Flea Suppression

Because fleas must have blood from a mammalian host to survive, treating host animals is the most efficient and effective means of suppressing fleas. There are several on-animal products that are effective for flea control. Many contain pyrethrins, which are safe, effective products but kill only fleas on the animal at the time of treatment and do not provide residual control. Other over-the-counter compounds include spot-on permethrin products, which are limited to canine use because they can be lethal to cats.

Veterinarians can recommend products that provide several weeks of control with a single application. Products prescribed by veterinarians for on-animal flea control are applied in a small volume (a few milliliters) on the back of the animal's neck. The material distributes over the body surface in skin oils. In addition to spot-on formulations, some products are available as sprays. These adulticides kill fleas on the animal within a few hours, then provide residual flea suppression for several weeks.

To forestall flea infestations, pets can be started on flea developmental inhibitors early in the season. Products containing insect development inhibitors can be applied topically, given orally (once monthly as a pill for dogs or a liquid added to a cat's food), or given as a 6-month injectable formulation for cats. Female fleas that feed on blood of treated animals subsequently are unable to reproduce.

Once pets have been treated, it will take a while for fleas in the environment to die off. Meanwhile, as they emerge, fleas will hop onto the animal; the host will continue to "harvest" fleas from the surrounding environment until they have been killed and no more are emerging. Insect growth regulators can be used to break the flea life cycle. Although these compounds do not kill adult fleas, they do prevent eggs and larvae from completing their development, ensuring that any fleas brought into the area will not establish a sustaining population.

Sanitation is an important flea suppression tactic; by eliminating larval developmental sites and destroying immature stages before they develop to the pestiferous adult stage, pets and people can be protected from fleas. Areas frequented by pets accumulate flea eggs and larval food, so these microhabitats should be vacuumed and treated to prevent flea infestations. These might include areas under furniture, animal bedding and sleeping quarters, and utility rooms or other areas where the pet spends time.

See Also the Following Articles

Bubonic Plague • Medical Entomology • Siphonaptera • Veterinary Entomology

Further Reading

Dryden, M. W. (1997). Fleas. In "Mallis Handbook of Pest Control," 8th ed., Chap. 16, pp. 747—770. Franzak & Foster, Cleveland. Dryden, M. W., and Rust, M. K. (1994). The cat flea: Biology, ecology and control. Vet. Parasitol. 52, 1-19. Hinkle, N. C., Rust, M. K., and Reierson, D. A. (1997). Biorational approaches to flea (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae) suppression: Present and future. J. Agric. Entomol. 14, 309-321. Rust, M. K., and Dryden, M. W. (1997). The biology, ecology and management of the cat flea. Annu. Rev. Entomol. 42, 451-473. Taylor, M. A. (2001). Recent developments in ectoparasiticides. Vet. J.161, 253-268.

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