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Fleas The Lo-Down


See also NEW Flea control


What should I do to kill the fleas on my dog?


This is a simple question with a rather complex answer.  Successful flea control has two aspects.  Fleas must be controlled on your dog, and fleas must be controlled in your dog's environment.  Since dogs and cats share the same fleas, the presence of a cat in your dog's environment makes flea control much more difficult.


To appreciate the complex issue of flea control, you must understand something about the life cycle of the flea.


Fleas seem to be rather simple creatures.  How complicated can their life cycle be?


Although you are only able to see the adult flea, there are actually 4 stages of the life cycle.  The adult flea constitutes only about 5% of the entire flea population if you consider all four stages of the life cycle.  Flea eggs are pearly white and about 1/2 mm (1/32 in). in length.  They are too small to see without magnification.  Fleas lay their eggs on the dog, but the eggs do not stick to the dog's hair.  Instead, they fall off into the dog's environment.  The eggs make up 50% of the flea population.  They hatch into larvae in 1 to 10 days, depending on temperature and humidity.  High humidity and temperature favour rapid hatching.


Flea larvae are slender and about 2-5 mm (1/8 - 1/4) in length.  They feed on organic debris found in their environment and on adult flea faeces, which is essential for successful development.  They avoid direct sunlight and actively move deep into carpet fibres or under organic debris (grass, branches, leaves, or soil).  They live for 5 to 11 days and then pupate.


Moisture is essential for the survival of these immature stages of the flea; larvae are killed by drying.  Therefore, it is unlikely that they survive outdoors in shade-free areas.  Outdoor larval development occurs only where the ground is shaded and moist and where flea-infested pets spend a significant amount of time.  This allows flea faeces to be deposited in the environment.  In an indoor environment, larvae survive best in the protected environment of carpet or in cracks between hardwood floors.  They thrive in warm conditions.


Following complete development, the mature larvae produce a silk-like cocoon in which the next step of development, the pupa, resides.  The cocoon is sticky, so it quickly becomes coated with debris from the environment.  This serves to camouflage it.  In warm, humid conditions, pupae become adult fleas in 5-10 days.  However, the adults do not emerge from the cocoon unless stimulated by physical pressure, carbon dioxide, or heat.


Pre-emerged adult fleas can survive up to 140 days within the cocoon.  During this time, they are resistant to insecticides applied to their environment.  Because of this, adult fleas may continue to emerge into the environment for up to 3 months  following insecticide application.


When the adult flea emerges from its cocoon, it immediately seeks a host because it must have a blood meal within a few days to survive.  It is attracted to people and pets by body heat, movement, and exhaled carbon dioxide.  It seeks light, which means that it migrates to the surface of the carpet so that it can encounter a passing host.  Following the first blood meal, female fleas begin egg production within 36 to 48 hours.  Egg production can continue for as long as 100 days, which means that a single flea can produce thousands of eggs.


This entire life cycle (adult flea --> egg --> larva--> pupa --> adult) can be completed in 14-21 days with the proper temperature and humidity conditions.  This adds to the problem of flea control.


What can these fleas do to my dog?


If untreated, the female flea will continue to take blood for several weeks.  During that time, she will consume about 15 times her body weight in blood.  Although the male fleas do not take as much blood, they, too, contribute to significant blood loss from the host animal. This can lead to the dog having an insufficient number of red blood cells, which is known as anaemia.  In young or debilitated dogs, the anaemia may be severe enough to cause problems.



Contrary to popular belief, most dogs do not itch too much due to fleas.  However, many dogs become allergic to the saliva in the flea's mouth.  When these dogs are bitten, intense itching occurs, causing the dog to scratch and chew continuously.


Fleas are also the intermediate host of a tapeworm and will transmit the tapeworm to your pets when the flea is ingested. It is important to deworm your pets if you have a flea infestation.


What can I do to rid my dog of fleas?


Successful flea control must rid the dog of fleas and it must rid the dog's environment of fleas.  In fact, environmental control is probably more important than what is done to the dog.  If your dog remains indoors and you do not have other pets that come in from the outside, environmental control is relatively easy.  However, the dog that goes outdoors or stays outdoors presents a significant challenge.  It may be impossible to completely rid the environment of fleas under these conditions, though flea control should still be attempted.  When the dog is free-roaming or other dogs are allowed access to the dog's garden, the task of flea control becomes even more difficult.


What can I do for my dog?


Many insecticides that are applied to the dog have limited effectiveness against fleas because they are only effective for a few hours after application.  Also, most of these products are effective only against adult fleas.  Flea powders, sprays, and shampoos will kill the fleas present on your dog at the time of application.  However, most of these products have little or no residual effects, so the fleas that return to your dog from the environment are not affected.  Thus, your dog may be covered with fleas within a day after having a flea bath or being sprayed or powdered.


See our new product for flea control program.


What can I do to minimise fleas in the environment?

Environmental flea control usually must be directed at the dog's immediate environment, the house and any outbuildings occupied by the dog, etc.  Even though fleas may be in your house, they are usually never seen. Fleas greatly prefer dogs and cats to people; they only infest humans when there has not been a dog or cat in the house for several days.   (There are exceptions to this.)  Professional fumigation and household insecticides will only kill adult fleas and are not effective against the resistant eggs and larva stages. It is best to spray with a product like FLEGO that last for a long time and are effective once the flea emerges from the pupae.   In situations where there is a very high flea density it may be necessary to repeat environmental control rather more frequently than suggested in the product literature. Again follow the advice of your veterinary surgeon.


Remember to use flea treatment every month throughout the year and also FLEGO in the environment. It can take 4-6 months to clear a severe infestation.


We know this can be very frustrating for you, but it is important to understand this will only occur for a short period and that with continued use you will achieve excellent flea control.



Interesting facts and figures


   A female flea can lay up to 50 eggs per day

   As many as 1,500 eggs can be laid in an adult fleas lifetime

   Fleas can live for at least 4 months if not treated or eaten by the host

   Flea pupae can survive for 6 months wanting for the right temperature and humidity and available pets to hatch



We offer a wide range of products and literature at our surgery. Please contact us for further information.