Fleas for Fall

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Fleas are some of the most annoying biting pests known to man and pets. They’re also difficult to control, because of how quickly they can reproduce.

In NC, we generally talk about two common flea species, the dog flea and cat flea. Ctenocephalides felis — cat flea (most dog and cat fleas in NC are C. felis) and Ctenocephalides canis — dog flea. Of the two flea species, the cat flea is the most abundant species with the ability to survive longer and reproduce better on human blood than the dog flea. As both flea species make their way into the homes of unsuspecting pet owners, like you and me, life becomes wretched as our pets (and sometimes us) experience irritating bites and sometimes more disturbing symptoms such as tapeworms.

The average life cycle for this blood-sucking pest is 14 – 28 days and they reproduce very efficiently. After taking a blood meal and mating on host, the females lay eggs. In most species, females can lay about 500 eggs in their lifetime. In Image of a fleaanywhere from 2 to 12 days those eggs hatch and we’re almost off and running, or jumping again. Actually, adults drop blood for larvae to feed on. The pupae hatch in 7 days to 1 year, depending on when the pupae sense movement outside the cocoon and adults emerge. Under optimal conditions the development from egg to adult takes only 2–3 weeks. Procrastinating pet owners beware.

Fleas occur all year round, but may go dormant during an extremely hot summer or cold winter. Unfed fleas can survive for 2 months and fed fleas will live for a year. Fall is the worst season for fleas. This is because fleas thrive with an increase in precipitation, plus the temperature staying around 70 degrees, with accumulating leaf piles that are humid and dark. Check. Check. Check.

Outdoors, fleas typically take up residence in shaded, humid areas away from bright sunlight, where our pets are more likely to play and rest. It just takes is a few fleas to get established in our yards before we’re confronting a flea infestation. Fleas get into homes mostly by hitching a ride on pet, and are also able to attach themselves onto humans. Inside, fleas can live quite comfortably where pets play/feed and sleep. Common sites include pet sleeping mats, carpet and rug, upholstered furniture, floor cracks and tile joints.

Flea control includes treating the environment (indoor and outdoor) as well as the pet with an integrated control program that includes both. “Spraying away” the problem on Fido won’t get very far without cleaning up the environment. The majority of fleas usually are found in the environment. Fleas and their eggs, larvae, and cocoons can be effectively removed by keeping houses well swept and floors washed. Removal with a vacuum cleaner is also effective, as long as the contents of the vacuum is removed immediately after use. Rake up fallen leaves regularly and immediately bag and dispose of them in a secure trash can/bag.

Finally, there are a number of chemical treatments available for the environment that have either immediate “knockdown” or residual effect or act as insect growth regulators. Homeowners who don’t have the time to control fleas themselves or who are uncomfortable applying pesticides may wish to hire the services of a professional pest control firm. For control on host animals, products include dips, sprays, powders, shampoos, flea collars, and systemic insecticides. Pets can be treated either by a veterinarian or the pet owner. Always read and follow all pesticide product label instructions. For more information, contact your local extension office.