Fleas are very important pests in our area, especially during the summer and fall months, but can persist all year.
Adult fleas are not only a nuisance to humans and their pets, but can cause medical problems including flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), tapeworms, secondary skin irritations and, in extreme cases, anemia. Although bites are rarely felt, the resulting irritation is caused by the flea saliva. Some animals may witness a severe reaction (general rash or inflammation) resulting in secondary infections caused by scratching the irritated skin area. Others may show no reaction even after repeated bites over several weeks or months. The typical reaction to the bite is the formation of a small, hard, red, slightly-raised (swollen) itching spot. Tapeworms normally infest dogs and cats but may appear in children if parts of infested fleas are accidentally consumed.
Adult fleas have three pairs of legs with the hind legs enlarged to enable jumping and are side to side allowing easy movement between the hair, fur or feathers of the host. Fleas are excellent jumpers, leaping vertically up to seven inches and horizontally thirteen inches. An equivalent hop for a human would be 250 feet vertically and 450 feet horizontally. Outdoor development occurs in sandy gravel soils which is the reason fleas are erroneously called “sand fleas.”
Adult fleas cannot survive or lay eggs without a blood meal, but may live from two months to one year without feeding. There is often a desperate need for flea control after a family has returned from a long vacation. The house has been empty with no cat or dog around for fleas to feed on. The family returning from vacation is immediately attacked by waiting hungry hordes of fleas.
A typical flea population consists of 50 percent eggs, 35 percent larvae, 10 percent pupae and 5 percent adults. Completion of the life cycle from egg to adult varies from two weeks to eight months depending on the temperature, humidity, food, and species. Eggs loosely laid in the hair coat, drop out most anywhere such as rugs, carpets, upholstered furniture, cat boxes, kennels. Eggs hatch in two days to two weeks into larvae found indoors in floor cracks & crevices, along baseboards, under rug edges and in furniture or beds. Larvae take a week to several months to develop into pupa. Pupa mature to adulthood within a silken cocoon. In about five to fourteen days, adult fleas emerge or may remain resting in the cocoon until the detection of vibration (pet and people movement), pressure (host animal lying down on them), heat, noise, or carbon dioxide (meaning a potential blood source is near). Most fleas overwinter in the larval or pupal stage with survival and growth best during warm, moist winters and spring. In just 30 days, 10 female fleas under ideal conditions can multiply to over a quarter million different life stages.
For successful flea control, infested pets need to be treated at the same time. There are literally hundreds of products on the market for flea control on pets and the premises. Here are some of the ones we recommend:
Fipronil (Frontline Top Spot) kills adult fleas and ticks for a month or more. Frontline Top Spot can be used on 8-week old puppies and kittens. For best results, do not bathe the pet two days before or after treatment. It remains effective after bathing or swimming. Fipronil dissolves in oils on the skin and, within 24 hours after application, spreads over the entire pet (translocation). Fipronil collects in the hair follicles and oil-producing glands of the skin where it slowly wicks out of the follicles covering the skin and fur for up to three months.
Selamectin (Revolution) kills adult fleas and ticks for up to a month. Revolution can be used on 6-week old puppies and 8-week old kittens. Revolution is absorbed through the skin and secreted back out through the skin glands. Because of this it is also effective against heartworm infection, ear mites and some intestinal parasites. Pets may be handled as soon as Revolution is dry.
Imidacloprid (Advantage) kills adult fleas on contact on cats and dogs before they can lay eggs and the flea life cycle is broken. Advantage can be used on 7-week old puppies and 8-week old kittens. About 98 to 100 percent of adult fleas are killed on the pet within 24 hours. A single dose works for at least four weeks on dogs and up to four weeks on cats. For best results, do not bathe the pet two days before or after treatment. There is no waiting period to handle pets after application.
Lufenuron (Sentinel), a non-pesticide, is a product of Novartis Corporation that controls fleas on dogs and cats of any size, weight or breed. Program is safe for pregnant dogs and puppies, and cats and kittens as young as six weeks. A dog is given one tablet once a month with a normal meal. Lufenuron is a Chitin Synthesis Inhibitor (CSI) or Insect Development Inhibitor (IDI) that breaks the flea’s life cycle by preventing eggs and larvae from developing. Nearly 100 percent of eggs laid by treated fleas do not develop. There is no effect on the adult flea. Tiny immature flea eggs, larvae and pupae may be hidden in carpets and upholstery or yard and dog houses, so it may take a few weeks to see how effective lufenuron works. Help by vacuuming your carpet and immediately getting rid of the vacuum bag and bathing your pet. Prevent fleas by giving lufenuron tablets once a month, year-round without interruption. Lufenuron is very safe to humans, pets and the environment.
Feeding pets garlic, brewer’s yeast or B vitamins has not been shown to be effective against fleas. Also, pennyroyal, eucalyptus, rosemary, tea leaves and citronella have not provided effective control. In fact, overdosing of garlic or onion can be irritating or toxic to pets.
Parasitic nematodes, Steinernema carpocapsae are labeled against flea larvae and pupae in the yard and garden habitats.
Since there is no flea resistance to borates many homeowners try boric acid and disodium octaborate tetrahydrate. Boric Acid (Fleabuster, Flea Halt) is a stomach poison killing fleas in the larva stage. Apply directly on vacuumed, cleaned carpets where pets frequently travel or sleep. Work powder deeply into fibers with a broom or rug rake. For upholstery, remove loose cushions, apply along creases and into corner, not to exposed fabric. Any powder visible after application must be brushed in cracks or removed. Borates are environmentally safe, odorless and used in homes with children and pets.
Ticks are not only repulsive parasites that feed on the blood of animals and people, but they carry diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease. Tick adults and nymphs have eight legs whereas the larvae (first stage) have six. All stages are round to oval shaped and they are flattened before a blood meal. The adult female becomes engorged after feeding but adult males do not.
Twelve species of ticks are known to occur in Ohio, but only 4 are commonly encountered.Not all ticks cause disease. All the important species in Ohio are hard ticks. They are called hard ticks because they possess a hard plate on the upper surface just behind the mouth parts. In males this extends along the body of the tick. It is much smaller in females allowing them to become engorged when feeding.
The brown dog tick, Rhipicephalus sanguineus, is the only species that can become established as a pest in homes and kennels because it can complete its entire life cycle indoors. Brown dog ticks can complete a generation in only two months with optimal conditions. Brown dog ticks rarely attack humans, dogs are their preferred host. Although these ticks do not thrive in wooded areas, they may occur in grassy and bushy areas adjacent to homes and kennels, roadsides, and footpaths.
Three other tick species are important because they can carry diseases.
Adults of the American dog tick, Dermacentor variabilis, are most abundant from mid-April to mid-July. Adult ticks feed on a wide variety of medium to large size mammals, such as raccoons, ground hogs, opossum, dogs, and humans. The adult tick waits on grass and weeds for a suitable host to brush against the vegetation. It then clings to the fur or clothing and crawls upward seeking a place to attach and feed. The adult female feeds for 7 to 10 days then drops to the ground. After several days, she will lay several thousand eggs before dying. The male remains on the host and continues to feed and mate for the rest of the season until his death. American dog ticks occur primarily in overgrown vacant lots, fallow farm fields, weedy roadsides, and edges of paths and hiking trails. Under optimal conditions, it takes only 3 months to produce the next generation.
The lone star tick, Amblyomma americanum, is common in the southern half of Ohio. All stages can be found throughout the warm months of the year. This species typically occurs in shady locations along roadsides and meadows and near the edges of wooded areas. All stages crawl to the tip of low growing vegetation and wait for a host to pass by. All stages feed on a variety of bird and mammal hosts, including humans. A generation generally takes 2-3 years to complete.
The deer tick, Ixodes scapularis, is rare in Ohio. Theyare usually found in or near forested areas. The immature stages of this species feed on birds, rodents, and other small to medium size mammals such as dogs, raccoons, and opossum. Adult deer ticks feed on large mammals, most commonly white-tailed deer. Hence, some people call them ‘deer ticks’. All stages may attach to humans. A generation usually takes 2-3 years, but can take only 9 months under optimal conditions.
Tick feeding often results in inflammation, swelling, irritation, and the potential for secondary bacterial infection at the feeding site. When dogs are heavily infested, excessive blood loss can result in death. In some cases, the ticks may cause paralysis in dogs. The risk of infection in dogs and humans by tick-borne disease agents is of primary concern including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, tularemia, and babesiosis among others. Dogs that become infected with a tick-borne disease may become lethargic and anemic; they may quit eating and lose weight; in some cases, they may become lame. A dog with such symptoms should be examined by a veterinarian.
If ticks are indoors, flea and tick foggers, sprays, or powders can be used. Inside, ticks typically crawl (they don’t jump) up and may be in cracks around windows and doors. A one-foot barrier of insecticide, where the carpeting and wall meet, can help with tick control.
Prevent Ticks from Attaching
Frontline (fipronil) is a liquid applied to the skin between a dog’s shoulders that discourages ticks from staying or implanting. If a tick attached, FRONTLINE will begin to take effect immediately and the tick will die and fall off 24-48 hours later
Revolution (selamectin) is labeled for one kind of tick.
Preventic, an amitraz collar, discourages ticks from implanting or staying on. Preventic can be used on dogs, but not in cats, for whom it can be fatal.
DEET, found in many over-the-counter insecticides, is toxic to pets. Any spray insecticide labeled for use on clothing should not be sprayed directly on pets.
Find and Remove the Ticks
The best way to find ticks on your pet is to run your hands over the whole body. Check for ticks every time your pet comes back from an area you know is inhabited by ticks. Ticks attach most frequently around the pet’s head, ears, neck, and feet, but are by no means restricted to those areas.
Prompt removal of an attached tick reduces the chance of infection by Rocky Mountain spotted fever or Lyme disease. Tick attachment of several hours or more often is required for disease transmission. Do not squeeze the tick because it might inject some disease-causing organisms, such as bacteria, viruses, protozoa, or other agents, into the animal during the process. Rocky Mountain spotted fever may be acquired from infected tick body fluids that contact broken skin, the mouth, or eyes.
Do NOT use a hot match or cigarette to remove a tick as this may cause the tick to burst. Do NOT apply solvents or other materials to the tick to “stimulate” the tick to detach. Such treatments can result in increased tick salivation and disease transmission. Avoid touching a tick with bare hands. Shield your fingers with a paper towel, wear rubber gloves, or use tweezers. Grasp an embedded tick as close to the skin as possible (the area where the tick’s mouthparts enter the skin) and use steady pressure to pull it straight out. Do not twist or jerk the tick, as its mouthparts may be left in the skin. After tick removal, thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water. The feeding lesion may be swabbed with alcohol to prevent secondary bacterial infection.
Once you have removed a live tick, don’t dispose of it until you have killed it. Put the tick in alcohol or insecticide to kill it.