How You Can Help Make Your Flea Treatment Successful
By Chris Williams on May 9, 2014.
Katlyn Graham: Hello, I’m Katlyn Graham here with Tim Chace, a pest control technician with Colonial Pest and entomologist. Welcome Tim.
Tim Chace: Good morning.
Katlyn: Thanks for joining us here. We’re talking about fleas today, an area of your expertise. You’ve dealt with a lot of fleas in your lifetime. I’m sure you’ve responded to a lot of homes where people are dealing with fleas. Can you tell us, for people who might be about to undergo this, or are dealing with fleas, what is involved in a successful flea treatment?
Tim: That is an excellent question. Flea treatment can be very complicated. The most important part of a flea treatment is the preparation. Typically the flea treatment involves the floor spaces of the house, and sometimes furniture items, like couches, chairs, maybe windowsills, or other things that can’t necessarily be cleaned or washed appropriately.
We recommend a very thorough vacuuming before the flea treatment underneath items, beds, and all floor surfaces, if possible. If you could vacuum down into the couches and chairs, especially areas where the pet spends a lot of time, research has shown that vacuuming in three directions can actually pick up almost 89 to 90 percent of the flea material that’s present at any given time.
So that’s a very important process. Also, using the crack‑and‑crevice vacuum around wood floor edges, into the backs and hidden spots of couches, chairs, windowsills, and any other places that flea dirt, the flea eggs, and other material can accumulate and be hidden, that’s pretty much important. Then, understanding what’s going to take place during the treatment is also important.
Katlyn: What does happen during the treatment?
Tim: We do an inspection of the structure to make sure that there’s no kids’ toys, pet toys, or anything that shouldn’t be sprayed, in the area. Then we’ll begin the process by treating the farthest area away from the door first, so that we’re moving backwards through the rooms.
Depending on the floor surface involved, for example on a linoleum floor, we won’t treat the whole floor because that can be easily washed and cleaned. So you know that you’ve cleaned up 100 percent of the material. We will treat a band along the edge of the linoleum, underneath appliances, and things that are more difficult to clean.
Carpeted floors present a much more deep area for flea eggs and flea dirt to penetrate. Those areas we very much focus on with our spray treatment. We use materials that are designed for flea treatment. We’ll use an adulticide that’s designed to kill the adult fleas and the little larvae that are in the carpet.
We also use what we call an insect growth regulator that disrupts the life cycle of the flea. In the presence of this material, the larval fleas cannot turn into the pupae, so it’s very effective in breaking the life cycle. Both of these chemicals last three to four months once they’re applied, so it’s a very effective treatment. However, it doesn’t kill the fleas immediately.
Katlyn: It sounds like, for preparing for this, vacuuming is huge, and cleaning. Now, is there anything I can do to make this flea treatment more effective?
Tim: Absolutely. We also recommend that you treat the pet in some fashion. Again, you might have to take your cat to the vet or some other method to get the fleas off your cat. Dogs are much more easily bathed. You can take him out to a bucket or stick him in the bathtub and give him a good flea bath. That’s very important.
Another thing to consider, again, is vacuuming, vacuuming, vacuuming. That’s probably the most important thing for a flea treatment.
Katlyn: You’re thinking vacuuming every day.
Tim: Especially after the treatment. One of the things that happens is, as the fleas go through their life cycle, the egg forms into the little larval worm. The worm then forms an impenetrable little pupa. The day before the flea treatment, the pupa that formed that day has between one to two weeks before it can turn into the adult flea.
The fleas that were formed before that have a little timer set on their pupa. As time passes, each of these pupae reaches its developmental point where it can become an adult flea. The vacuuming helps stimulate those fleas to hatch out. We want the fleas to be stimulated to hatch at their earliest convenience so that they can come out and contact the insecticide.
Also, through the vacuuming process, you may be able to suck them right up into the vacuum as they hatch. Daily vacuuming ‑‑ especially in the heavy pet areas that we’re concerned about ‑‑ is critical to any flea treatment and the success of it.
Katlyn: Vacuuming in three directions. I hadn’t heard that before. That’s a good tip. I’ll have to remember that one.
Tim: As it turns out, the fibers are pulled by your vacuum in various ways as the vacuum passes over that. It’s very effective, especially in the initial phases of flea control, because you can, literally, remove 90 percent of these fleas, flea eggs, and flea poop, if you will, that contributes to the flea development.
Katlyn: After you’ve done this treatment, am I going to notice anything in my house, or what should I expect?
Tim: After a flea treatment, one thing you’ll notice is it’s a lot better, because two things that have taken place. You’ve cleaned the heck out of the house. You’ve been vacuuming. That stimulates a lot of the fleas that hatched, that are going to hatch.
Adult fleas that hop around on the carpet that’s been treated will contact that insecticide and die, although not instantaneously. It does take a little bit of time for the insect to die from that, but over time you’ll notice that there’s definitely a reduction in the flea population.
If you continue to vacuum as scheduled, you will notice that after 30 days you’re almost at the limit of these pupae hatching, that have been developed, and you’ll see very little activity. However, there’s still definitely going to be some flea action in the house.
As these pupae hatch, the little fleas will get on you, but that’s where the vacuuming comes in and understanding what’s actually taking place. With the growth regulator and the adulticide, there’s no way for the flea population to continue if we both work together and continue to try to solve this problem.
It is a hand‑in‑hand process when we’re treating fleas that does not only involve the pest control operator, but also there’s a lot that the homeowner needs to do and understand during a flea treatment for it to be successful.
That also includes maintaining the pet. If you continue to have an outdoor cat that goes outside and brings new fleas into the house, that can be a source of re‑infestation. That can cause a flea job to be what we would call unsuccessful.
Katlyn: I see. How long does this flea treatment last? Obviously, if your pet is re‑infesting the house constantly that won’t last then, but how long does it typically?
Tim: What we like to do is give you a six‑month warranty with that. It’s hard to use the word a typical flea treatment, because each one is an individual situation all on its own. We like to think that the chemical lasts three to five months anyway, once it’s applied, unless it’s been somehow removed through cleaning.
Most of our clients seem to get good results after the first month or so. Then, if they continue with their good maintenance problems, it may be years before that happens again.
Katlyn: It may be years before you need a re‑treatment?
Katlyn: If ever?
Tim: We’re able to retreat for fleas after 30 days, according to the label. If it’s not successful, we can come back and reapply the chemicals, but we ask that you do almost the same preparation again and continue with that ever present vacuuming.
Katlyn: The vacuuming really is key?
Tim: It seems to be one of the major keys in a successful flea job. You want to remove that bag too. The fleas can live inside that bag. There’s been cases where they’ve gotten out of the vacuum before. They’ve opened the bag up, and it was filled with living fleas.
It’s best to probably put that into a sealed trash bag or container out of the structure, instead of vacuuming every day with that same vacuum. Then using a good vacuum is probably important as well. There is a lot of variation between what vacuums can do. I’ve seen the most inadequate vacuums in use.
I usually said, “Gees, that’s not doing anything,” and yet she’s been vacuuming every day. It did help. It stimulated the pupa to hatch but she wasn’t removing the material. Everything was just clogged.
Katlyn: So you really need a good vacuum. Some people say that they have the flea treatment. The fleas go away for a week and then two weeks later they’re back. It sounds like that must be, is it the pupa…
Tim: You’re exactly right.
Katlyn: … [laughs] Hatching?
Tim: That fits the model that we just discussed that usually takes between 24 to 14 days for the pupa to hatch. That can be a much longer period, too. That two weeks is when the first ones hatch that were just formed on the day of the treatment. That’s just about the time period where we’ve killed all the adult fleas. You’ve been vacuuming.
Everything that wanted to hatch has hatched. Now that last wave is there waiting. That’s about the beginning of the end at that two week mark, where those last‑formed pupas are starting to hatch out and get on you. That’s a critical time to, again, vacuum.
Katlyn: Vacuum, [laughs] yeah. Now, after this flea treatment, if I have kids…now we’re obviously treating the cats and dogs, ideally, but are they at risk from the treatment?
Tim: Generally not. We’ll make specific recommendations based on the conditions inside your home regarding reentry time. We might say, “Let’s give it three to four hours before you come back just to allow the carpets to fully dry.” Once the material is dried on the carpet there’s very little risk to humans and pets within the structure. However, let’s be realistic.
If you’ve got a little baby, we probably don’t want him on the carpet that’s just been sprayed. You put a blanket down or something. Right after you’ve sprayed, we don’t want you eating potato chips off the floor. If the sandwich falls, let’s throw that out. But general hand‑washing after you think you’ve touched contaminated materials.
We say business as usual after about four hours. If the carpet feels damp you might extend that time a little bit. If there’s any kind of odor, you can do some ventilation. In most cases there’s not a lot of odor with the flea treatment. The chemicals that we use are designed for that. They’re designed to use on your carpets and floor spaces specifically.
Katlyn: It sounds like after this treatment, though, it really is up to the homeowner to start that vacuuming, and without it, you’re endangering…
Tim: That is certainly the case. We’ve been to some failed flea jobs. It was, number one, never cleaned to begin with. She had never done any vacuuming. Weeks later, and if you ask me, the cats were still living in the house with fleas.
There’s a lot of factors that go into a successful flea job. The applicator’s job is to safely apply a pesticide onto the floor surfaces according to the label directions, and then give you advice on how to make that the most successful treatment ever.
You are definitely right. A lot of it is on the homeowners’ shoulders. Anyone that’s had a flea infestation does not feel bad about doing the work, though. As we know in the pest control industry, it can be a very successful and enjoyable process to remove fleas from someone’s house. The feedback once you’ve solved that problem is wonderful.
Katlyn: Oh, I bet. I bet life gets a lot better when you get rid of all the fleas.
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Katlyn: Well, thank you so much, Tim.
Tim: You’re welcome.
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