Fleas are the most common external parasite of companion animals and flea allergy dermatitis is the most common skin disease of dogs and cats!

Flea control has always been a challenge for veterinarians and pet owners because the adult fleas cause the clinical signs, yet the majority of the flea population (eggs, larvae and pupae) are to be found off the pet in and around the home. Because of this, the ideal flea control program addresses various stages of the flea life cycle, not only the adult fleas on the pet. In order to help you to select the most appropriate products to achieve a flea-free existence for an allergic pet, we will start by telling you about the life cycle of the flea.

The Life Cycle of the Flea

Fleas have 4 stages to their life cycle: adults (5%), eggs (50%), larvae (30%), and pupae (15%). Adults are the only part of the cycle that live on the pet, and make up only 5% of the population! Adult fleas can hibernate up to 2 months without a meal. Once an adult flea gets on the animal, it will feed as soon as possible. Within 30 minutes of feeding, the female flea begins to lay eggs. Eggs are designed to fall off the pet.flea lifecycle diagram

The eggs fall into the environment, then within 2 days to 2 weeks hatch into larvae. Larvae live in the carpet and furniture and eat digested flea blood from adult fleas. They take a week to several months to develop. Pupae mature in a cocoon and NO flea products will kill them. They can develop and emerge as adult fleas in as few as 5 days, or as much as 1 year. They emerge in response to vibration, pressure, heat, noise, or carbon dioxide put off by a mammal.

Flea Control Recommendations

As you can see, the flea life cycle can be very short (as short as 16 days!), or very long (over a year). This is why a balanced year-round flea preventative program is essential. Some animals can have large amounts of fleas with very few signs. Other animals experience extreme pruritis (itchiness) with only one or two flea bites. These animals are flea allergic, which is the most common type of skin allergy in cats & dogs. For the flea allergic animal 100% flea control is required. Ideally, this means a treatment which will kill the fleas before they can get a chance to bite the animal.

Many over the counter flea treatments have poor efficacy and longevity. Some topical products can cause reactions including skin irritation, skin sloughing, and in extreme cases, death. Flea collars are usually an ineffective method of flea control. In general, over the counter flea collars do a moderate job of keeping fleas off the animal’s neck, and that is about all. Seresto is a prescription flea collar that is effective for flea control.

We recommend flea control YEAR-ROUND. This is because of the flea life cycle; fleas can remain dormant in the environment for over a year. Because of the life cycle, it generally takes 3-4 months minimum to get an infestation under control. One month of treatment will rarely kill all stages, and stopping after just a few months is asking for an even bigger infestation. In addition it is important to treat the whole environment and all pets in the household, especially in cases of large infestations.

Other options:

  • House treatment: Vacuum your house – move all your furniture and vacuum in and under your furniture. Throw out the vacuum bag and have a pest company spray or use a commercially available flea bomb in the house (follow directions for safe use).
  • Yard: Pest Control Treatment of the yard
ProductActive IngredientTypeFlea KillOther ProtectionNotes
Sentinel LufeneronMonthly PillSterilizes adult fleasHeartworm, intestinal parasitesGreat affordable heartworm/flea control.  Use in combination with quicker acting products if there is an active infestation
NexgardAfoxolanerMonthly Pill12-24 hrsTicks, demodexDogs only
SimpericaSuralanerMonthly Pill12-24 hrsTicks, demodexDogs only
BravectoFluralanerEvery 12 wk pill4-12 hrsTicks, demodex, sarcoptesDogs only for pill, cats liquid
Vectra 3DPyriproxyfenMonthly Spot-on6 hrs3D – repels ticks and mosquitos3D is for dogs only
Revolution PlusSelamectin & SuralanerMonthly Spot-on12-24 hoursHeartworm, intestinal parasites, ear mites, ticksWe recommend Revolution only for cats. 
CapstarNitenpyramPill – as neededStarts killing fleas within 30 minutesNoneGood quick kill of adult fleas.  Can be used daily, but doesn’t last.
Trifexis SpinosadMonthly PillStarts killing fleas within 30 minutesHeartworm, intestinal parasitesQuick, effective, long lasting, and great option for households that don’t want to use spot-ons.  Can cause vomiting the first couple months of use

Resources

Click the below images for Flea handout

Handout - understanding the life cycle of fleas