Large numbers of dogs coming to the surgery lately have been found to have heavy infestations of fleas. The wet spring and mild weather have encouraged a very rapid build-up of flea numbers, and if not controlled, they cause considerable discomfort to pets and their owners.
In order to deal with the problem, the life cycle of the dog flea should be understood.
Adult fleas lay their eggs on the dog which then fall to the ground. These eggs are white and quite large, being about a third of the length of the flea itself. Hatching occurs within a few days in warm conditions.
A larva is produced which makes its way to sheltered dark positions such as cracks and crevices near the dog’s bed. They feed on organic matter and after about a week, spin a cocoon which adheres to the under surfaces of the bedding or carpets.
This pupal stage usually lasts for about 2 weeks but can survive indefinitely if conditions are not favorable for further development. Vibrations trigger hatching which explains how an empty house can suddenly become infested with fleas a few days after being re-occupied.
Adult fleas can live for about 1½ years and during that time may produce up to 500 eggs. They are blood suckers and their excrement may be more easily seen on the pet than the flea itself. If the pet is brushed on a light-colored wet surface these telltale particles drop off and produce smears of blood.
Fleas are important, not only because of the local irritation they produce by biting and running over the skin surface, but as an intermediate host for tapeworms and as a major cause of dermatitis in the dog and cat. Many animals become hypersensitive to flea bite and even low levels of infestation can induce reactions over the entire skin surface.
Preparations to control fleas have become big business and there is a confusing array of washes, powders, collars, sprays and tablets confronting the consumer at the chemist or supermarket.
Try to decide which method of flea control you are going to adopt and abide by the directions on the label as to the amounts and frequency of application. Many pet owners are reluctant to use insecticides and apply the chemicals at less than the recommended strengths.
Unfortunately, this practice only encourages the development of resistance to that group of insecticides by the flea and makes subsequent control difficult. Conversely, some owners are so outraged that their animal has fleas that they wash the animal in an insecticidal wash, apply copious amounts of flea powder and place a flea collar on the poor animal.
When dealing with a heavy infestation of fleas, an initial wash is a good means of obtaining speedy control. Asuntol dog wash is effective for at least one week after which time a flea collar which gives off a fine powder of a similar chemical can be placed on the dog.
For cats, a powder containing carbaryl is safe and effective if a flea collar is not well tolerated. The powder should be used once weekly, dusting the whole cat from head to toe.
The surroundings of the dog’s sleeping quarters should be kept as free of hair as possible, as well as frequently changing the dog’s bedding. Household insecticides can be sprayed in cracks and crevices and the bedding can be dusted with a flea powder.
Some fleas have shown signs of resistance to various chemical groups. If your flea control program is not working, take note of the actual chemicals used, not merely brand names, and consult your veterinary surgeon who will then advise you on an alternative. It is no use merely changing from one chemical to another closely-related product.