Ugh, fleas. Is there anything worse than finding fleas on your pets? If you’re an experienced pet owner, you know that where there's a flea, there are two fleas. And where there are two fleas, there's an infestation. If you're lucky, you caught the fleas early, before they've dropped hundreds of eggs all over your carpets and furniture. Follow my tips for flea control, and Fido and Fluffy will thank you.
Effective flea control requires treatment of both the pet and the home, and the use of products that address the entire flea life cycle. You will need to use products that kill the eggs, the larvae, and the adults. You should always consult your veterinarian before using any flea control products in your home or on your pet. Please consult your veterinarian before implementing the advice offered in this article.
Step One: Treat your pet for fleas.
Fortunately, there are a number of flea treatment products for pets available now that are both easy-to-use and effective. These include topical products, often called "spot-on" treatments, and oral products. Some products can be used on either dogs or cats, while others are not safe for use on cats. Examples of such flea treatments include:
- Frontline Plus ® – topical
- Advantage ® - topical
- Frontline Topspot ® - topical
- Revolution ® - topical
- Program ® - oral
- Capstar ® - oral
- Comfortis ® - oral
These products are usually applied or administered monthly or every few months. The formulations used typically have lower toxicity than products like flea powders or shampoos. Most require a prescription from your veterinarian. Ask your veterinarian which product is right for your pet.
Step Two: Treat your home for fleas.
This is an important step. Remember, the flea eggs drop off your pet. Flea larvae don't feed on blood, they can find everything they need to live in your carpet. After you treat your pet with an approved flea control product, you need to get rid of the fleas in your carpet and on your furniture. Otherwise, the flea eggs will keep hatching, and you will be fighting a perpetual infestation of hungry fleas.
If you act as soon as you notice Fido scratching, you may only need a vacuum and a washing machine for this step. Mild flea infestations can often be managed with some persistent housework. Concentrate your efforts on the areas of your home where your pet spends the most time. Which door does your dog use to enter your home? Does your cat sleep on your bed, or on a favorite chair? Think about where your pets spend their time. Then follow these steps:
- Wash pet bedding, blankets, linens, and throw rugs in hot water. Anything your pet has been on or near that can fit in the washing machine should be laundered. Use the hottest water possible.
- Vacuum carpets thoroughly. If possible, use a vacuum with a beater bar, as these do a better job of moving the carpet pile and getting to the flea eggs and larvae deep within the rug. Make sure you pick up any clutter – don't just vacuum around it! Also, move the furniture and vacuum underneath. Some people recommend putting a flea collar inside the vacuum bag to kill the fleas once you've collected them. I haven't found any studies that show this helps, but in my mind, it certainly won't hurt.
- Vacuum upholstered furniture. Even if you don't think your pets climb on your furniture, trust me, they are. There are probably flea eggs hidden in your couch cushions. Vacuum all the cushions, cracks, crevices, and seams carefully. Remove the cushions and vacuum underneath them, too.
For bad infestations, you may also need to do a little more cleaning and use an environmental flea treatment:
- Vacuum baseboards and trim, and other places where fleas may still be hiding. If you didn't catch the flea infestation early enough, or in a year when flea populations are higher than usual, you may need to be more thorough with your housekeeping chores. In addition to vacuuming carpets and upholstered furniture, use a crevice tool to remove fleas from under baseboard molding and kitchen cabinets. Look around the places where your pets eat, sleep, and play, and try to find the places where fleas may still be hiding.
- Apply a pesticide labeled for flea control to infested carpets and furniture. The key is to use the right product – one that contains an insect growth regulator. For flea control, look for spray products that contain methoprene or pyriproxyfen. These products disrupt the flea life cycle, ending the fleas' ability to reproduce in your home. As with all pesticides, the label is the law. Follow all directions on the product label. Do not apply these products to your pet or your skin. Keep pets and children off of treated carpets and furniture until the product has dried (again, follow the label directions).
You might be tempted to set off a "bug bomb" product, also known as a pesticide fogger, to treat your fleas, rather than doing all this vacuuming and cleaning. Please don't bother. Not only are bug bombs ineffective for flea control, but if used improperly, they can be dangerous.
Step Three: Check for Fleas and Retreat as Needed
Finally, be vigilant in looking for signs of fleas, and be persistent in treating for them. If you still find fleas after following the steps above, you may need to do another round of cleaning and vacuuming. Don't forget to reapply monthly topical flea treatments to your pets. Here are a few quick ways to check for fleas:
- Use a flea comb on your pets. You can purchase a fine-toothed flea comb at your local pet supply store, or at your veterinarian's office. Comb your cat or dog regularly, and examine the comb for fleas, flea eggs, or flea dirt which may be a sign of flea bites. You can also tap the comb on a white piece of paper, which will shake fleas or evidence of fleas loose so they are easier to see.
- Use a lint roller on your clothing. After your cat or dog has been on your lap, do a quick check of your clothing with a lint roller. Use the kind that comes with sticky tape, and roll it over your pants and shirt. Check the sticky tape for evidence of fleas.
For all but the most severe flea infestations, these steps should get fleas under control. In some cases, such as when a multi-unit apartment building becomes heavily infested with fleas, the services of a professional pest control specialist may be required to eliminate the pests.