We think of fleas as arriving with the warm weather, but this year’s hot and dry summer has actually slowed them down. Fleas need humidity and moisture to reproduce, which is why the wetter months of September and October generally see the worst infestations. Ideal conditions for them are 60 – 70°F with humidity of 70 – 85%, so we can expect a larger problem in the months to come. An adult female can lay up to 50 eggs a day, exponentially increasing the population in short order, but with a combination of strategies we can keep them under control.
What you can do now
The first order of business, even if you haven’t seen a single flea, is to treat your environment.
Fleas spend most of their time off the host, but jump on to lay eggs, which fall off before hatching and settle where your pet walks or hangs out – carpeting, cracks in the floor, furniture and pet bedding (also in your bed if they sleep with you). For every adult flea, there are many more juveniles in various stages – larvae and pupae inside their cocoons, waiting for the right conditions to emerge and start feeding.
To break the life cycle, try Fleago, a non-toxic borate crystal that you sprinkle into carpeting, flooring and under upholstery cushions where it kills fleas and larvae by a mechanical process of abrasion and dehydration. Initially, it will take two to three weeks for all adult fleas to disappear, is guaranteed to last for one year. For bedding, heat is the key – washing in hot water or tumbling it dry in a hot dryer will kill all life stages.
Testing for fleas
Just because an animal is scratching doesn’t mean that fleas are present. Summer time brings out a lot of inhalant and skin allergies, too. To diagnose the itch, use a fine-toothed flea comb around the the base of the tail for dogs, and the back of the neck for cats. If you pull out live fleas, or even flea dirt (black specks that turn red when dropped on a wet paper towel), you’ll know that fleas are the culprit. For other causes of summer itching, click here.
Insecticidal spot treatments and collars
Although we don’t advise them as a first line of defense, we’ve added some conventional topical chemicals to our flea fighting toolkit for the first time in 30 years. Why? Because sometimes you need a quick kill for a major infestation or when a serious flea allergy triggers intense itching and chewing from a single flea bite. In cases like those, even the most holistic veterinarians will recommend topical treatments, and often suggest that strengthening foods and supplements be given at the same time to counteract any negative effects.
Advantage II and Seresto collars are our choice because they have fewer reported side effects and include an insect growth regulator to prevent juvenile fleas from developing into biting adults. Either can be used to buy time while you improve your fur kid’s diet and give the immune boosting supplements a chance to work. If spot treatments have irritated your pet’s skin in the past, the Seresto collar may a better option. It works for 8 months, but you can take it off at the first sign of a bad reaction, or only use it on occasion. Whichever you use, watch closely to see how your pet responds, and discontinue if problems occur.
Diet and supplements to prevent fleas
Fleas are nature’s way of separating the healthy from the weak and thinning out the herd; they are attracted to animals with low vitality and poor immune function. The best long term plan for reducing and eliminating fleas is to improve the quality of your pet’s food and add some key supplements that boost the immune system and nourish skin, your pet’s first line of defense. The digestive enzymes in Enzymes Plus provides serious immune system support – you’d be at surprised how effective that can be. Essential fatty acids bathe skin cells in natural oils that make it harder for fleas to bite and also plug up their breathing holes. Snook’s Nutritional Flea Supplement, with organic garlic and brewers yeast, is high in dietary sulfur that imparts a scent to skin keeps fleas away. It may take more than one flea season to build up your pet’s health, but in the long run, “too healthy for fleas” is the method that works best.