Fleas: Guide to Flea Control
Fleas are wingless insects that live on the blood of their hosts
and spread many diseases
Important Notice: Australian Shepherds are extremely sensitive to Ivermectin, an active ingredient found in many flea treatments.
can infest your Aussie but can also affect other mammals,
including cats and humans, as well as birds.
Although there are about 2000 varieties of fleas common ones
Dog (Ctenocephalides canis),
Cat (Ctenocephalides felis),
Human (Pulex irritans),
Northern Rat (Nosopsyllus fasciatus),
Oriental Rat (Xenopsylla cheopis).
Don't be fooled by the names though. Any of these can affect
dogs, cats and humans. This is why controling fleas in your pets
is so important. You are not only protecting your Aussie but you
and your children as well.
They can pass on several serious diseases and parasites:
Plague caused by Yersinia pestis
Typhus caused by Rickettsia typhi
Haemobartonellosis - damage to red blood cells
by Mycoplasma haemocanis
Tularemia caused by Francisella tularen
Dipetalonema reconditum - not serious but often
mistaken for heartworm
|| John Montenieri
are about 2000 varieties of flea
Shown here is Citellus variegatus,
in the western United States, is an important vector for
the bacterium Yersinia pestis, the pathogen responsible
for causing plague.
Depending on which species, a flea can live from a few months to a couple of years. It starts
out as an egg laid by a female. Females can start laying eggs
about two days after mating. She lays from 3 - 15 eggs at a time
and can produce 30 - 50 in one day. That can add up to 400 - 1000
eggs in her lifetime (she doesn't lay eggs every day).
After two days or so the egg hatches and our flea moves to the
next stage of its development - the larva. The larva feeds on
feces or "flea dirt" left by its mother and begins to
spin a cocoon.
In the cocoon it is at the pupa stage of development. Here it
changes into its final form and emerges as an adult in about a
Fleas live on blood they suck from thier hosts. They are well
suited to life on a mammal or bird. They are about 1.5 to 3 mm
(1/8 to 1/16 inch) in size and have hard bodies that are resistant
to being crushed (by scratching) as well as narrow bodies to make
movement through hair, fur or feathers easier.
Their long hind legs give them remarkable jumping abilities.
They can jump 200 times their body length, about 30 cm or 1 foot.
So they can easily hop from the carpet to your dog and from your
dog to you.
Symptoms of an Infestation
Depending on the number
of fleas, the age of your dog or puppy and its sensitivity
symptoms can vary.
Bites can be irritating and will result in your dog scratching
at the bitten area. This can escalate to severe itching with swelling
and red lesions. Left unchecked this can result in ulceration
and eventual hairloss.
In puppies, older dogs or sick dogs experiencing a severe infestation
anemia is a possibility. Anemia is a lowering of the number of
red blood cells and can result in death if not addressed.
You can tell if your dog has fleas because, well they will be
scratching like crazy, and you will see the little critters in
their fur often around the hindquarters or head. You might also
detect "flea dirt", the excrement left by fleas. If
moistened this will be a reddish brown color as it is made up
of digested blood.
Flea Allergy Dematitis
Another serious reaction is flea allergy dematitis. This is an allergic reaction caused
by your dog being allergic to the saliva of the flea. The saliva
contains various compounds to help prevent blood from clotting.
Dogs that are allergic to the saliva will suffer intense itching
and they will scratch incessantly. This can lead to hair loss,
especially in the hindquarters.
If your dog shows signs of flea allergy dermatitis and they are
hypersensitive to the saliva it is vital that you get the infestation
under control. One single flea can bite your dog hundreds of times
a day! You may have to move them out of the infested area and
keep them away from all other animals that may also be infested.
They will not go away overnight and are difficult to get rid
of. If you miss even one you could be right back where you started
in no time. The math of flea reproduction is shocking. If you
start with an infestation of 25 females after only a month you
could have 250,000 of the little critters! So if you have noticed
even one on your dog you don't have time to lose. Start to get
rid of them immediately.
Infestation Control and Elimination
Prevention of an infestation is always preferred, of course, but what if it's too late and
fleas have already made your dog into their new home?
When dealing with an infestation you can't just treat your dog.
For every one you find on your dog there could be dozens, hundreds
even, lurking in the carpets, on your furniture and in your yard.
The entire area will have to be cleaned. Anywhere your dog goes
should be cleaned. Vacuum carpets thoroughly, especially in areas where your dog may brush up against drapes,
walls or furniture. The dog bed should be cleaned at least twice in hot water and treated with an adult flea control
product as well as an insect growth regulator (IGR). This can
effectively interrupt the life cycle by preventing eggs laid from
developing into larvae.
You can use a flea comb to try to get as many
as possible. Wash them off in detergent water to kill them. You
will want a comb with 32 teeth/inch. This is a good option for
puppies, pregnant bitches or dogs that are ill and cannot be exposed
to the chemicals in flea control products. This will not solve
the problem but is one tool you can use to help reduce their population.
It is time consuming and won't help a dog suffering from allergy
dematitis, but it's a step in the right direction.
You can give your dog a flea bath with commercially
available products designed for the purpose such as a special shampoo or you can use baby shampoo. You can
kill fleas by drowning them. However, if you sit your dog in a
tub of water the fleas will flee to higher ground and rush toward
your dogs head. So plan ahead and cut them off and don't give
them that escape route. Be sure to create a barrier of thick shampoo
lather around your dog's neck before you submerge their hindquarters
Make sure to lather well from the neck down and have your dog
sit in the water long enough to drown the fleas. You can only
shampoo so much and have to be careful of sensitive areas on the
head (ie. eyes) so some fleas may still survive. As with combing
this is just another supplementary tool to help reduce the population.
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What About the Commercially Available Products?
Washing, vacuuming, combing and shampooing alone is not likely going to be enough to eliminate
fleas. It's time to bring out the big guns. Insecticides. While
many disagree with using chemicals on principle this has to be
weighed against the alternative.
It is possible for some dogs to be sensitive to the chemicals
used in commercial flea control products. For these dogs natural
alternatives my have to be tried. It is also not recommended to
use some of these products with puppies under a certain age, pregnant
bitches or sick dogs. Always follow your vets advise and adhere
to the manufacturers guidelines when using any of these products.
You can easily order flea control products online. Many reliable
companies like 1-800-PetMeds and PetCareRx offer free shipping with orders over a certain amount and because
they are among the largest pet medication suppliers can offer
The health consequenses of fleas can be severe, up to and including
death. The chances for problems occuring are relatively small.
Many commercial products are proven effective and provide a fairly
sure method of eliminating infestations.
The two main kinds of products are those designed to treat the
environment and those that are designed to treat the dog.
Enviornmental products include flea bombs or foggers. They send a fog of insecticide through your house and kill adults,
eggs and larvae everywhere in carpets, drapes and furniture.
You and your pets have to be out of the house while it is going
off, so be sure to have somewhere you can go for about 8 hours.
Read the instructions carefully and follow them to the letter.
Be careful about leaving things like food out as it can be contaminated
by the chemicals. This includes your dog's food and water bowls.
Flea powders can be effective at killing adults,
eggs and larvae in your carpet. They generally contain chemicals
like boric acid and pyrethrin and are simple to use. You sprinkle
them on your carpet and after a few days or a week just vacuum
them up. They are fairly effective and as an added bonus they
usually work on other insects as well.
Products that are designed to treat your dog (rather than the
environment) include shampoos, as I already mentioned, and dips. Flea dips are solutions that you mix with water
and then, you guessed it, you dip your dog in it. They are quite
effective at killing adults.
Flea Control Medications
There are many choices when it comes to flea control medications like sprays and drops
as well as pills and shots. Frontline and Advantage are the biggest and most popular brands. Other options include Biospot, Capstar, K-9 Advantix, Program, Revolution and
Most sprays and drops are effective against adults, eggs and
larvae as they contain both an insecticide and a insect growth
regulator (IGR). Some will also help control ticks, mosquitoes
and other parasites like heartworms.
The sprays and drops are fairly waterproof but will generally
need to be reapplied about once a month. Always follow the advise
of your vet and the manufacturer's instructions though.
When using sprays or drops you will also have to make sure your
kids don't get the chemicals on them as they will absorb through
skin. Some products like Revolution are a bit better in this regard
as you wash them off after a couple of hours.
Another option is to use medications that are given in pill form
or as injections. Pills are taken once a month and shots are given
twice a year. Products like Program are slowly released through
the skin where they affect fleas on the surface. However, this
only sterilizes fleas interrupting their life cycle, it doesn't
kill existing adults.
These products have specific restrictions on the age of dogs
before you can apply them. Young puppies, pregnant bitches, older
dogs or sick dogs can be at risk from exposure to these chemicals.
Be sure to read the usage instructions carefully.
Another important factor when using these medications is the
weight of your dog. These products have specific dosages based
on your dog's weight. For example Frontline Plus for Dogs come
in various dosages for dogs up to 22 lbs., 23-44 lbs., 45-88 lbs.,
and 89-132 lbs.
Also when using these chemicals - don't go overboard! Pick a
product and try it. Don't get 5 products and bombard the fleas
because you will also be bombarding your dog with chemicals that
can have serious side effects.
When giving these medications always keep an eye on your dog
to make sure they are not having an adverse reaction. This is
rare but it can happen.
Natural Flea Control Remedies
Here are a couple of ideas to help control fleas in your yard. Eliminating them from your
dog and house is great but if they just bring in more from outside
you're back to square one.
Diatomaceous earth is a special soil made from
crushed seashells. You and your dog won't be affected by this
soil but fleas will hate it. Due to the crushed sea shells, diatomaceous
soil contains microscopic sharp edges that slice through the hard
exterior of fleas and other insects. This causes them to dehydrate
and makes them susceptible to bacteria and other parasites.
However, if you want to have certain insects living in your yard
this might not be the best approach for you.
You will also have to reapply occasionally as rain will wash
it away making it less effective. But if you are looking for a
relatively inexpensive and completely chemical free way to deal
with fleas this may be a good option to consider.
Another natural approach involves using nematodes. What's a nematode? A nematode is just a worm, in this case a beneficial
worm. These are tiny little worms and you spread them in your
yard where they kill insects. Don't worry these worms can't live
in you or your dog as your body temperature is too high for them.
These worms are completely natural and probably already live
in your yard. By adding more you increase the concentration and
make your yard very inhospitable to insects creating a "no
Flea traps are another option that do not use
chemicals. A trap generally has a heat source that draws them
in. They thinink that the heat means a blood supply, but when
they hop onto the trap they fall onto a glue surface and are stuck
there. This is only a partial solution as it will only work on
adults. It won't help with eliminating eggs or larvae.
Although the chemical versions may be more effective there are herbal flea collars available. If you have tried
these please let me know how well they worked for you.
Prevention: The Best Approach
So you've finally gotten
rid of the little pests and don't want to see them again,
or you haven't had a problem with fleas and never want to. Prevention
is the preferred method of dealing with infestations.
Flea collars, although perhaps not strong enough
to kill adults, are still effective at controlling the development
of eggs and larvae. Other products like Program provide similar
protection by sterilizing them with preventative medications taken
in pill form or by injection.
Be sure to give your dog a flea bath every once in a while, especially
when they have come in contact with other dogs or environments
you are unsure of. You may have an army of nematodes protecting
your yard but what about the dog park?
Frequently grooming your dog with fine toothed comb will alert
you to any outbreaks at an earlier stage. Better to know about
fleas when there is just one rather than a hundred (or a thousand!).
Whether you are preventing an infestation or are fighting one
it is important to remember that you have to deal with fleas both
on your dog and in your environment - both indoors and out. You
also have to consider the life cycle and eliminate them at all
stages - egg, larva and adult. Hopefully this information will
help you and your Aussie lead a flea free life.
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