Fleas and How to Control Them

It’s getting to be that time of year when we get to hear those dreaded words on the phone – I found fleas on my pet, help! Flea infestations can actually happen all year round. This is likely because the pets picked up a few fleas several weeks ago and the perky parasites are just making themselves noticeable. Let’s cover a few strategies for dealing with fleas. 

Let’s start with the life cycle of the flea: In the beginning, there is the egg. Flea eggs are white and about the size of a grain of sand. Eggs will usually hatch in 1-10 days, depending on the temperature and humidity of the environment they fell into. These larvae move deeper into the carpet, floor crevice or wherever they can get away from light and start searching for food. When the larva is mature, it will produce a silk-like cocoon that is so sticky it quickly becomes coated with debris from the environment around it to camouflage the cocoon. The cocoon is impervious to any kind of destruction, including the flea treatments that we rely on for killing other life stages. The young flea will stay in their cocoons from 9-174 days.

Adult fleas emerge from the cocoon when stimulated by heat, vibrations, and exhaled carbon dioxide. Then, they seek an animal (or human) to jump on and feed upon! The entire adult life cycle of the flea is spent on a host. Adult fleas cannot survive more than 3 or 4 days without a blood meal once they have started feeding. Egg production begins within 48 hours of the adult flea’s first blood meal and reaches a peak of 40-50 eggs per day. Adult female fleas can produce over 2000 eggs during their lifetime.

Flea control involves attacking the flea in as many areas of the life cycle as we can. Environmental treatments are used to target the eggs and larvae that actually make up the bulk of the entire flea population. There are a number of products that are available over the counter or at your veterinarian’s office. There are a number of different formulations that can be used to kill the adult fleas. Some of these products also have IGRs – Insect Growth Regulators – that will help control the egg and larval stages as well. Reapplication of these products may vary from once a week to once a month and even once every three months. Too often owners stop treatments too early or they only work on one area of the flea life cycle and are surprised to find that they still have a flea problem. It usually takes months of treatment and control of the environment (both house and yard) to win the battle with the dreaded flea.

Dr. Carla Christman
Healthy Pet Veterinary Clinic