Is your dog or cat always scratching? Do you have fleas jumping on you in your house?
You may have a flea infestation!
Fleas have a significant economic impact. In America alone, approximately $2.8 billion is spent annually on flea-related veterinary bills and another $1.6 billion annually for flea treatment with pet groomers. Four billion dollars is spent annually for prescription flea treatment and $348 million for flea pest control. Treatment of the dog or animal and his environment must be treated. Fleas are known to carry diseases. During the 1300’s, fleas on rats carried the Black Plague which killed off between 30%-60% of Europe’s population. Your options are to use man-made chemicals or naturally occurring substances. Although the manufacturers of the over the counter and veterinarian supplied treatments claim the chemicals are not harmful to animals and humans, their packaging always state to thoroughly wash any area that comes in contact with the chemicals. These treatments are very expensive.
I prefer to use naturally occurring substances to treat for fleas. One of my rescues brought a flea problem to my pack that was out of hand. We had tried several products with no success. After spending hundreds of problems we needed to find something that was low cost and effective. Once we started using D.E. the problem was cured.
Diatomaceous earth – also known as D.E., or diatomite is extremely effective in killing fleas, ants, and roaches. Diatomaceous Earth is an off white talc-like powder that is the fossilized remains of marine phytoplankton. When sprinkled on a bug that has an exoskeleton (such as bed bugs, ants or fleas) it compromises their waxy coating so they dehydrate and die. It doesn’t hurt mammals. We can eat it. We do eat it! It’s in lots of grain based foods because lots of grains are stored with diatomaceous earth to keep the bugs from eating the grain! D.E. can be spread with a shaker or by mixing with water and then spraying the mixture over the area to be treated. Once the mixture dries an even coating of D.E. is left on the surface to kill the fleas, ants, and roaches. Food grade Diatomaceous Earth is available from several sources, however, purity is very important.
What are fleas?
Fleas are wingless insects, 1/16 to 1/8-inch long, that are agile, usually dark colored, that feed by piercing the skin and sucking their host’s blood. Flea legs end in strong claws that are adapted to grasp a host. The tough body is able to withstand great pressure, likely an adaptation to survive attempts to eliminate them by scratching. Fleas lay tiny, white, oval eggs. The larvae are small and pale, have bristles covering their worm-like bodies, lack eyes, and have mouth parts adapted to chewing. Larvae feed on organic matter, especially the feces of mature fleas, which contain dried blood. Adults feed only on fresh blood.
Life cycle and development
Fleas go through four life cycle stages of egg, larva, pupa, and adult. In most species, neither female nor male fleas are fully mature when they first emerge but must feed on blood before they become capable of reproduction. Some species breed all year round while others synchronize their activities with their hosts’ life cycles or with local environmental factors and climatic conditions. Flea populations consist of roughly 50% eggs, 35% larvae, 10% pupae, and 5% adults.
Fleas lay between 100 to several thousand eggs in a lifetime. In some species, the eggs are laid on the animal itself and can easily fall off onto the ground. Areas where the animal rests and sleeps are one of the primary habitats of eggs and developing larvae. The eggs take around two days to two weeks to hatch.
Flea larvae emerge from the eggs to feed on any available organic material. Blood-only diets allow only 12% of larvae to mature, whereas blood, yeast or dog chow diets allow almost all larvae to mature. Larva are blind and avoid sunlight, keeping to dark, humid places such as sand or soil, cracks and crevices, under carpets and in bedding.
Larvae pupate weave silken cocoons. Within the cocoon, the larva moults for a final time and undergoes a change into the adult form. This can take just four days and there follows a variable-length stage during which the pre-emergent adult awaits a suitable opportunity to emerge. Sound, heat, and increased levels of carbon dioxide which may indicate the presence of a suitable host. Large numbers of pre-emergent fleas may be present in otherwise flea-free environments, and a suitable host may trigger a mass emergence.
Once the flea reaches adulthood, its primary goal is to find blood and then to reproduce. Female fleas can lay 5000 or more eggs over their life. Generally speaking, an adult flea only lives for 2 or 3 months. Without a host to provide a blood meal, a flea’s life can be as short as a few days. Under ideal conditions of temperature, food supply, and humidity, adult fleas can live for up to a year and a half.
Fleas and their Host
Fleas feed on a wide variety of warm-blooded animals including humans, dogs, cats, rabbits, squirrels, ferrets, rats, mice, and small livestock. Fleas affect poultry as well as wild birds. In general, host specificity decreases as the size of the host species decreases. A large, long-lived host provides a stable environment that favors host-specific parasites.
Return to Main Page