Breaking the Flea Cycle – How To Stop Fleas

Trent Webb

Fleas. They are going to get your pet at some point in their lives. Even the best-kept homes, with the best-kept pets, could one day be suddenly riddled with scratching cats, itchy dogs and owners with bites on their ankles. So, how do you stop fleas in their tracks?

Something must be done!

Fleas present far greater threats to your pets than just being an annoyance (but that’s for another post), what this is about is how to get the fleas stopped. Stop them spreading and stop them coming back ever again.

A tiny bike perhaps?

The flea cycle describes the parasite’s life cycle and as a pet owner, you ideally need to act against fleas in all stages, not just those adult fleas you find when brushing the dog. The flea has a 4 stage life cycle: egg, larva, pupa and adult. The entire cycle, from egg to adult can be completed in under 12 days when the climate is just right (warm and humid) but in the UK it more usually takes 3 – 4 weeks (because it is rarely warm and humid).

Researchers (who must have really good eyesight) estimate that only 5% of any flea infestation is made up of adult fleas that are found on your pet. Which leaves 95%, and that can easily number in the thousands, laying around elsewhere in the house as eggs, larvae and pupae.

It wasn’t me, it was the other dog!

Now we’d all like to think that our pet was ‘given’ fleas by one of the neighbourhood pets – especially that manky one at number 6. In truth, most discovered fleas come from the pet’s home environment; hopping on as they hatch from pupae in pet beds, carpets or the crevices down by the skirting boards.

So a spot on treatment on its own is often not enough to effectively control the flea population within a household. If you want to stop fleas, you’re going to need do a full spring clean, laundry session and use an environmental flea spray. This will physically remove as many as possible and then kill the rest.

Comb your dog regularly. It’s just a great thing to do – but it is also a great chance to look for signs of fleas
John Campbell, Head Vet of Pet Drugs Online

Get a suitable spot on flea treatment for your pet and then apply it. It has been found that spot on treatments are 100% ineffective if left in the pet’s cupboard to be applied “next weekend”. Get some, apply it and note the date on calendar, as you’ll need to do it again next month. And the month after that. Again, good intentions don’t work, only regular applications do.

So make it a habit that on the 1st or 13th or 28th of every month to break out a pipette and pop it on the dog’s neck.

Which spot on product is best?

No simple answer here, but you’ll probably have a brand, price or active ingredient preference. The likes of Advantage, Frontline, Effipro and Frontline Plus are the best-known brands that don’t need a prescription. Flevox is the cheapest and like Effipro and Eliminall available in single pipettes. The three major ‘ingredients’ – Fipronil, (S)-Methoprene or Imidacloprid – all act on fleas in different ways and some have the benefit of being tick and biting lice killers too. So check the fact sheet and pick the one that has the right number of pipettes, is a brand you trust and with a formulation, you believe in.

Veterinary flea treatment

It is possible that your vet may prescribe a POM (prescription only medicine) flea treatment for your pet. They’ll explain why at the consultation, but what they prescribe may be a spot on or a big chewable tablet (think gooey choc chip cookie for an idea of the consistency) or a collar. These can have differing periods of efficacy to non-prescription flea treatments, so listen to what they say and do not assume done monthly (some are 3 monthly). You know the drill, always read the label…

How do flea treatments work?

Essentially they work their way into your pet’s system and then hang around their blood stream. So when the flea bites your pet and takes a sip of blood, they get a dose of the active ingredient. This does its thing (it varies from paralysis to death) and that specific flea is stopped. As all fleas on your pet will be compelled to bite, this takes care of all those on your cat and dog.

This won’t be an instant ‘stain remover’ moment where within 30 seconds all the fleas fall from the dog. It can take for up to two days to have an effect. But once you’ve treated the pet, the fleas on them are doomed!

So that’s 5% done

To take on the rest you’re going to need to get cleaning head on. First and foremost give that mucky old dog bed a wash and that rug the cat sleeps on a shampoo. And use the hottest water you think the fabric will stand. One look at the dark grey sludgy waste water and you’ll know that ousting the dog was worth it. More importantly you will have physically removed more fleas from the equation. And as pets pick up fleas as they hatch from pupae; targeting those who lurk where the pet spends the majority of their time makes sense.

Now for the rest

Getting the rest of the fleas is an effort but it is utterly necessary and utterly, utterly worth it if you want to stop fleas for good. You’re going to have to hoover the house from top to bottom and more thoroughly than usual. Move any furniture you can to clean under it, and ensure each bit of upholstery is given a going over. This is for two reasons: firstly a hoovered up flea is one less to worry about and secondly the vacuuming itself acts to activate fleas.

To beat the fleas for good you have to attack them many fronts

Fleas know that noise and vibration means mammals are about, and mammals mean blood meals. So those lying dormant as pupae begin to hatch in response to the hoovering actions. Which puts them right in the danger zone for being hoovered or sprayed.

The third way

The third part of the attack is to use an environmental flea spray- and it can be done room by as you finish hoovering. The best-known sprays are Acclaim, Indorex, Homegard and Staykil. They all contain similar but different combinations of “flea-secticides”. These have to be sprayed in a closed room, left to stand for a few minutes and then the room aired before the pets can be re-admitted. So they are not a barrel of fun to use. Further to this, you have to watch that you don’t spray foodstuffs, fish tanks etc, but the effects last (depending on the brand used) from 6 to 12 months.

And it has to be said, no matter how obvious, DO NOT SPRAY DIRECTLY ON OR CLOSE TO YOUR PETS, they must be safely out of the room. These products are designed to be sprayed and aired, NOT for use on direct skin contact or inhalation. Now you can wear gloves and know when to hold your breath; a 3 year old terrier does not.

The benefits of a thorough spraying though are massive, in that any hidden flea foolish enough to hatch in your house for the next 12 months is finished! This closes the flea cycle and doesn’t give them a chance to gather enough numbers to mount another infestation challenge. It also gets you a flea free house (that is nicely hoovered) that your pet can properly relax in!

Now more fleas will always come. They come in from the garden, walks, even infest the car given half-a-chance. So you need to keep up the routine of monthly spot-ons, regular laundry and annual sprays to repel these new invaders, but doing so means they’ll never infest again!

Break the flea cycle

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This post is an opinion and should only be used as a guide. You should discuss any change to your pet’s care or lifestyle thoroughly with your vet before starting any program or treatment.

If in doubt contact your veterinary practice

And always keep your vet's phone number handy - just in case!