Fleas- although small, can cause you and your pet discomfort, and also carry some pretty nasty diseases. I typically hate the little pests, but if you read all the way through, you will learn why I don’t hold a grudge with them.
So, do you remember those stories about the plagues in Europe from your history classes? Yeah, that was all from fleas, hitching a ride on the rats that infested the cities. It wasn’t until the Europeans stopped killing cats and let them get the rat population in check that the dreaded plague was stopped. Other not-so-fun zoonotic diseases (meaning: we can get them as well as animals) that fleas carry are typhus and tularemia. So, the next time you see Tabby with a rat in her mouth, take the time to thank her!
Let’s talk about the life cycle and habits of the flea. If you see a little flea on Fluffy or Tabby. That is only 1% of the problem! What you can’t see are the 57 eggs, and the 42 or so larvae and pupae that are in your house. Ick! Moreover, each one of those pests can lay upwards of 40 eggs per day, which can hide in your house and live for several months in the right conditions.
Oh, and I can already hear the objections:
“But doc,” you say, “we have hardwood floors! There shouldn’t be any place for the flea eggs to hide, right?? “
Um, no. The thing to remember here is that you need to think like the flea: Any crack or crevice, no matter how small, is the ideal place for them to hide.
“Well, we don’t do flea prevention in the winter. It’s too cold for the fleas.”
Maybe up north. Maybe 30 years ago it was, but not now. Fleas can survive for 10 days at the wonderful temperature of 3 C (that’s 37 degrees in old money) and even then, they will hang out on your warm pet to survive. Can you remember the last time it was that cold for 10 days? I think maybe January of 1983 in Georgia! Fleas really love it here, as their ideal conditions are: high temps and humidity above 70%. Georgia, most of the year.
So, what are the things I hear from a pet parent that make think it’s fleas?
- “Doc, he/she is going bald on his back end” (dogs)
- “Doc, he/ she is acting depressed” (cats)
At this point in an exam, you might see me bring out the flea comb. Even if you don’t see a live flea, you will see what you believe to be dirt. This is actually dried blood, which is what fleas feed on. Animals that have not had fleas before will act depressed due to them crawling on their skin. You would be pretty depressed too!
If we find fleas, here is what you will probably hear from me:
First: DON’T PANIC! Second, we need good, quality flea control for several months. Those “flea bombs” and other **** sold over the counter? Don’t use them. Period. Third, we will need to deal with the flea biomass (the adults, larvae, and eggs). If your pet goes outside, this will mean treating the yard. Inside? The one home treatment I will recommend is a mixture of salt and baking soda, to be spread all over your house.
Next? To borrow a line from “The Godfather”- you’re gonna have to “go to the mattresses”.
Start vacuuming. Everywhere. If you can handle the smell, you can use sevindust to kill the larvae and eggs. If you have carpet, get a steam cleaner and thoroughly clean the carpets. When all is said and done, empty the vacuum canister into a trash bag, tie it up, and throw it away. If you suspect your yard is the source, you will want to get that area treated as well
Prevention and staying on high alert is important, as the life cycle of a flea is 2-8 weeks, with the average being three weeks. It will take a few life cycles to completely get rid of all of them. The only way to truly prevent fleas is to stay vigilant with proper flea preventatives. If you have ever heard that garlic will help get rid of fleas, this is an old wives tale. While I like my garlic on my pizza and in my spaghetti sauce, it is NOT good for dogs OR cats. It can cause anemia and other complications.
So, if you’ve read this long, you may be wondering what on earth I could possibly like about fleas. So, there was one time that the fleas actually helped me out…
A few years ago, we rented a house in Kitty Hawk, NC for a week. We sent my daughter, mother-in-law, and granddaughter (not yet a walker) ahead of us. My daughter called my wife with the news that the house was full of fleas. When my wife called the real estate company, they responded with, “oh, it won’t be a problem! We’ll just go over there and set off a flea bomb.”
This was the wrong thing to say to the wife of a veterinarian. After my wife explained the life cycle of the flea to the agent, as well as the fact that she did NOT want our granddaughter crawling on a floor covered in pesticides and flea larvae, the real estate agent said that there were no other properties available in the area. My wife insisted: “I’m sure you have some sort of reciprocal deal with other companies in the area. Call me when you have a solution.”
I suggest you look up Pirates Cove in Manteo, NC. This is where we stayed. Should you drive past it, all you will see will be the marina, bar, and what appears to be condos. The condos give way to a somewhat larger one, a few small bungalows, then to a few larger houses in the back. We ended up being relocated to a beautiful three-story house with a private dock. Oh, and it was for the price of the house we’d already paid for. Thanks, fleas!!