Warmer weather brings blossoms and blooms and unfortunately, bugs. March signals the beginning of flea and tick season and is the time to start taking preventive measures against fleas. Understanding the flea life cycle will help you eliminate them from your pets.
The female adult flea will dine on a blood meal from the host (I.e., you, your cat, your dog, your kids, etc.) and then lay 40 to 50 eggs every day. The eggs will fall off your pet as they move around your home, taking about two weeks to hatch. Once the larvae hatch out of the eggs, it takes approximately another two weeks before they spin their cocoon and become a pupa. During this stage the cocoon is very sticky and becomes covered with dirt and debris, making it nearly unrecognizable to the homeowner. It is during this phase that the pupa is nearly impervious to chemicals. Aside from the “ick” factor, this stage is quite interesting. The pupa will not hatch into an adult flea until the environmental conditions are just right and there is a host available for food. Warm temperatures, increased humidity, and vibrations will trigger the hatch. This situation often occurs on a larger than normal scale after pet owners have been away from home, such as on vacation. The dog or cat is boarded, the home heater turned down, and there are no vibrations. Vacation over, people pick up their pets, head home, turn the heat up, breathe a lot of moisture and carbon dioxide into the home and create vibrations with their movement and two weeks later they are calling their boarding facility claiming their pet brought home the scourge of fleas!
While this information is all very interesting/disgusting, I’m sure you are wondering what on earth it does to help get rid of the little buggers. Well, it tells us when the optimal time is to kill off the population. We know the easiest time to kill them is immediately after the adult fleas hatch. We also know what triggers them to hatch from that life stage. Because flea pupa can survive in a cocoon for up to a year it makes sense to trigger the hatching on your schedule when you are prepared to deal with them. Turning up the heat, running a humidifier, running the vacuum cleaner frequently is enough to get things happening. This is where you need to discuss safe products with your veterinarian. There are easily a thousand products that claim both safe and effective control of fleas, but unfortunately, there are few that are both safe and effective in use. Many products contain pyrethrin, a chemical that can be quite toxic to cats. Discount products containing toxic levels of insecticides produced in overseas markets have been found to be responsible for seizures, hair loss, neurological damage, and even death after just one application. Misleading labels can result in products designed specifically for dogs also being applied to cats, with tragic results. Countless pet owners who are looking for the least expensive way to combat flea infestations end up creating even bigger health problems by using these inferior products.
But don’t lose heart! There are ways of combating an infestation without going bankrupt, but it takes perseverance and at least a small investment in a quality product for your pet, especially for cats. Start by vacuuming your entire house, carpeted or not. Immediately empty the bag or canister OUTSIDE in a sealed bag or container. Then vacuum and empty AGAIN. Wash all bedding, both yours and your pet’s. Vacuum furniture and cushions. Bath your pet, not necessarily in a harsh chemical shampoo but at least in a mild dish soap. Run a fine-toothed comb through their hair, such as a flea comb, rinse and repeat. Give the veterinarian recommended product at this point. You will need to spend the next two weeks running your sweeper, combing your pet, and cleaning your bedding and furniture. In two weeks do a deep clean and treat your carpets again, catching the freshly hatched adult fleas. Even hiring a professional exterminator seldom kills all the fleas in their various life stages in one fell swoop. Remember the cocoon stage? Those things are like tiny little bomb shelters-almost nothing gets in! They must hatch in order to be killed.
Truly the easiest way to deal with flea infestations is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Starting your pet on a treatment regimen now can save you money, time, and heartache in the long run, but you have to do your homework. Talk to your vet about which products are safe for your dog, and especially your cat. Consider letting your vet apply treatment to your cat so that they can watch for early symptoms of sensitivity or toxicity. If your cat likes to hang out with your dog use a product on the dog that is safe for the cat as well. Treat your yard now, following directions for an application that is safe for your pets. Don’t wait until everyone is sitting around scratching, take steps now to prevent an environment infestation and your pets and your family will have a much happier, much healthier Spring.
Signs and symptoms that may indicate your cat is reacting to a flea product:
- Excessive Drooling
- Muscle Tremors, Staggering
- Vomiting, Difficulty Breathing
- Behavior, such as agitation or overly excited
If your cat exhibits symptoms and is wearing a flea collar remove it IMMEDIATELY. If you applied a topical product to your cat, bath it with Dawn dish soap to remove the chemical. Contact your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline at 1-55-213-6680.
Monitor the use of pyrethrin in and around your home, as they are often ingredients in many insecticides and pest control compounds.