5 Golden Rules to Fight Fleas on your Pets & in the Environment
The following rules will help you to fight fleas on your pet and in the environment. For more knowledge or advice please call your local NCVC clinic. Thanks to Bayer Animal Health for this article.
5 Golden Rules to fight fleas on your pets
1. Protect ALL your pets against fleas. Cats and dogs share the same flea species.
- Even if your dog never goes near the cat in your house, forgetting to treat the cat can mean flea eggs are shed around the house, which develop into adult fleas that jump onto the dog! Dogs are great at scratching, itching and nibbling until you really know they have fleas, whereas cats may subtly groom in private, licking away fleas rather than scratching - so you may not think they your cat even gets fleas and flea dirt. Flea dirt check is to use a flea comb regularly to look for fleas and flea dirt. Flea dirt appears as small dark particles which can be confused for soil. If you wet this dirt on a damp wet white paper towel, and it turns browny red then it will be flea dirt... as it's actually digested blood.
- It's best to discourage untreated neighbour's cats or strays, which are unlikely to be flea treated, from coming into your pet's environment - they can shed flea eggs in your garden or home which develop into adult fleas that jump onto your pets.
2. Protect your pets with a trusted flea treatment ALL year round
- No breaks over winter. In the New Zealand climate fleas really are a year round problem. Preventing an infestation is easier than treating one. On average New Zealanders are only using 8 weeks of flea treatment on their cats and 11 weeks of flea treatments on their dogs per year*. This is simply not enough to protect them and prevent flea infestations in your home.
- The flea’s lifecycle of adult-egg-larvae-pupae-adult is temperature and humidity dependent. The more ideal the weather is, the faster they can reproduce… In warmer weather new fleas usually emerge in 3-4 week cycles but in perfect conditions it can take just 12 days! If conditions don’t suit, the lifecycle stretches out up to 140 days – this means that even properties that have been empty for a few months can suddenly have a flea epidemic when new tenants move in. It takes very low temperatures to kill fleas off, about -1°C for 5 days, so they can survive in the environment and in our houses all year around in most parts of New Zealand. Even in the coldest South Island valleys they overwinter on wildlife reservoirs, like rabbits, rodents, possums and hedgehogs.
3. Check you’re using the product correctly
- Buy trusted flea treatment from vet clinics or specialty pet retailer stores and make sure you read all the instructions inside the packet before using.
- Right dose? Weigh your pet accurately at the vets – don’t just guess their weight. Then get the right pack size for your pet’s weight.
- Right application? Did you manage to part the hair and get all the liquid onto your cat’s skin at the back of the head, for example? Was your pet wet when you applied it, or did they get wet before it dried? This could stop the product absorbing properly. Is your pet’s Seresto collar fitted snugly so that the active ingredient can be delivered to the skin? Make sure that you can fit 2 fingers flat between the collar and the skin. If the collar is too loose then it will not work correctly – you can always ask your vet clinic to check this fit for you.
- Correct re-application time? It can be confusing as different products have different re-application times. Check how long each gives protection for and don’t leave gaps between treatments. It’s easy with Advantage and Advocate – each lasts 4 weeks for flea protection, and with Seresto there are 8 months of flea protection. If the product has been sitting in your cupboard at home for a while, check that it’s not expired.
4. Learn the flea life cycle and think about where your pet may have picked up new fleas
- Followed the first 3 rules? Still seeing fleas? This does not mean that the product is not working – remember that no flea treatment acts like an invisible ‘force field’ around your pet, preventing fleas from jumping onto them. It is entirely possible to see fleas on a treated pet even when all the ‘rules’ have been followed, however if you have treated correctly with a Bayer flea treatment these fleas will have been exposed to the active ingredient.
- As a general rule if you can pick fleas off an animal relatively easily; they are already slowing down and are busy dying. Healthy fleas are too fast to catch. Nothing can stop new fleas jumping from the environment onto a flea treated animal, and it can be hard to tell where they have picked them up from sometimes… common sources are infested wildlife or strays that have wandered through the garden, pathways or parks (your pet does not have to come into contact directly with these animals – they may have just passed through in the night and left fleas or eggs in the environment.) Even visiting animals can bring fleas or flea eggs into your house… as can their owners, when flea eggs stick to their clothing and shake off in your home.
- So, it’s actually normal to still be able to see a few fleas even on a treated pet from time to time – This is a good thing…pets can act like little hoovers, and once the fleas jump on a treated animal they will die.
5. Be Patient
If you have fleas in the house it may take several weeks to stop seeing them altogether, as new fleas emerge from their protected pupal cocooned stage, but there are lots of things you can do to help… see our 5 Golden rules to fight fleas in the environment for more flea info!
5 Golden Rules to fight fleas in your environment
As we’ve seen in the 5 golden rules to fight fleas on your pet factsheet, 95% of the flea population isn’t found on animals at all… it’s found as eggs, larvae, pupae or pre-emerged adults in the environment. If you have been seeing fleas regularly on your correctly treated pet, then treating the environment too is vital to get rid of fleas sooner. The aim of environmental control is to break the life cycle and stop reinfestation of the animal. Targeting the most vulnerable stages is important. Pupae are virtually impossible to kill or remove so are not the ideal stage to concentrate on.
1. Dual action pet treatment
Use a pet flea treatment that kills BOTH adult fleas AND targets another lifecycle stage too. Advantage, Advocate and Seresto all kill adult fleas on your pet and larval flea stages in the pet’s surroundings. The active ingredient is shed in pet’s dander and hair around their sleeping areas and so larvae are exposed this way.
2. Treat the house
Use an Insect Growth Regulating (IGR) flea fogger/ flea bomb and/or target spray in your pets’ environment. Asking your vet clinic for their recommendation on brand is a good idea. Follow the instructions carefully, and don’t forget to treat the car if your pet spends time travelling with you.
3. Remove off-host life stages
Remove as many flea eggs and larvae as possible in the house. Washing the bedding initially in hot water helps physically to remove the eggs and kill larvae. Wash pet’s blankets, beds, pet carriers and throw rugs.
An initial vacuuming of floors will remove up to 90% of the eggs but is unlikely to remove many pupae or larvae. Larvae crawl deep into carpet and floorboard cracks and can even grip onto carpet fibres! Once vacuuming is done once, repeat vacuuming does little to remove any further eggs or larvae but might encourage new fleas to hatch in response to pressure and vibration – then once they are out in the open, rather than hiding as pupae, we can kill them with repeat fogging or use your treated pet as a flea hoover!
Vacuum very regularly (every couple of days) for best effect, and include the car
and furniture. Larvae are the most vulnerable stage and our efforts should be concentrated on eliminating this stage. They will concentrate in hot spots where the pet deposits a lot of flea eggs and which are conducive to larval survival. Bedding and carpets where the animal lies are obvious spots. Less obvious spots are areas at carpeted doorways where the animal jumps to greet you when you return home.
It makes sense to concentrate on the areas your pet spends most of their time… this is likely where flea eggs will have fallen off their coat and developed into new fleas – your pet’s favourite sleeping area can become a ‘flea nest’ or ‘nursery’ if you like! This might even be happening at the foot of your own bed. Don’t forget the car upholstery, furniture or underestimate wooden floors and tiles for places for flea development to occur.
4. Tackle outdoor areas
The garden is also a place where the flea stages develop. A tidy backyard discourages wildlife (including rodents) which can carry fleas and allows less favourable areas for fleas to develop. Leaf litter should be removed from areas where the pets like to rest.
Animals often pick up new infestations outdoors, even in their own backyard. E.g. under house access, in garden borders, bushes… places where other animals (stray cats or dogs, rabbits, hedgehogs, possums, rodents etc.) could have passed through without you realising and shed flea eggs many months ago…which have now developed and waiting to jump on your pet! Fleas seem to like plants such as Agapanthus…these provide a nice moist
environment for their eggs to survive underneath.
So prevent pet and stray animals from entering crawl spaces, foundation vents, porches and garages. Ask friends to make sure their pets are flea treated before they visit your house for doggy play dates too.
5. Exercise your patience!
It may take 2-4 months to control flea populations. Fleas that are seen during this time are not adults that have survived previous treatments, but are new fleas still emerging from their cocoons. They will be killed soon after they jump onto their host…provided the host
has correctly applied treatment on them.
If you live in a rural area or have a really big garden with heaps of wildlife reservoirs harbouring fleas, it can be very difficult to eradicate off-host stages altogether – do your best to tidy the area near the house and your animals resting areas, and expect that you may see fleas on your pets from time to time.
If you do see fleas and they are moving slow enough to catch – success – they are busy dying!