Flea control – now, never or forever?

Fleas have lived on the earth for about 165 million years (yep, with the dinosaurs). And despite our best efforts, they'll be around for a while longer

Fleas have a fearsome reputation. Deservedly so, I mean they were responsible for the bubonic plague (The Black Death). And although plague carrying fleas do still exist, that's not the problem we're talking about in Bayside Melbourne.

We're talking itchy pets.


About fleas

Fleas are funny things. They have powerful thighs that make them faster than Usain Bolt and able to jump more tall buildings in a single bound than Superman. 

A female flea consumes 15 times her body weight in blood per day. And since she can lay around 2000 eggs in her lifetime, you could say fleas breed more... well more than most.

Those eggs don't live on the host (ie your pet. you, birds, reptiles, possums, rabbits). They drop off into the environment (ie your house, yard, park etc). If we look at the whole flea population, eggs make up over 50%. The eggs hatch when the conditions are right – if it's warm and humid, they can hatch in only a few days. If it's cold and dry, they can remain dormant... waiting.

The eggs hatch out into larvae, which keep themselves out of the light and feed on the pre-digested blood (ie flea poo) that also drops off the host. Ick. After about 5–20 days, these poo-munching larvae spin cocoons and pupate.

The cocoon protects the pupae for days to weeks. Its sticky coating allows it to adhere deep in carpets and soft furnishings, and also protects the pupae from chemicals.

An adult flea will only emerge from the cocoon when there are signs of a potential host – vibrations (footsteps), warmth (body heat or switching on the heating) and rising levels of carbon dioxide.


Flea control

Some pets get a tremendous itch from a few flea bites and other pets never seem bothered – so should everyone use flea control all the time? or just if there is an obvious problem?

The decision to use regular flea control can be based on your answer to a few questions:

Are there likely to be fleas around? 

The Melbourne Bayside area with its sandy soil, warm spring, cosy effective winter heating and outdoor lifestyle makes for an excellent environment for fleas to thrive in the community. However, not all pets get out and about.

Indoor pets, like apartment cats who don't go outside or mix with pets who go outside, have a closed environment and a low chance of meeting fleas.

Dogs who go to the dog park, holiday house or beach and cats who have outdoors access have a high chance of meeting up with fleas.

If your pet has very low risk factors, you may consider whether regular flea control is needed.

Note: Welcoming a new pet to the household can also introduce fleas to your family.

How does my pet handle itchiness?

Fleas cause your pet to be itchy by:

  • biting and crawling on the skin
  • inciting an allergic response in your pet's body – known as flea allergy dermatitis (FAD).

Pets can get very uncomfortable and scratch, chew or lick (groom) the itchy area – sometimes to the point of making a hot spot area of dermatitis.

Some pets find it hard to tolerate small irritations and other pets are not particularly bothered by things until they get super bad. It's important to know whether your pet is a worrier and a licker as these pets will need extra consideration for regular flea control.

The UKH! factor 

Did you know that if your pet has fleas then it usually takes 2–6 months of regular flea control before you will see a flea-free pet?

As your flea control slowly works through the flea population from the environment, you will usually see fewer (and often smaller) fleas.  These fleas are unlikely to bite you, but if they freak you out a bit, you may decide that year-round flea control is your preference.

Is my pet the allergic type?

Common signs of that your pet might suffer from allergies are itchy skin and sensitive stomachs.

Pets are often allergic to several things at once. Exposure to some allergens, like grass pollens and dust mites, can be near impossible to limit. But others, like fleas and food allergens, are more easily controlled.  

It's thought that all pets have an 'itch threshold' that, if reached, starts an itching and scratching cycle. By limiting exposure to the more easily controlled common allergens (eg fleas), you may stop your pet ever reaching their itch threshold and feeling uncomfortable.

So... if your pet has allergic tendencies, excellent fast and effective regular flea control is really important.

Feel free to have a chat with us to formulate an individual flea control plan for your pet.