Friday, May 24, 2013
People who study the lowly flea will tell you that one of the best ways to keep the tiny pest out of your house is to vacuum.
Fleas can cause many problems – some serious – in house pets. And homeowners may find it maddeningly hard to get rid of an indoor infestation, which usually requires an integrated attack targeting the ones on your pet and the ones on your stuff.
SIZE: 1/12-inch to 1/6-inch
MODE OF TRANSPORT: Jumping onto a host
LIFE CYCLE: From egg to adult can range from 16 days to a year
FAVORITE CONDITIONS: Moist and warm, but not hot
OFFSPRING: A pair of fleas can produce 400 to 500 offspring in their lives.
DID YOU KNOW? A flea can jump about eight inches, or more than 100 times its own height. That would be like a 6-foot-tall man jumping more than 600 feet in the air.
And don't forget to empty the vacuum bag right away.
Sounds simple. But if you don't, you'll be creating more of a problem for yourself.
"Fleas would survive very well in a vacuum bag," says Jim Dill, pest management specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Orono. "It's warm, they have debris (for food) and eggs and larvae. When you have fleas, you really have to vacuum, and then always empty the bag."
After a very wet summer followed by an unseasonably warm fall, people in Maine are finding flea problems popping up where there used to be none. And they're also finding out, as Dill points out, that there's no easy way to get rid of fleas in your home.
It takes an integrated attack, for one thing. You've got to treat your pet -- after consulting with a veterinarian -- at the same time as you treat your house.
And treating your house may mean doing lots of small, painstaking tasks on a regular basis.
LITTLE PEST, BIG PROBLEM
Vacuuming is important, flea experts say, because it stimulates larvae to come out of their dormant stage and start moving around. Then it's easier to spot them and get rid of them.
"We find that people who have a recurring problem maybe aren't vacuuming the hardwood floor, or aren't vacuuming the cracks and crevices where lint and cat hair can get into, or they're not treating the garage and the basement and all the other areas of the home the pet can get into," said Ralph Blumenthal, operations manager for Maine-based Atlantic Pest Solutions.
So why are people having more flea problems this year?
Well, it was wet and warm this summer in Maine, which are good flea-breeding conditions, Dill said. Fleas don't flourish as much in very hot climates or in dry climates.
Fleas are fairly easy to spot. Even though they are tiny -- about 1/6 of an inch -- they are dark-reddish and show up on light colors.
Dill says if you want to find the "hot spots" for fleas in your house, put on some white socks and walk around. Fleas are attracted by vibrations, and they'll jump onto the socks. Take a dish of soapy water with you, pick them off your socks and drop them in the water.
Another way to tell if you have fleas in the house is if your pet is scratching or biting itself more than usual. Some dogs will bite at fleas on their skin so much that they cause scabbing, said Lindsay O'Grady, hospital manager at Brackett Street Veterinary Clinic in Portland. Others will have an allergic skin reaction to fleas or hair loss.
Some cats can become anemic (fleas feed on blood) and possibly die, said O'Grady.
GET HELP FOR YOUR PET
So if you have fleas, bring your pet to the vet. O'Grady says that at Brackett Street, they have two basic medications for fleas. One is a pill that basically kills adult fleas on your pet through the bloodstream, but it only works for 24 hours. The pill is good for getting rid of a large infestation quickly.
Then there are topical medicines that keeps fleas from reproducing, thus killing an infestation over a period of time. A veterinarian will often recommend a pill followed by a topical treatment monthly for three to six months, O'Grady said. Sometimes more than one topical treatment has to be tried, because not every one will work on every pet or on different infestations of fleas.
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