for the spot-on is one tube of the 5-15 pound cat dose
which will provide relief for 4-5 weeks. Frontline spray is the most
economical choice. It has no expiration date, and the dose is 1 spray
per pound of body weight. Frontline kills fleas, eggs and larvae for
an entire month. It also kills ticks. It is waterproof even after
swimming or bathing. It is safe to use on puppies and kittens (and
ferrets). The Frontline Plus is gentle enough to use on pregnant or
nursing dogs and cats. Frontline is not absorbed into the bloodstream
and is off-label use for ferrets, but is safe and effective.
Revolution: This product not only deals with the
fleas, but will prevent heart worm when 1 tube of the '5-15 pound' cat
dose is used once a month. Lower doses did not protect against heart
worm. This is a safe and effective dose for ferrets. For ear mites,
the dose needs to be applied on the back of the head, between the
ears, and needs to be repeated after 3 weeks. Revolution is absorbed
into the bloodstream, which is how it is able to protect against heart
worms. Revolution is safe to use at the age of 6 weeks. Pfizer
actually tested this product for effectiveness on ferrets.
Program: Available in pill form, Program works
when the flea bites your pet. The flea then lays eggs that cannot
hatch. The negative with this product, in my opinion, is that it
doesn't give your pet relief from the fleas very quickly and it takes
longer to break the cycle. However, Program is safe and effective, and
is even an effective treatment for ringworm. It is considered
off-label use [for ferrets].
Advantix: This product is NOT safe for
ferrets nor cats Nix the AdvanTix!
How do you get rid of the fleas you already have in your
home? Vacuum all carpet, floors and furniture. Put a flea collar in the
bag or tank and destroy the contents after each use. This will remove as
many fleas and eggs as possible, but it will also stimulates the fleas in
the cocoons that are ready to hatch to emerge due to the heat and
vibration. Vacuum prior to the treatment then again 24 hours afterward.
Treat with a product that is safe for pets. Your vet should be able to
recommend a good product. There are also links below with products that
treat fleas. One website recommended vacuuming every day for 2-3 weeks to
expedite the removal of fleas. Remember to empty the bag so they can't
jump back out!
You need to wash your ferret's bedding, after treatment,
before placing them back into their cage/area. Don't forget to wash toys
and other out of cage bedding or places fleas might hide.
For hardwood floors, vacuum floors and baseboard then
spray floor making sure to reach all cracks and crevices. Make sure the
product you select for treatment is acceptable for use on hard surface
Preferred products have Permethrin with an IGR such as
Flea Fix. Another excellent product, Knockout E.S., is available through
veterinarians or by Internet, and has a pyrethrin base. This product kills
active flea infestations and keeps infestations from developing. It
prevents flea re-infestation for 7 months.
Carefully follow all safety precautions for protecting all
pets during any chemical treatments. Pyrethrins are natural insecticides
produced by certain species of the Chrysanthemum plant. Other chemicals
are added in to make the pyrethrins more effective.
All information with exception to personal experiences
were taken from the following websites. There are other pertinent posts on
the FHL for those who are interested. Also, purchasing the larger doses of
Frontline and Advantage and using measured drops for the ferrets is an
accepted, vet approved, means of protecting our ferrets from fleas.
Flea control supplies:
Flea elimination from your property:
FHL archives search for safe flea products:
Advantage dose size:
Frontline spray dose:
Revolution dose and benefits:
Revolution for ear mites: