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All out war! (On Fleas)

By Chris Williams on January 23, 2013.

Cat fleaThink of successful flea control as if it were like all out war! Why? Because that is the attitude you have to have to get the upper hand against these annoying little insects. Fleas make our pets’ lives miserable, so if you love them then there are several strategies that must be employed to help ensure that your pets stay flea free and live happy lives. Beside the annoyance of being bitten and fed upon, many dogs and cats suffer from allergies to proteins within flea saliva causing them to scratch or chew at the site of the bites. This is a condition known as flea allergic dermatitis (FAD). Though this condition is most common in dogs, cats are also affected. If left untreated, severe itching can eventually cause sores, infection, or even hair loss. In addition to the misery of FAD, fleas can act as intermediate hosts for parasites (tapeworm, roundworm) and disease causing organisms too. According to experts, the cat flea, (Ctenocephalides felis) is by far the most common species of flea infesting both dogs and cats.

If you’re battling flea problems with your pets, trust me I know what you’re up against. Maybe sharing my experience with flea infestations can be helpful to you in solving yours. I’m a cat guy and my first flea war story goes back to the late 80’s when I adopted an eight-week-old semi-feral kitten. I had suspected (correctly) that he’d be infested with fleas given his upbringing. Back then, the only products that could be safely used on a kitten were flea powders containing botanically derived rotenone or pyrethrum. Armed with a flea comb and pyrethrum dust, I removed over a hundred adult fleas off my new pal! Next came the whole house assault with a vacuum cleaner for hours and hours. Since I was not completely familiar with the new kitten’s daily routines yet, every square inch of carpet, tile, upholstered furniture, bedding, etc. was vacuumed. Then, I performed a full house insecticide treatment with an adulticide plus an insect growth regulator to control emerging flea larva. That combined approach worked to clear up the problem, and since my new friend was now an indoor cat only, I never had anymore issues with fleas.

All out war on fleas

Fast forward with me now to the new millennium and my second war with fleas. About ten years ago my beloved (now departed ) Maine Coon cats developed a raging flea infestation. It came as quite a surprise to me since my wife and I were in agreement to keep them as indoor cats. (We didn’t want them tangling with feral cats or falling victim to predators) We DID however take them outside a couple of times for a supervised stroll in the yard, and that is all it took. In retrospect, with the wide variety of suitable cat flea hosts constantly moving through my yard like skunks, raccoons, squirrels, and feral cats, I should have been more mindful of the threat. Anyway, I’d say that the infestation was about two months in progress before I even became aware. After noticing the kitties stress (scratching, biting) and then finding flea droppings (dried blood specks) in their bedding we went to work. Before we even could get a vet appointment for some Frontline, we grabbed the flea combs and a bowl of sudsy water. Since the boys loved to be combed, we were easily able to remove dozens of fleas from them depositing the critters in the dish suds. Next, we did targeted vacuuming to all of their favorite hangout spots. After applying the Frontline, we continued vacuuming daily and then eventually every other day. Since my wife is paranoid about chemicals, I avoided applying a pyrethroid to carpeted surfaces for adult flea control, but did manage to convince her to let me put down some Precor (s-methoprene) growth regulator to break their life cycle. In all, I’d say it took about eight weeks before I was satisfied that we were flea free. The cats we have now get their topical flea treatment pretty much all year around. We’ve since switched to Advantage because we don’t have the need for tick control that the Frontline is known for. We still take the ‘new kids’ out to explore the yard during the summer months, and we are vigilant about keeping tabs on their resting areas watching for any signs of fleas. I can’t stress this enough that flea control success is dependent on employing many different control strategies. I hope that these things I have learned will help you to win the war on fleas!

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