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Fleas and Flea Control

Fleas are parasites of most mammals and birds, particularly irritating because of their frequent bites. The usual flea to infest dogs is the cat flea, Ctenocephaldes felis, with the dog flea, Ctenocephaldes canis being less common. They will quickly and easily jump from dog to man to cat or so forth, not being particular from whence they feed. They prefer to live below 5000 feet elevation, and thrive in warm, moist climates.

Fleas live by sucking blood from their hosts. Eggs are laid on the host or in carpet, bedding materials and the yard. They hatch into maggot-like larvae, which feed on flea dirt, which is the fecal material of live fleas, made up primarily of blood, and other debris in the area. The female flea can lay hundreds of eggs in her lifetime, which is why fleas seem to multiply before your eyes. The flea larvae form a cocoon, pupate, and then hatch into adults. This whole cycle takes as little as 3 weeks, but can last almost 2 years; it will proceed fastest in the warm and humid summer months.

The bite of the flea alone is quite itchy, but in some dogs, a severe, intense allergic reaction to flea saliva, known as Flea Allergic Dermatitis can occur. These dogs have hair loss, extreme itching, and secondary infections of the skin. Fleas may be identified by seeing 1-2mm black/brown specks racing (they move very fast) across the back, groin and hindleg areas of the dog. Tiny sand-sized black specks may be present in the fur, called flea dirt, which if wetted, will turn red, as this is digested blood-droppings of the flea. Tiny white specks may also be seen on the fur, these being the flea eggs.


At any given time, only 1% of the flea population exists in the adult stage; the other 99% are eggs, larvae and pupae just waiting to become adults and infest your dog. Understanding this fact is essential to winning the war against fleas; simply spraying or dipping the dog will seldom do more than destroy a tiny fraction of your local flea army. There is no one-plan-fits-all strategy, but in short, killing and repelling fleas on the dog, as well as destroying and removing the eggs and larvae from the house and yard are essential parts of any strategy.

It is best to work with your veterinarian to select safe and effective products. There are hundreds if not thousands of products sold today, many that are unproven and unsafe. Your veterinarian will generally have the latest improvements and safest agents available. Avoid untrained pet store personnel who have little training in chemistry and parasite control. Most are simply trying to sell you a product, not treat your pet in the best possible manner.

ORAL PREVENTATIVES are now the state of the art "go to" product. A simple once-a-month chewable tab will give 100% coverage of your pet, fantastic safety, and not only do these products kill fleas, THEY STOP FLEAS FROM REPRODUCING! This gives great benefits on both fronts. We currently recommend Simparica.

TOPICAL REPELLANTS such as TriTak, Frontline and Advantage are applied to the skin of the dog or cat where they spread out and over the entire skin area. These provide a near total body flea collar and are very effective in killing and repelling fleas. These agents have minimal toxicity for most pets: side effects are very rare. These are no longer considered the "state of the art" in flea and tick control today because the oral products provide superior coverage and kill. Avoid "knock off" products such as those sold in chain stores. We have seen poor performance and some severe toxic reactions from many off-brand chemicals sold in pet and retail stores. We also advise against products like Hartz, Sargents and Store-Name Brands.

DIPS provide quick and effective flea kill and can usually be mixed from a concentrate and poured or sponged onto your dog. They are not used much anymore except in extreme circumstances. Few safe and effective products are still marketed today. Do not rinse off the dip to provide residual anti-flea activity.

TOPICAL SPRAYS such as ADAMS spray, works well to quickly kill fleas and is very safe even for young animals. Sprays can be used in conjunction with topical and/or systemic medications. Alcohol-based sprays work best, but some people and dogs may be bothered by the fumes, so less effective water-based treatments are also available. We have ADAMS Spray always available. It is a well-proven product and has been around for years now.

SHAMPOOS also kill adult fleas, and assist in cleaning eggs and dirt from the coat, but have minimal strength or residual activity and no effectiveness against flea eggs. Using shampoo then dipping or using a spray is the best strategy if you choose this route.

FLEA COLLARS can be toxic to your dog and can irritate the skin on the neck of your pet. Flea collars are generally a waste of money compared to high-quality spot-on products now available.

FOGGERS and SPRAYS for the house and yard are useful in controlling the balance of your flea population. Newer foggers have time-release agents providing kill for weeks after application. Many contain growth regulators to inhibit the hatching of eggs already in the environment. Foggers also apply their chemicals EVERYWHERE which happens to be where the fleas live, so these can be very useful in getting a bad flea problem quickly under control. Many sprays work in similar fashion but are better suited for direct application to baseboards and bedding areas where the heaviest infestations occur.

Vacuuming the carpets, or better, using a carpet cleaning machine before spraying or fogging works well to remove eggs, larvae and pupae, as well as the dirt on which the larvae feed. Be certain to dispose of vacuum bags far from the house as live fleas can crawl out and find their way back home.

Spaying the yard; grass, fences, patios and dirt areas with a yard spray made for fleas is also important to get flea problems under control. Spraying may be needed every 7-10 days in warmer weather, and you can do it yourself or hire professional exterminators to do the job for you. Be careful to keep your dogs away from freshly sprayed areas until they are dry. We have several good yard sprays and an area foggers with great flea egg activity.