Column: It’s flea season

Published 4:56 pm Monday, August 1, 2005

By Staff
A few nights ago strange, mournful sounds came from my front porch. Investigation found a dispirited traveler in the form of a little pooch resembling a pocket sized collie. For some inexplicable reason every lost dog wandering by selects my doorstep over all the others up and down the street. Maybe they know a softy when they smell one. Of course, after some uplifting chow and a long drink he spent a nice, cushy night nestled between mom and I on the bed.
The next morning I booted him out, hoping he'd make his way back to wherever he came from. "Uh-uh," he says, "I like it here just fine." I couldn't have gotten him off the porch with a fire hose. Of course, it was Sunday when the Animal Control Office is closed. Back in Bubba came. That's when it became obvious he was a flea bag in the truest sense. He was digging and scratching and fleas were crawling all over him. He didn't enjoy his bath but he figured if that's what it took to hang out here he'd endure it.
It just chaps my petute when people turn a blind eye to their pet's flea sufferings. Those folks have obviously never endured poison sumac. Fleas are more than a horrible annoyance, they can transmit more disease and parasites than you can count. They were the cause of the great Bubonic Plague that ravaged Europe a few centuries ago. Most commonly today, fleas transmit tapeworm to our dogs and cats.
The two most common flea species here in Michigan are the dog flea and the cat flea. Either can be found on both dogs and cats, however, if given a choice, dog fleas prefer wild animals. Unlike mosquitoes, ticks and other blood suckers that only need a blood meal to complete a life cycle, fleas are parasites that continually feed on blood, dog, cat or human, it makes no difference.
A flea infestation can be challenging to combat. Adult female fleas usually lay their eggs on mammals but if need be she's not above laying them in the dog bed, carpet, mattresses and furniture. She only lays a few each day but in her short month life span she'll scatter up to 400 eggs around. The larvae hatch in a week or so. They resemble tiny, slightly hairy maggots but you rarely see them. The larvae do not bite. They feed on organic matter such as adult flea feces, dead skin particles and dust. In about two weeks the larvae enter the pupae stage. This is where fleas get cagey. The adults are capable of emerging from the pupae within two weeks but they can also hold off for several months if the weather is cool or there is no host present. They wait until the weather is warm and humid and they sense carbon dioxide and vibrations which indicate a ready meal from a nearby host.
Successfully dealing with fleas takes knowledge and patience. Michigan State University recommends a multi pronged approach that attacks both adult and larvae. For adult fleas on adult dogs they suggest a powder containing carbaryl. This is too potent for puppies and cats, though. For them they suggest a powder with pyrethrin or pyrethroid. Studies show that flea collars are only moderately effective and many folks have health concerns about them. Spray a home approved flea pesticide on carpet, dog bedding, mattresses and furniture.
Larvae control is essential. M.S.U. recommends spray products with methoprene (also called Porcur) which prohibit larvae from turning into pupae. Three to four applications a year are usually sufficient. There's also a tablet called Program which prevents eggs from developing into larvae. It's available only by veterinarian prescription.
Then there's the recommendation of Larry's Been There Done That University. Go to the vet and get the stuff you squirt along pooch's back. Frontline I think it's called and it kills all stages of fleas. It works a ton better than the over the counter imitations. Like all control methods, it takes time for the flea cycle to run its course but if Little Big Dog were still with us he'd testify to the results. Carpe diem.