Chances are good that if you are reading this, you have been dealing with a flea infestation or have dealt with one in the past and are looking for ways to prevent this problem in the future. For centuries, the cold winter weather in most parts of the country has kept fleas at bay until we are well into the summer. But as winters have become warmer, the number of fleas waiting to attack your dog has grown exponentially.
Fleas survive in tiny microclimates during the winter, waiting for the weather to warm up so they can feed and breed. The average female flea can lay from hundreds to thousands of eggs at a time. Some dogs suffer from flea allergy dermatitis, or FAD, to the point where the flea bites can become infected due to the constant itching and scratching, which in turn can lead to a secondary fungal or bacterial infection
Eliminating a flea infestation in your home can take from weeks to months. But with a little preventative care, you can keep them out of your home and off of your dog's skin.
Taking Care of the Fleas Outside Your Home
Your first of defense in preventing fleas on your dog lies just outside of your front door. If your home has any amount of lawn whatsoever, you need to keep it cut as short as possible. Fleas love to live in the grass and since they can jump up to one foot vertically, they lie in wait to jump on your dog, cat, or your shoes and pantlegs.
Cutting your lawn short allows the heat of the sun to penetrate further into the grass. This creates a very hostile environment for fleas, as they don't like this much heat. The shorter your grass is, any fleas that are thinking about calling your lawn home are more likely to move on to a more hospitable home.
Professor Mike Merchant Ph.D., urban entomologist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service says that using diatomaceous earth, which is a fine talcum powder-like substance can help. This product is made from ancient marine plankton and it will dry out and kill fleas at any stage of development. Simply sprinkle it over your entire yard and let it go to work. You can also sprinkle it lightly all around your home in the carpets, under the furniture, in your pet's bed, along the baseboards, under furniture cushions, and anywhere fleas might hide.
Taking Care of the Fleas Inside Your Home
Controlling fleas in your home is done in three stages. First, you have to physically remove them, then you have to kill any remaining adult fleas, and finally, you must prevent any immature fleas from maturing.
The first phase involves aggressively vacuuming every nook and cranny of your home. This means going beyond simply vacuuming the central areas of the carpet. You need to move furniture, vacuum along the bottom of any drapes, and anywhere your dog likes to sleep. Experts estimate that aggressive vacuuming can remove up to 50 percent of flea eggs along with the vast majority of adults. If your vacuum uses a bag, be sure to seal it and dispose of it outside your home.
Use a safe product that is designed to kill any leftover adult fleas and larvae and stop eggs from developing into more fleas. The product you choose should contain an adulticide and an insect growth regulator (IGR). You can find these products in spray, powder, and fogger forms. Foggers are your best choice for larger areas, but you may want to use a spray to cover those areas where the fogger might not be able to reach. Be sure you choose flea control products carefully, especially if you have children, family members with asthma, fish, or birds.
While it might be a pain, you need to wash your pet's bedding weekly until you have the infestation under control and then frequently afterward. Treat the bedding and the areas around it with the same flea control product you have been using on the carpets. One last thing: if you take your dog in the car or he spends time in a kennel, be sure to clean and treat these areas as well.
Taking Care of the Fleas on Your Dog
Once you have established flea control in your yard and home, it's time to tackle those who have chosen to make your dog their home. There is an incredible array of flea collars, powders, sprays, tablets, single application products, and more on the market today, all of which claim to be the best at preventing fleas on your dog.
First, be sure to talk to your vet about flea control and prevention before you try any of this myriad of flea prevention products. Many of them contain chemicals that have been found to be potentially dangerous to your dog's health. Some are even bad for your health and that of your children. Your vet can help you choose the safest products that actually work.
If you are going to treat one dog in your home and you have other dogs or cats, you must treat all of them at the same time. If you don't, the fleas on the one dog will abandon ship and simply take up residence on one or more of your other pets.
Importance of Prevention
Consistency is vital in helping to control and prevent fleas on your dog and in your home. Even missing a single dose of your dog's monthly flea treatment can be the start of an infestation that can take you weeks or months to eradicate. During this time, your dog will be at risk of a flea infestation that could prove harmful to his overall health.
Keeping your dog free of fleas will help to keep him healthy and happy-- remember fleas aren’t just irritating, they can carry a variety of diseases. The more you work to keep the fleas under control in your yard and home before they invade, the less time and money you will spend getting rid of an infestation.
Finally, be sure to keep your dog's flea medication going all year round, not just during the warmer months. Lapses in treatment could set the stage for another infestation, as fleas can still attack your dog in the colder months in their search for a nice warm place to call home and lay their eggs.
One last thought: never use a product designed for use on dogs to treat your cats, as these products may be extremely toxic to them. Always use the correct flea prevention products on each of your pets.