Frequently Asked Questions About Fleas
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  Frequently Asked Questions About Fleas
Q. What are fleas?
Q. Does my pet have to scratch before I know he has fleas?
Q. How do I determine if my pet has fleas?
Q. Are fleas dangerous to pets or humans?
Q. What is Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)?
Q. What is the best treatment for pets with FAD?
Q. Why do fleas keep coming back year after year?
Q. How do I treat my pet for fleas?
Q. Can I use dog flea products on cats?
Q. Do I need to treat my pet for fleas year-round?
Q. Can't I just wait to see if my pet gets fleas and then take care of the problem?
Q. What is the difference between IGRs (Insect Growth Regulators) and IDIs (Insect Development Inhibitors)?
Q. What is the life cycle of a flea?
Q.  What are fleas?
Fleas are parasitic six-legged insects that feed on the blood of their hosts. Their bodies are made for jumping and their compressed shape means that it's also easy for them to run through the hair of your pet. Although there are many different species of fleas, the most common one is Ctenocephalides felis, a cat flea that actually prefers dogs.

Fleas thrive in warm, humid conditions at low altitudes. A female flea requires a "blood meal" in order to lay her eggs. Their droppings, the reddish-brown "flea dirt" that you see on your pet, is actually what larvae need to feed on to live.

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Q.  Does my pet have to scratch before I know he has fleas?
A. Just because your pet is not scratching does not necessarily mean he is flea-free. Most of a flea's life cycle is spent off of your pet. If your pet does not have sensitive skin or is not allergic to fleas (called Flea Allergy Dermatitis), he simply may not have the urge to scratch. In fact, you may have a major flea infestation and not know it.
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Q.  How do I determine if my pet has fleas?
A. You need to thoroughly examine your pet's skin and haircoat under sufficient light. Fleas are reddish-brown and very fast, so you have to look closely. There may only be telltale flea dirt (flea feces), most often occurring above the dog's rump or between a cat's shoulder blades. Take a moist, white paper towel and rub it on the area. When moist, flea dirt turns reddish.
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Q.  Are fleas dangerous to pets or humans?
A. Fleas are not only a nuisance to humans and their pets, but can cause medical problems in pets including flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), tapeworms, hair loss, and secondary skin irritations. Also, large numbers of fleas can cause anemia, especially in puppies and kittens. Some pets have been known to die if the anemia is severe. While bites are rarely felt, it is the resulting irritation caused by the flea salivary secretions that varies among pets. Some may witness a severe reaction (rash or inflammation) resulting in secondary infections caused by scratching the aggravated skin area. Tapeworms normally plague our pets but may appear in children if parts of infested fleas are accidentally consumed. In some cases, fleas have been known to spread bubonic plague from rodent to rodent and from rodent to humans.
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Q.  What is Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)?
A. FAD is one of the most common allergies in pets. Pets with FAD are not only irritated by flea bites, but are also allergic to the parasite's saliva, which contains 15 reactive components. When the pet receives his first flea bite, his immune system responds and sets up a hypersensitivity reaction. The reaction manifests itself as severe itching when the pet is bitten again. This means a bite from a single flea can set off a delayed itch reaction from flea bites received over the past six months. This not only starts a seemingly never-ending itch cycle; it also causes hive-like lesions from all of the bites, making the pet uncomfortable.
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Q.  What is the best treatment for pets with FAD?
Since your goal is to prevent bites from occurring in the first place, you should use a product that kills adult fleas before they bite, as well as eliminates as many stages of the flea's life cycle as possible. This involves using an adulticide, like pyrethrin and an Insect Growth Regulator (IGR) or Insect Development Inhibitor (IDI).

We recommend topical adulticides such as Bio Spot, Advantage, or Frontline. These treatments both kill fleas on contact with the pet's skin or hair and kill eggs and larvae.

If your pet is on a flea control program and still suffers occasional flare-ups, itching can be controlled with antihistamines, Soothing Mist and Itch Stop products. In severe cases, your veterinarian may prescribe oral steroids or even hyposensitization.

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Q.  Why do fleas keep coming back year after year?
The fleas you thought you eliminated might be back because a number of eggs that had been lying dormant have now hatched. The pupal stage of the flea can lie dormant for months and is resistant to most insecticides. You need to keep treating the environment and your pet until all of these stages are eliminated. Some suggestions for environmental control are:
  • Vacuum everywhere and put the vacuum cleaner bag in a plastic sack to toss out immediately. Vacuuming can remove as many as 50% of the flea eggs. Remember to wash your pet's bedding weekly and to treat the area with an insect growth regulator and/or an adulticide.
  • Foggers are good for large open indoor areas. Surface spray can reach areas such as baseboards and under furniture where foggers cannot reach.
  • Clean and treat your automobile, pet carrier, garage, basement, or any other place your pet spends an appreciable length of time.
  • Flea control in the outdoor environment generally involves treating the yard and kennel areas. Fleas thrive in moist, warm, and shady environments where they can get a good meal. We suggest using an environmentally safe spray containing fenvalorate. Sprays containing IGRs can also be used.
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Q.  How do I treat my pet for fleas?
For a dog, begin by giving him a bath using flea eliminating shampoo like our Flea & Tick Shampoo or for heavy infestations, use a flea dip. Apply a once-a-month topical or give your pet an oral once-a-month flea preventative. We recommend topical because they generally eliminate the fleas before they have a chance to bite your pet. If you bathe your pet frequently when using topicals, remember to use a gentle shampoo that will not wash away the protection.

Cats need to be treated carefully. Read all labels and only use those products that are meant for cats. Bio Spot for Cats contains the IGR Nylar and Flea Halt Towelletts contain an adulticide.

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Q.  Can I use dog flea products on cats?
A. No! Ingredients in topical flea products range from fipronyl, imidacloprid, pyrethrins, and for dogs only, a high concentration of a synthetic form of pyrethrin called permethrin. Products containing some of these ingredients or a higher concentration and labeled "for dogs only" should NEVER be used on cats. Cats have a very sensitive metabolism, so using these products on cats or even allowing your cat close contact with a dog that has been recently treated should be avoided. Although their margin of safety is very high for dogs, this is not true for cats. They can develop life-threatening toxicities.
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Q.  Do I need to treat my pet for fleas year-round?
Most states below the Mason-Dixon line, as well as the southwestern states and Hawaii, have flea seasons ranging anywhere from seven to 12 months out of the year. We highly recommend treating your pet monthly with topical products like Bio Spot, Frontline, and Advantage. These products eliminate all stages of a flea life cycle and are great preventatives. We also recommend regular pest control which includes indoor spraying for fleas, as well as regular (every 4-6 weeks) spraying of outside premises. The midsection of the United States has a flea season ranging from April or May to September or October. Again we highly recommend monthly topical or oral flea prevention and also spraying your home and yard once a month during flea season. Northern residents have flea problems six or fewer months per year. Monthly topical or oral flea prevention is recommended during these months or you may want to use a flea & tick collar. Spray your yard once a year for added protection. Northern pet owners who keep pets inside still need to be vigilant, because it is likely that even adult fleas will survive on untreated dogs or within the owner's home during the winter.

Keep in mind that most people stop their flea prevention too early and suffer the consequences. So wherever you may live, it's a good idea to give your flea prevention treatment an extra month.

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Q.  Can't I just wait to see if my pet gets fleas and then take care of the problem?
Yes, you can do that but we highly recommend a preventative strategy for the following reasons:
  • Anyone who has had a flea problem in the past will tell you that they would do anything to avoid dealing with fleas again! Controlling and eliminating an already existing flea problem takes a lot of time and effort. And it can become quite expensive if any of the steps are overlooked. The best flea control is always flea prevention.
  • Fleas can transmit tapeworms, bacteria and other disease forming organisms to pets as well as humans.
  • A pair of fleas may produce 20,000 fleas in three months! So to protect your home from flea infestation, early prevention is the key.
  • We love our pets and would do anything to prevent discomfort, right? Seeing our pets scratch and bite at themselves because of flea bites tears at our heart strings. And when our pets can't sleep because they are so uncomfortable, we realize that all of these discomforts could have been prevented early on.
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Q.  What is the difference between IGRs (Insect Growth Regulators) and IDIs (Insect Development Inhibitors)?
IGRs and IDIs are used in monthly flea prevention products to eliminate the immature form of the flea. The difference in the two is subtle:

IGRs - This group includes methoprene (Precor), fenoxycarb, and pyriproxyfen (Nylar). The IGRs mimic the juvenile growth hormone of fleas. The juvenile growth hormone is what keeps the fleas from developing into more mature forms. When the levels of juvenile growth hormone decrease, the larva, the worm-like offspring of an insect form, matures. Since the IGRs increase the level of the hormone, the juvenile never develops into an adult; it fails to molt and then dies.

IDIs - Insect development inhibitors include lufenuron and diflubenzuron. IDIs inhibit the synthesis of a substance called chitin (the outside, protective "shell" of the insect). Chitin is necessary for the formation of the hard outside skin (cuticle) of the flea. No chitin, no adult flea. IGRs and IDIs do not kill adult fleas, so to be most effective they should be used along with a product that does kill the adults (an "adulticide"), such as a pyrethrin. Bio Spot contains both of these components. Because IGRs and IDIs mimic insect hormones or alter a unique insect process (chitin production), they are extremely safe.

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Q.  What is the life cycle of a flea?
A. A flea has four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Fleas take about a month to grow from egg to adult. The female adult flea lays her eggs about two days after she mates and the eggs take an additional 2-6 days to hatch into larvae. Flea eggs are not sticky and tend to fall onto places your pet rests or sleeps. These hatch into larvae which feed off "flea dirt." This is actually the mother flea's feces. In about a week, they start spinning a cocoon. The cocooned larva, now called a pupa, is now resistant to dangers that could kill the flea in other stages of its life cycle. Under normal circumstances, the cocooned pupa remains in this state for about 15 days; it can extend this time up to one year if the environment is hostile (i.e., too cold).
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