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Help With Ridding The House of Fleas

Updated on October 1, 2015
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An Age-Old Problem Remains An Age-Old Problem

Even as we speak, many of you are dealing with fleas on your pets and in your house. Others will have to deal with them eventually, and there are also a few of you who won’t have to deal with the problem at all, because you’ve done things right.

The emergence of the “spot-on” flea & tick control products back in the mid-1990’s revolutionized how we control those parasites. Once a month we'd squeeze the contents of a little tube between the pet's shoulder blades.

Almost overnight flea powder and flea & tick collars became obsolete because many of the spot-ons controlled both pests on the animal.

The spot-ons are so effective that by the mid-2000’s people had all but stopped having to use flea foggers in the house because they hadn’t seen a flea in years. In fact, I think that pets and homes were flea-free for so many years that flea control sort of got pushed to the back burner and pet owners got a little careless about it.

Now all of a sudden, after all those heady, flea-free years, they had flea problems again and, of course, blamed everything from product failure to global warming. Nice try. If you're looking to place blame, look in the mirror. You most likely dropped the ball.

Severe flea infestations develop almost overnight because female fleas lay 4 to 6 dozen eggs every day of their year-plus life. In 3-5 days the eggs hatch into larvae, and a week later the larvae pupate (spin a cocoon). They complete the metamorphosis into an adult, in just a couple of short weeks.

The pupal state is a real problem, though. They can stay in that cocoon, impervious to environmental extremes and pesticides, for anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 years, emerging as adults when the conditions are right.

One can buy a house or rent an apartment that’s been vacant for a couple of years, and when you move in, POOF! you’ve got fleas, whether you have a pet or not!

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Inside an occupied dwelling, conditions (such as temperature, humidity and available hosts to feed off of) are always right, so they emerge from the cocoon after about two weeks. And they don’t emerge as babies. They come out as small adults, taking their first blood meal within 12 hours and laying their first eggs within 48 hours.

By the way, “available hosts” means you, the kids and the pets. Starts to get creepy now, doesn’t it?

So from the time the egg is laid until that little life form is a biting, breeding adult, is less than a month. Multiply that timetable by the incredible volume of eggs laid on you and your pets, and you can see how quickly a major flea infestation develops.

Wait a minute! Did I say “eggs laid on you and your pets?” I hate to gross you out, but it’s true. A flea lays her eggs on the host, be it man or beast, and as that man or beast walks around the house the eggs fall off and the life cycle begins; on carpets, bare floors and furniture.


Not all people are bothered by fleas, but those who are usually have a miserable time of it. And not all people get bitten in a flea infested area.

I'm a case in point. We once rented a large lakeside vacation home with some friends, and like many rental houses, this one was infested.

There were eight of us and only a few were bitten. Luckily, I wasn't one of them.

I don't know why that is. Perhaps there are certain body chemistry profiles that fleas find appealing.

Or, perhaps there are certain body chemistry profiles that prevent a reaction when fleas do bite.

Flea control needs to be done right, though, if it’s to be effective, and there are lots of ways to screw it up.

The best idea is to buy flea control products from your veterinarian or a pet supply store where the personnel are very knowledgeable, and follow their directions to the letter.

If you do have to fog your house, be sure to buy the foggers with an IGR such as Methoprene, Precor, Nylar, etc.

IGR’s (Insect Growth Regulators) disrupt the life cycle of fleas (and only fleas, by the way) in the egg and larval stage, sort of like birth control for fleas.

They may be as much as twice as expensive as the plain insecticidal foggers, which don’t contain IGRs and which won’t break the fleas’ life-cycle.

If you use those without an IGR, you’ll have to fog repeatedly, and you'll never solve your problem. With the IGRs, you fog twice, two weeks apart. Period (if you do it right).

With the foggers, also buy a can of premise or carpet spray, which usually contains the same stuff as the foggers, only you can start and stop the spray at will.

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You’ll use this to pre-treat areas the fogging material won’t reach (i.e. under cushions and furniture and inside closets), and that would otherwise provide a safe haven for the fleas.You need to treat the animals, too.

Before applying a spot-on do a flea bath with an insecticidal shampoo.

A lot of pet owners shampoo their dogs as they do themselves; lather and rinse. But that doesn't work well with a flea shampoo.

Before you get the animal completely wet, lather up the head and neck and leave them lathered as you wet and lather the rest of the body.

Not only will it kill any fleas present, it will eliminate the possibility that fleas could seek a safe haven.

That’s because when the animal gets wet, the fleas will scamper to the head, hide safely in the nose and ears, and survive the shampoo.

Keep in mind that once you rinse the shampoo off, there is no residual protection. The insecticide is gone.

Since there’s no residual protection, leave the animal completely lathered for up to 10 minutes to give the insecticide time to do its magic.

Some of the fleas can be protected as they huddle under the wet hair, and if you rinse the shampoo off too soon, the insecticide may not have time to reach the flea.

Leaving the animals lathered for 10 minutes gives the insecticide a chance to reach the flea. While that may be easier said than done, you could put the lathered pet in a crate or carrier while waiting for the shampoo to "set."

The experts say to treat the yard. I've heard of back yard parties being ruined by bees, mosquitoes and ants, but I can’t remember any backyard events ever being cancelled because of fleas. But treating the yard for fleas also protects against ticks, which I think is a more realistic threat outdoors. And there’s a right way to do that, too.

Ticks hang out at the ends of grasses and shrubs waiting for a host to brush by so they can hitch a ride and grab a quick blood meal. So, it wouldn’t make much sense to use a granular insecticide, which lands on the ground and isn't activated until you water it in.

You’ll have a much better shot at controlling ticks if you use a liquid insecticide and spray the shrubs and grasses. It will reach the ground at the same time, killing the crawling insects as well, but more importantly it will stick to the foliage making it more likely that the ticks will be killed. Liquid insecticides can be sprayed from a can, trigger-squeeze bottle, pump sprayer or hose-end sprayer.

No Pets, No Problems, Right? Wrong!

I’ve known people who don’t even own pets but whose house was flea infested. Fleas can hitch a ride on you, for example, if you visit someplace that’s infested. You then bring them home with you. Or, if someone from an infested place visits you, they can bring fleas into your home with them.

Or how about when the kids rescue a baby wild animal or feral cat. If it's flea infested, your home probably will be, too. If mice, squirrels or any other warm-blooded wildlife get into your house, they can bring fleas along with them.

For some reason fleas are attracted to white, so if you’re wearing white sneakers, socks, slacks or tops, you’ll be more likely to draw to the little parasites onto your clothing if you’re unfortunate enough to be in a flea-infested environment.

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The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Fleas are more than just an annoyance. They’re the intermediate hosts of tapeworms that can be transmitted to pets and people. And they can cause a skin condition, especially problematic in dogs and cats, known as flea allergy dermatitis or flea saliva dermatitis, which can lead to a secondary skin infection.

Untreated, bacteria from the infected skin can eventually migrate to other parts of the body causing other health problems. So, a flea problem shouldn’t be taken lightly, and when treating the problem, do it right. You’ll save time, money, and a lot of aggravation.

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