Believe it or not, flea season is just beginning. Many people think of fleas as a summertime pest, but early fall can actually be the worst time for fleas in central Iowa.
Fleas are a common insect parasite that feeds off our pets, causing intense itching, sores and hair loss. Fleas also carry tapeworms and blood parasites and, in severe infestations, can lead to anemia and even death.
The most common flea in Iowa is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis). This species of flea feeds off dogs, cats, rabbits and occasion- ally humans. Adult fleas live only on the pet, taking frequent blood meals. Injection of flea saliva during the blood meal and a subsequent allergic reaction to the saliva causes intense itching in many of our dogs and cats.
Adult fleas, however, are only the tip of the iceberg. Fleas also have an egg, larva and pupal stage that fall off the pet and live in the environment. These stages are barely visible to the naked eye and are inapparent in most home environments. Pre-adult fleas live in carpets, pet beds, baseboards, couch cushions and wherever your dog or cat spends time. Heat, humidity and motion cause the pupa to hatch into adult fleas. So in the warmth and humidity of an Iowa August, we start seeing adult fleas on our pets.
The way to control fleas is to understand this life cycle and kill both pre-adult and adult fleas. Pre-adult flea numbers can be decreased by cleaning, vacuuming and applications of borax in the carpet. Borax is safe and inexpensive and kills eggs and larva by its drying effect. Insect Growth Regulators such as methoprene and lufenuron are also very effective in breaking the flea life cycle. These compounds mimic the effect of insect hormones preventing the egg and larval forms of the flea from hatching out. Veterinary products such as Sentinel, Program and Frontline Plus contain IGRs.
Traditionally baths, powders, sprays and dips were used extensively to kill adult fleas. These products typically only kill some adults and have a very short-lived effect. In the past 20 years, numerous new products have become available to more effectively kill adult fleas. Topicals such as Frontline Plus (fipronil and methoprene), Easy Spot (fipronil) and Advantage (imidacloprid) can be effective. Some excellent oral products are now also available, preventing the mess of topical application. Comfortis and Trifexis contain spinosad which kills adult fleas quickly and lasts a full month. Capstar (nitenpyram) is another safe, very fast-acting flea killer that has the disadvantage of a short duration of action.
Iowa veterinarians are well versed in all aspects of the flea life cycle, so the place to start if you have a flea problem is to call your veterinarian. Depending on your household, your veterinarian may recommend one of the new oral products like Trifexis, topicals such as Easy Spot or simply more cleaning and vacuuming of the environment. So, don’t let fleas cause you and your pets irritation. They are very treatable with the advice of your veterinary office. Call us at Westfield Pet Hospital, 515-986-5738 for more information.
Information provided by Tera Dupuy, DVM, Westfield Veterinary Hospital, 8789 N.W. 54th Ave., Johnston, 515-986-5738.