On This Page
Introduction to Fleas and general comments about flea control
About all the older methods of flea control that no longer work well
About the "natural" and home remedies for flea control
A rather unusual article about fleas
About the flea circus
About other parasites on other pages:
Diseases that pets get from ticks ... (coming soon)
A rather unusal article about fleas:
mostly from "The Encyclopedia of Everything Yucky"
by Joy Masoff
Fleas are the kangaroo of the insect world. They can jump 50 - 100 times their body length. If you were as agile as a flea, you could jump about a quarter of a mile!
Fleas are also fast.
The acceleration of a flea is 50 times greater than that of the space shuttle after lift off.
A flea can jump 30,000 times without stopping
Male fleas have not one, but two pricks ....
Human men have enough trouble keeping one under control. Imagine.
It kind of reminds me of the joke about the nerdish guy who liked to think positively: "Hey, I'm just two people short of a threesome!"
Okay, back to the scientific stuff:
Fleas are actually mutant flies that took to dining on dead mammals in prehistoric days. Their taste for fresh blood along with other changes are the result of evolution.
Fleas lay hundreds of eggs daily, and when they hatch, they hatch into larvae. STARVING larvae. And what do starving larvae and baby fleas like to eat? Their parent's poop (which is mostly dried blood from their parent's victims), that's what. And if there isn't enough prime parental poop around, they eat each other and dead skin cells and dander that are around in the environment.
After feeding for a few days, the larvae become pupa in a cocoon ...just like a caterpillar... and develop for 2 plus weeks depending on the environmental temperature and so forth. But unlike caterpillars, these pupa emerge as grown up fleas, hungry as heck, and about half the population have not one but two ...oh, forget it already
Fleas are attracted by body heat, the carbon dioxide of warm exhaled breath, and by body movement.
The flea has been a pest throughout known human and pet history. And, of course, in addition to being itchy, the flea is a major carrier of disease (all those plagues) from one person to another.
Previous remedies in history include:
covering your body with hog lard
spreading cow poop all over your floor and letting it harden
wear splinters from a tree recently struck by lightning
In ancient Egypt, there were professional flea catchers that caught fleas by dousing themselves in milk and then standing in a room until he was covered in stuck fleas. Then he would leave the room removing a large number of fleas with him.
In Europe, women wore flea sticks; tubes with sticky stuff such as tree sap inside. They wore them around their necks or on fur pelts knowing that fleas love animal pelts. The fleas were supposed to nest in the pelts or get stuck in the tubes instead of the wearer's skin. These became the forerunners to fashionable fur stoles and feathered boas!
Queen Christina of Sweden amused herself by executing fleas with a miniature cross bow and tiny little arrows! She also had a flea cannon. If you don't believe me, it's on display in a Stockholm museum.
During the dark ages, people thought that the more you suffered, the more likely you would go to heaven. So when people got fleas, they didn't try to get rid of them.
St Aloysius, who cared for the sick during the Great Plague (1315-1317 I believe) was so kind to fleas that is was said that though his cassock (robe) was swarming with all sorts of vermin, he'd not take the life of a flea! He paid the price... he died of the plague not knowing that fleas were the carrier.
This page is about fleas and what you need to know if you want to keep fleas out of your home and off your pet.
It's pretty important.
Toward the bottom of this page is some fun and interesting stuff about fleas to include flea circus' and the unusual sexual anatomy of fleas !
Introduction to fleas:
Fleas, of course, are aggravating little insects that carry disease, frequently cause intense skin reactions and allergies in our pets, and can be extremely difficult to control.
Fleas are notoriously good at becoming resistant to the pesticides we use to control them so many of the products available are nearly useless.
Luckily, there are some very effective products and your vet will tell you about them. As I edit this page in 2014, there are several new products no available that should be extremely convenient and effective.
Diseases Caused by Fleas:
Mild to severe skin irritation and inflammation
Skin allergies and secondary skin infections
Anemia: This is no joke; every vet sees multiple cases a year of pets near death due to blood loss from fleas
Tapeworms are spread by fleas
And less commonly:
Typhus, Prison Fever, & Ship Fever
Tularemia or "rabbit fever"
Important information about fleas:
The most important thing to know about fleas is that for every adult flea you find on your pet, there will be hundreds of larvae, thousands of pupae, and many thousands of eggs lying hidden in your home and/or yard.
That means that killing a few adult fleas with a flea comb or a spray ... no matter how satisfying ... will do little to solve your flea problem.
Each adult female flea can lay hundreds of eggs a day.
Fleas like to lay their eggs on damp ground or in cracks and crevices.
They prefer to lay eggs when the humidity is high and the temperature is
65-80 F which just happens to be typical of most US homes.
Adult fleas can live up to two months off a pet and up to year on a pet.
The eggs hatch in 2-12 days into tiny larvae. The larvae live in your house and yard and eat microscopic pieces of dead skin, flea poop (dried blood), and dander. They grow and molt a couple of times over a period of 10-200 days, depending on food supply, humidity, and temperature. Then they pupate.
The pupa part of the flea life cycle can last from 7 days to 1 year! They wait until conditions are right and until there's mammalian prey (cats, dogs, and humans).
The take home message here, once again, is that if you see a fair number of fleas on your cat or dog, know that you have hundreds, maybe thousands of tiny flea eggs, larvae, and pupae around.
To solve a serious flea problem you're going to have to go after the eggs, larvae, and pupae as well the adult fleas on your pet. Or use a flea product that kills adult fleas at near 100% kill rates so fast that no new eggs are laid.
One trouble is that fleas have become resistant to the pesticides we've been using for the last 25 years.
Luckily, we now have new pesticides that they haven't become resistant to, and in most cases are working really well. And many of these newer products also control other parasite problems well.
2014 update: The newest flea products are quite expensive but working really, really well. They include
Comfortis and Trifexis (both contain the same flea product but Trifexis also controls intestinal worms and heartworms well) Trifexis not approved for cats.
NexGard: extremely safe and effective ... and delicious... control of fleas and ticks
Bravecto: is brand new and supposed to kill 100% of fleas and ticks for 3 months at a time. I don't have any experience with these new collars
Seresto Collar: is supposed to work well for 8 Months on fleas and ticks. I don't have any experience with these new collars.
Somewhat older products like Revolution, Sentinel, Frontline Plus, Advantage, Vector 3D are still working well for many pets, but they don't seem to be working as well as they used too... we're getting more and more disappointing remarks from pet owners. Revolution remains my favorite parasite control product to recommend for outdoor cats
Some comments about the familiar products that don't work well:
Shampoos, Mousse, and Sprays:
Hey: I think shampooing is great for improving skin and coats. It's great for treating various skin conditions. It's great for cleaning out pores, removing dead skin, and keeping body odors under control.
And shampooing is even effective at killing and removing fleas from your pet.
The problem is two fold:
1. Very little residual effect: new fleas that jump on your pet just hours after the bath are likely to survive.
2. Very poor or no effect on the eggs, larvae, and pupal stages of fleas.
The same goes for Mousse and sprays and powders. With a few exceptions, if these products kill a high percentage of fleas, it's not for more than a few days and they're not killing the other flea stages. And therefore not solving the problem.
A few brands of collars (especially Preventic Collars) are working quite well for ticks, but I have yet to find one that consistently controls fleas well. I rate them as fairly ineffective. Some of my clients seem to be pleased with their collars...but when I examine their pets, there's lots of fleas over their butts...they just happen to have pets that aren't too sensitive, so it seems the owners just don't notice the fleas.
Perhaps the new Seresto Collar will work as well as claimed.
What about The stuff you can get at Walmart, pet stores, and other stores:
Here's what I wrote about 10 years ago on this subject: As soon as Frontline TopSpot and Advantage hit the market some years ago - and it was obvious that they were working really well - pet product companies changed their packaging to look and sound like Frontline or Advantage. There was Bio-Spot, Pro-Spot and several other "spots".
All these look or sound alike products are applied to the back of the neck like Frontline and Advantage and all come with sales pitches along the lines of why spend twice as much at the vet when this is just like the stuff they sell.
Well, it is just like it except for the active ingredient that does the work!
Almost everyone knows how difficult and expensive it is to get a new chemical product through FDA and on the market in the U.S. It has to be proven both safe and effective.
But what people don't know is that once a product is on the market, the FDA is pretty quick to remove stuff that turns out to be unsafe (actually, it's usually pulled first by the manufacture fearful of possible lawsuits), but not much is removed just because it's become ineffective.
And that's what has happened with many flea control products. The labels that say effective against fleas etc don't say that was back in 1959. Or effective against laboratory fleas raised in Alaska..not our native Southeastern Flea. HooBoy.
This is the same problem with believing labels for dewormers, other parasite medicines and pesticides, and in fact, many medicines.
2014 update: Merial's patent for fipronil based Frontline has run out and now there are quite a few montly flea products containing fipronil available quite cheaply at Walmarts and other over the counter pet stores and, of course, on the internet. Most of these new products say something like "compare to Frontline Plus". Guess what? ... these products aren't working anywhere near as well as the name brand because what they don't contain is the bonding and dispersing technology that made the fipronil spread over the surface of the body and bond to the sebaceous glands of the skin effectively. Sometimes generics are just as good... or as in the case of prescription medicines.... usually identical. But sometimes cheap really is cheap.
And the Safety Question of using sprays and powders: We've had several very sick cats in our clinic due to the application of over the counter topical pesticides meant for dogs...cats are much more sensitive as a rule to pesticides.
It's satisfying to see dead fleas floating in a flea trap, but once again ... killing a few adults is meaningless if there are thousands of teenager and baby fleas that survive.
Quite helpful if used aggressively and repeated several times over a 6 week period. Use need to use several bombs or more per floor in a typical house.
Fleas are getting resistant though, so don't expect perfection ... and there are big safety issues.
Combing & Grooming:
-Helps a lot with the general health of the skin; no small benefit.
-Helps you to have an intimate familiarity with your pet's skin condition; if you're grooming and combing your pet regularly, you'll spot a parasite problem early.
-It allows the early spotting and removal of ticks
-Grooming and combing usually makes your pet feel much better.
-And regular combing helps maintain your pecking order status as master which helps maintain your pet's sanity. Have you ever noticed that...dogs who think they're humans tend to become neurotic head cases. As for cats...
So; grooming and combing is great.
But not very effective at controlling an established flea problem. I know there's a certain satisfaction in squishing fleas as you comb them out. But yet again, remember that the adult fleas that you kill represent only the tip of the iceberg...for every adult you kill, there are thousands of larvae and hundreds of thousands of eggs.
So, if your pet has anything but a brand new or very minor flea problem; quit dinking around. Go to your vet and take advantage of the new products that work so well.
Oh... I forgot to talk about Alternative & Natural Flea Control such as brewers yeast, amethyst crystals, garlic products, cider vinegar, and many others.
Speaking of "alternative medicine", ... before you get lured into thinking that the major pharmaceutical companies are somehow evil and that the companies that sell herbs and natural remedies...often along with religion...are angelic; check out the website QuackWatch for some realism.
It's a little bit ironic that I introduce this topic as I have, because I personally:
A. Am very religious
B. Have found quite a few "natural" products that work well for other problems
It's just that I've been burned so many times by exaggerated claims and lousy results. And I don't think holiness should be hawked along-side miracle cures. So just be careful and mindful.