We hear this a lot. We also hear “I’ve never seen a flea. My pet doesn’t have fleas.” Basically, it is extremely likely that your pet has had the occasional flea, even if they never go outside. Even if you never see a flea. Even if you bathe them all the time. Even if they wear a flea collar you bought at a retail store. Even if you are applying your pet’s topical flea medication the same day every month. The problem is, fleas come from wildlife outside, as well as other pets. Walking along outside, a flea may jump on your clothing. Because humans are colder than fleas like, as soon as you approach a nice furry, warm animal, like your dog or cat, the flea jumps off you and onto your pet. For a printable sheet of Dr. Rox’s recommendations for dog flea control click HERE , dog tick control click HERE, and cat flea control click HERE. For 13 suggestions on how to break the flea cycle in your home, click HERE.

Each adult flea is able to produce up to 50 unkillable eggs a day within about 24 hours of biting your pet. The adult flea continues to live on your dog, running around, biting your pet up to 200 times a day for additional meals (of blood!) and continuing to produce more flea eggs. The eggs, dried flea feces and some bits of dried blood fall off your pet and end up in the deepest recesses of your furniture, floor, carpeting or anywhere else they happen to land. They are “sticky” so it is hard to remove them. The eggs hatch into larvae (gross, worm-like things) that are almost impossible to see without magnification. These larve live on the feces and dried blood that fell off your pet. After a while, the larva spins a cocoon, where it develops into a starving, small adult flea. When your pet walks by, the flea senses the vibrations and heat and jumps on your pet and starts biting it’s new host, getting blood meals. For a video of this nasty cycle, click on the flea at the left side.

The hotter and moister the environment is, the faster the cycle of adult flea to egg to larva to adult flea happens. If it is cooler, or drier, the cycle takes longer. Fleas in their various stages can live for up to two YEARS without a host (like a dog or cat or possum or raccoon or, well, you get the idea). Since most animals chew at the itchy spot when the adult flea bites, the flea either rapidly runs to another part of the pet’s body or is eaten (potentially infecting your pet with tapeworms, by the way). So it is rare for a person to actually see a flea on their pet unless they are just swarming with them. Each adult flea you see is an indicator of 95 other fleas in various stages of the life cycle in that area. By the time you see a few fleas, there is a BIG problem.

This is why it is essential to:

1) Apply safe, effective flea preventative medication to your pet regularly, year round. (It doesn’t get below freezing, which is needed to kill the fleas, in the typical home, so not applying prevention in the winter is asking for a problem to develop)

2) Treat ALL the flea susceptible pets in your home for fleas regularly. Any untreated animals act as a constant source of new flea eggs.

3) If you have pets other than dogs or cats, check with their veterinarian  to see if flea prevention is needed and what is safe to use. Using medicine designed for another species may be poisonous to your pet. At the very least, it may be ineffective. At the worst, it may kill the pet. When in doubt check with your veterinarian.

4) Follow the label directions for the preventative medicine you are applying to your pet. If your pet takes Program, Sentinel, Comfortis or Trifexis, giving the medicine with a full meal is essential or it will not be absorbed or work as expected.

5) If your pet is having a bad flea problem right now, you need to treat the environment as well as your pet, to get rid of as many adult fleas as fast as possible. (This is not essential, but just treating the pet makes getting the fleas under control take much longer). Be sure to treat any shaded areas or favorite resting spots outside, by raking away any loose debris and treating the area with an insecticide labeled for that use. Keep pets off any treated areas until they are dry. If the pet stays or comes in the house, you will need to treat the house, too. Foggers, sprays labeled for indoor use and exterminators are all good choices. Be sure to carefully follow all label directions if you do it yourself.  You will probably need to re-treat the environment at regular intervals to continue to eliminate more fleas as they hatch out.

6) If your pet has sores or raw, red areas on their skin, take them to the veterinarian to be sure they don’t have additional problems, like infection, that will require medical treatment.

7) Once the problem is under control, continue to use regular, safe, flea control on your pet(s) to help prevent another big flea problem in the future.