Autumn 2003

What you should know about fleas

Fleas are parasites of warm blooded animals, particularly dogs and cats. Throughout the ages they have made life miserable for both man and beast.

Biology
There are over 2,000 species of flea; the most common is the cat flea. Despite its name, (and preference) it is adaptable and is found living on both cats and dogs. Occasionally they bite humans when desperate for a blood meal to provide protein for egg production.
A flea population builds up rapidly. Females lay hundreds of eggs, most of which proceed through larval and pupal stages to adult. During spring and summer their life cycle can be as short as 21 days, so a “plague of fleas” can be an almost yearly occurrence.

Diseases and Fleas
A flea bite can cause acute irritation, infection and transfer of other parasites, such as tapeworms. Fleas are also responsible for a variety of problems ranging from simple itching through to allergic skin reactions. The black or bubonic plague of the Middle Ages and even modern times is a disease transmitted by fleas biting humans after they had bitten rats.

Management
Successful management of this pest depends on a variety of factors including familiarity with flea biology and habits, skilled inspection techniques, informed pesticide selection and careful application methods.

  • If practicable, floors and any furnishings used by pets should be vacuum cleaned before treatment. As vacuuming will sometimes stimulate the pupae to emerge as adult fleas, the vacuum bag contents should be disposed of immediately.

  • For external treatments, the yard should be given a thorough watering as this causes the fleas to come to the surface and the treatment to be more effective.

  • Very effective products, including insect growth regulators with low toxicity to mammals are available for application by professional Pest Managers. Application to flea harbourages, particularly the areas where pets rest or sleep, will eliminate resident flea populations.

  • To reduce the risk of re-infestation, pet bedding should be washed or replaced and the pet treated with an appropriate product on the advice of your veterinarian.