Late summer and early fall in North America generally heralds the height of flea season, a miserable time of year for your pet. They bring suffering in the form of incessant itchiness, and are the vehicles for tapeworms and other diseases. Pets who are allergic to flea saliva will scratch themselves raw, beginning a downward spiral of skin conditions which will need aggressive treatment to bring relief. Even one flea can cause misery for a pet with flea allergy dermatitis.
It is an ongoing battle against Mother Nature to keep these little beasties from tormenting your furry family member, but keeping up a consistent fight should bring some measure of success in controlling them. It is important first of all, to understand the life cycle of the most common flea found on your pet, the cat flea. Understanding their life cycle will help you to concentrate your attack where it is most effective.
Fleas have four main stages in their life cycle: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The complete life cycle can range from a few weeks to several months, depending on environmental conditions. Fleas love hot and humid conditions.
Adult fleas prefer to live on the animal and their diet consists of blood meals courtesy of the host animal. The female flea lays white, roundish eggs, up to 50 per day. Adult fleas spend about 90% of their time on your pet.
Eggs usually fall off of the animal into the carpet, bedding, floorboards, and soil. When the flea egg hatches varies — anywhere from two days to a few weeks, depending on environmental conditions.
Larvae consume the feces of adult fleas and other organic debris found in the carpet, bedding, and soil. The larval stage lasts about 5 to 18 days (longer in some cases), then the larva spins a silken cocoon and pupates.
Pupa: Here is where the flea gets sneaky. The pupae can survive as long as one to two years. In this stage, the pupae are impervious to chemicals and insecticides. When conditions are right, they will emerge as adult fleas. This ability to wait is usually the reason why fleas will often re-emerge long after a flea control regimen appears to have been successful.
So, how do you go about controlling these nasty and bloodthirsty little beasties? Treating not only the pet, but your home and yard are important. It’s an arduous process which may take several weeks, but the end result is worth it. The old saying holds true when it comes to fleas; ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’
Ultimately it may be necessary to use more traditional chemical means to kill and control fleas around your home and on your pet. While not scientifically proven to work, some people have found that there are more natural methods which they swear by, so here we offer up some of those ideas should you care to try them.
Purchase beneficial nematodes
To control fleas which lurk outside in your yard, one earth-friendly solution you can try is to go to your local garden centre and purchase some beneficial nematodes. These are tiny worm-like multicellular animals found in the soil and they eat fleas and larvae. Ladybugs will also eat fleas and are also readily available at your local garden centre.
Cut Your Grass
Keep your grass cut short. Fleas love to hide in long grass, ready to pounce! You could also try planting lemon balm, rosemary and sage as they are thought to help repel fleas.
Inside your house, vacuum often, especially in areas where your pets hang out or sleep. Make sure you dispose of the vacuum bag or empty the canister immediately as fleas can continue to live once they have been sucked up inside. It’s a good idea to put a piece of flea collar inside your vacuum bag to kill fleas which are sucked up by the vacuum. Disinfect hard surface floors as well.
Launder pet beds and furniture covers often.
For carpeted areas of your home, you can try using food grade Diatomaceous Earth (DE). This is a non-toxic powder made up of fossilized organisms called diatoms that are thought by many to break apart flea eggs and dry them out before they can grow into adult fleas. Sprinkle on carpets and vacuum up in 48 hours. Wear a mask while applying as it can irritate your lungs.
Use Castile soap
If, despite your best efforts your pet still ends up with fleas, try washing your pet with citrus Castile soap each week.. A thorough daily going over with a flea comb is also essential. Make sure you continue the regimen of washing all bedding and vacuuming frequently.
Taking the natural route for flea prevention and control definitely takes more time and energy, and sometimes despite your best efforts, treatment with non-natural solutions is the only way to get rid of them once and for all. But hopefully your diligent care and unending efforts will do away with those nasty fleas and provide you and your pet with some lasting comfort.
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