If you know one of your pets has fleas the next question is always “How do I get rid of these fleas?”.  How easily this can be done is dependent on many different factors including; number of household pets, carpet or hardwood floors, and the quantity of fleas in the environment.  If you’re having trouble getting rid of fleas from your ten indoor outdoor cats who live in your carpeted household, I would not be surprised.  These types of scenarios can make it very challenging to eliminate fleas from the environment because of the nature of the flea life cycle and the number of potential hosts and breeding grounds for the fleas.  If you’re curious about the flea life cycle and why it’s so difficult to completely solve your flea problem, please consult this previous article.

Step 1 – Treating the Animals

The flea adults need to have a host dog or cat to complete their circle of life and make their eggs.  Some exotic animals can also harbour fleas, be certain to talk to your veterinarian about this if you have any exotic pets.  If you want to have success with flea treatment you have to treat all the cats and dogs in your household, including outdoor cats.  Even if you can’t see any fleas on your other pets today, this doesn’t mean that the fleas won’t try to make a new home on your pet tomorrow.  Allowing your other pets to go untreated creates one more walking hotel and restaurant for your flea friends to party on.

Cute Dog and Cat picture

All cats and dogs in your household need to be treated

Caution! For Cats! Caution!

Be EXTREMELY careful when using pet store flea medications if you have cats in your house.  Some of these medications can be very toxic to cats, specifically permethrin and higher concentrations of pyrethrin.  If your cats are looking sick or have been exposed to these medications, please contact a veterinarian IMMEDIATELY for flea treatment.

Medications and preventatives

There are many different medications available to treat for flea infestations.  Pet store medications are less effective than veterinary prescription medications but can definitely do the job with mild infestations and single pet households.  Be very cautious if you have cats and are purchasing over the counter flea medications.

Veterinary flea medications come in many different forms and work in different ways against different flea life stages.  Spot on medications are recommended for most pets who aren’t avid swimmers or bathers, largely due to ease of administration.  Pills are more appropriate for pets who bathe and swim frequently.  There are also some oral medications that can remove all adult fleas on your pet within 24 hours.  These can be useful in large infestations and cases of flea allergy dermatitis.  Feel free to talk to your vet about the types of medications available and the advantages or drawbacks of each one.

In most uncomplicated cases a few months of flea medication will be sufficient to solve a flea problem.  Treating fleas for several months helps to ensure that your pets aren’t reinfected from the environment.  The cocoon stage of a flea can last in the environment for up to 9 months in some cases and if very resistant to heat, humidity, and other environmental stress.  This is why treating all pets for several months as well as cleaning the environment thoroughly and frequently are mainstays of flea treatment.

Step 2 – Cleaning the environment

Without a loving environment to care and nurture flea eggs and adolescent fleas, a flea would never be able to cause you or your pets any discomfort.  Your carpet, couches, and backyard are important breeding grounds for your flea enemies.  Cleaning and treating these areas is crucial to flea treatment.

Different Flea life stages

Cleaning the environment is the only way to remove the other flea life stages and prevent reinfection of your pets.

Vacuuming

Thoroughly vacuum the entire house and pay special attention to corners, underneath tables, and low light areas.  Low light, low traffic areas, especially carpeted ones, are where most of the flea larvae will be hanging out.  If you have hardwood floors and not carpet it will be easier to decontaminate the environment.  Use a vacuum with good suction and be certain to clean out the vacuum bag after each time you use the vacuum.  Fleas eggs and cocoons can survive and hatch inside of vacuum bags.  Vacuuming every other day for the first couple weeks is recommended.

Carpets

Steam cleaning your carpets will provide the best results as this can cause flea larvae to shrivel up.  Vacuuming 3-4 times a week for a month will help to get rid of those stubborn fleas.  Low light, low traffic areas are the spots to pay the most attention to.  You can also use the insect growth regulators described below to treat your carpets.

Bedding’s

Your pets beds, blankets, your bedding, rugs, and any other washable materials you have in the house should be washed twice a week for a month.  Use warm water and normal detergent, no special solutions are necessary.

Backyard

This only applies to people who aren’t living in condos.  If you have a backyard then it is important to treat your backyard with a flea product.  Virbac Yard Spray is a useful product, to be used once a month.  Yard sprays should be used in the evening and allowed to dry overnight before your pet uses the backyard again.  Check for safety with cats before choosing a product.

Indoor Sprays and Powders

If you have nice carpets or couches that you can’t use a vacuum on, indoor flea sprays and powders are for you!  Fleabuster.com sells an effective flea powder and Knock Knock out Spray is an effective spray.  Both products work by stopping the larval stage of the flea cycle.

Flea powder for couches, carpets, and rugs.

Exterminator

If your flea problem is one that simply will not go away then an exterminator if certainly a viable option.  This can sometimes mean having to find temporary homes for you and your pets.  Often this step is not necessary and if you follow the tips above and institute a strict cleaning protocol then often this step can be avoided.

But It’s Not Working!

Getting rid of fleas can definitely wear you down.  If you aren’t having any success with your flea problem, try figuring out where the fleas keep coming from and what the hole in your flea treatment plan is.  Often there’s a cat going untreated or a room that has been neglected.  With mild infestations the above mentioned cleaning protocols are more than sufficient.  With large infestations, cleaning and treatment plans should be extending for up to 9 months.  Flea cocoons can persist in the environment for this up to 9 months so in severe cases a consistent and thorough approach is necessary to solve the problem.  Treatments can be monitored by using flea combs on your pets and counting the numbers of fleas.  Working closely with your veterinarian will help you find the dream solution to your flea nightmare.

Hopefully these tips have helped your pets kick their flea habit.  If you notice fleas on your pet it is important to contact your veterinarian for information on flea treatments and products.  Fleas can also carry tapeworms, cause severe dermatitis, and anemia.  They’re more than just a gross bug and should be dealt with when you first notice them, before the problem spirals out of control.

Happy flea hunting!
Dr. Tim Julian