Fleas are highly successful parasites, living inside homes all year round. The tapeworm Dipylidium caninum is transmitted to dogs and cats by fleas, so successful flea control has the benefit of reducing tapeworm infection. Fleas on any dog, cat or human can cause skin irritation. Some dogs, cats and humans can become sensitised to flea bites and develop an allergic skin reaction when bitten. Flea allergic dermatitis takes time to control adequately. Adult fleas lay eggs, which fall off the animal into the environment. Once in the environment (e.g. carpet pile and soft furnishings) the eggs develop into larvae and then into pupae. Pupae can remain dormant in the environment for over twelve months until the conditions are correct for a new flea to hatch. This means that flea control must be maintained for twelve months of the year. Eggs, larvae and pupae are very small and difficult to see with the naked eye.
Treatment of both the animal and the environment is crucial.
Treading the Animal
Insecticides aim to eliminate the existing flea population and protect against reinfestation.
Treating the Environment
Products used to treat the environmental reservoir aim to reduce flea egg viability and/or interfere with the development of larvae and pupae. If used alone there is a lag period of six weeks before a reduction in the adult population of fleas is seen. An insecticide is therefore used concurrently for this period of time.
Vacuuming beforehand increases penetration of environmental sprays into the carpet pile. Shampooing and steam cleaning is not recommended, as the residual humidity is ideal for flea eggs to hatch.