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FLEAS: Facts, Trivia, Prevention and Eradication

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% humidity.

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 hiker.

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 flooring.

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.

References:

Flea info: http://www.fleasmart.com/life.htm

IGRs: http://www.fleasmart.com/igr.htm

Advantage: http://www.nofleas.com/Flea-Life-Cycle.asp

Flea Facts: http://www.nofleas.com/Flea-Facts.asp

General information: http://vetmedicine.about.com/od/parasites/f/FAQ_fleacycle.htm

Flea info: http://vetmedicine.about.com/cs/diseasesall/a/befreeoffleas.htm

Flea biology: http://vetmedicine.about.com/cs/diseasesall/a/befreeoffleas.htm

Flea Info: http://www.pest-control-supplies.com/flea_life_cycle.htm

Flea control supplies: http://www.pest-control-supplies.com/permitherin.htm

Frontline: http://frontline.us.merial.com/products/index.asp

Flea elimination from your property: http://frontline.us.merial.com/products/index.asp

K9-Advantix: http://ferrethealth.org/archive/browse.php?msg=SG14345

FHL archives search for safe flea products: http://ferrethealth.org/archive/browse.php?msg=SG14337

Advantage dose size: http://ferrethealth.org/archive/browse.php?msg=SG9830

Frontline spray dose: http://ferrethealth.org/archive/browse.php?msg=SG6677

Revolution dose and benefits: http://ferrethealth.org/archive/browse.php?msg=SG13107

Revolution for ear mites: http://ferrethealth.org/archive/browse.php?msg=SG6676

http://ferrethealth.org/archive/browse.php?msg=SG13009

Program information: http://ferrethealth.org/archive/browse.php?msg=YG2413

http://ferrethealth.org/archive/browse.php?msg=YG1516

Pyrethrins -definition and additives: http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/profiles/extoxnet/pyrethrins-ziram/pyrethrins-ext.html

Knockout E.S: http://www.entirelypets.com/knockoutes16oz.html


 

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