Flea Treatments: How Do They Work?

flea treatment

If you are a dog or cat owner then you know how insidious fleas can be.  These parasitic insects can infest your pet’s coat, causing her to scratch excessively and making her life miserable. Fleas can be an issue all year long, but spring and summer are especially troublesome because this is when flea populations explode.  And if one of your animals is infected, then there is a good chance that your other animals are infected, too.

So what do these little parasites look like?  Adult fleas are reddish-brown and less than 1/8th of an inch long.  They have three pairs of legs, the last pair designed for jumping. In fact, fleas can jump up to seven inches across and 13 inches high.  They regularly jump on and off of hosts and start feeding within seconds of landing on a new one. The flea mouth is specially designed to pierce an animal’s skin and suck blood.

Normally two flea species infest domestic cats and dogs.  Ctenocephalides felis is the species most often found on cats, and Ctenocephalides canis is the species usually found on dogs. Fleas, though, are not terribly particular, and either species can infect either cats or dogs.

What are the signs that your pet has fleas?

  • Visible adult fleas on your pet’s skin or coat
  • Excessive scratching leading to red skin or hair loss
  • Flea excrement (dark specks) on your animal’s skin or fur
  • Flea eggs (white specks) on your pet’s skin or fur

If you are not sure that your pet has fleas, one way to check is by placing a white piece of paper on the floor while coming your dog or cat’s fur.  If your pet is infested, then dark, reddish-brown specks will fall off onto the paper.

Most owners at one time or another consider using a flea treatment to get rid of the creepy little critters.  What are these treatments and how do they work?

Three-Prong Approach to Flea Removal

Fleas have four life stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult.  The female adult flea lays her eggs while on a host, but the eggs are not attached to the host’s skin or fur and slip onto the floor. The eggs then hatch larvae, which eat hair, dead skin cells and other organic debris until they enter the pupa stage and spin a cocoon.  Adult fleas emerge from the cocoon five days to two weeks later and immediately start looking for a host.

To completely rid your animals and your home of fleas, it is important to attack all four flea life stages. Since fleas are stubborn things, this requires a coordinated, three-prong approach.

First, you want to kill the existing adult insects on your pet.

Second, you want to kill larvae before they reach the pupa stage.  Once the larvae spin their protective cocoon, it becomes much more difficult to eradicate them.

Third, you want to kill any eggs to keep future flea generations from hatching.  After all, one female flea can lay up to 50 eggs every day, so even if you kill all the larvae and all the adults, you can still have hundreds, if not thousands, of eggs waiting to hatch all over the house.

The most popular ways to kill pet fleas are by using an oral treatment (pills, tablets or chews) or a topical treatment (shampoos and powders or a spot treatment like drops).  Keep in mind, though, that treatments that work for dogs are often dangerous for cats and visa versa, so make sure that you have the right medication for the right animal.

Oral Treatments

Oral treatments provide flea protection for your pet’s entire body.  They use a poison or neurotoxin called an Insect Development Inhibitor (IDI) to kill existing adult fleas by getting into your pet’s bloodstream, traveling to his skin and poisoning fleas when they bite and suck his blood or oil secretions.  The insects, though, do not immediately die after biting your pet.  They travel back to their nest and infect their friends, too.

Some oral treatment chemicals kill existing adult fleas as well as larvae and eggs.  Others only kill adult insects.  Still others do not kill adult bugs but make it impossible for larvae and eggs to reach adulthood.

This means that you will probably need more than one kind of pill or tablet to eradicate your pet’s flea population.   These poisonous pills kill fleas but have such low toxin doses that they are safe for pets and do not harm humans.  Some oral treatments are given daily while others are given monthly.

Topical Treatments

Spot treatments (drops) and powders work on the areas where you put them, while shampoos can cover your entire pet.   Chemicals called Insect Growth Regulators (IGRs) are found in spot treatments and eradicate not only existing adult fleas but prevent larvae and eggs from growing into adults. They work by mimicking a juvenile growth hormone so that the immature fleas never reach the pupa stage. The insects do not die immediately, but they never reproduce. Shampoos and powders contain toxins that only kill existing adult insects.

After disinfecting your pet, you also need to rid your home of any eggs, larvae or adult fleas that are hiding out where your pet spends his time, including his bed, mats or carpeted areas he sleeps on and any furniture he considers his own.  This means regularly and thoroughly washing and vacuuming these areas.  To keep fleas from returning, regularly bathe and groom your pets, especially if they spend a lot of time outdoors.

And if you are like many pet owners and let your pet sleep with you in your bed, then you need to thoroughly wash your own bedding and vacuum your pillows and mattress because these items are most likely infested, too.  Larvae, in particular, love to hide in dark, warm bedding and furniture crevasses.

If you think your pet has fleas and you have questions about the best medication or if it is time for a pet check-up, please contact us.  Our knowledgeable staff is standing by and looks forward to meeting you and your furry friends.

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Susan Bailey
Susan Bailey
posted 1 month ago

Amazing Boarding facilities! Immaculately clean and odor free! They provided us with a tour prior to our first boarding so we could make an informed decision about who to trust with the care of our little guy. Everyone has had that one experience where they can't enjoy their vacation because they are worried if their pet is being taken care of properly! We now can actually enjoy our time away knowing that our little pup is very well taken care of! And they have a text line you can use for updates! They make you feel like your pet is just as important to them as they are. to you. Give them a try....you won't be sorry! If Barkley could talk, he would say... I'm a happy camper! Thank you mom and dad for bringing me here!

Arney J
Arney J
posted 3 weeks ago

The Drs actually take time to get to know your pet. They ask questions and listen to the answers. The vet techs bring in a plate if snacks and gain their trust before the exam begins. Very caring staff from front desk to boarding to animals care. We use them for boarding and day care. The dogs love it and can't wait to get out if the car and go in. We will be moving 20 mikes away, but continue to keep them as vet and boarding. A truly caring facility and the dogs love it and the staff.

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