Pet Advice Warm Winter Flea Infestations

Published on January 4th, 2016 | by Debbie Martin


Warm Winter Flea Infestations

Many pet owners believe fleas to be a seasonal problem and, although they may treat their pets for fleas during the warmer months, they may stop preventative treatment over the winter. This is the perfect opportunity for fleas to inhabit a host (your pet) and infest the home, which can result in ongoing and unresolved flea problems for both the pet and owner.

Fleas will happily live outside during the warmer months, but are equally happy to live indoors in carpets and soft furnishings. We often see a boom in flea numbers in the spring – with the arrival of warmer weather, and in the autumn – when we first turn on our heating in the home. Only 5% of a flea infestation is represented by adult fleas on the pet, the remaining 95% exists in the environment as immature stages (eggs, larvae and pupae). Therefore, treatment of the pet is only part of an effective control strategy and treatment of the environment, such as bedding and carpets is essential to completely eliminate infestations.

A female flea can lay up to 50 eggs per day in the coat of the host. Many of these eggs then fall off the host into the environment. Hot spots for high numbers of flea eggs are in areas where the pet regularly frequents, for example in pet bedding and other areas where they may sleep. Washing of pet’s bedding (60 degrees or above) and regular vacuuming of the home, especially carpets, below curtains, under furniture edges and in and around where the pets sleep, is especially important in controlling flea infestations. It is estimated that vacuuming alone can reduce the number of flea eggs in the environment by up to 50%.

In the right conditions in a home, flea eggs will hatch into larvae in as little as 2-5 days. These then burrow down into dark spaces such as cracks in the floorboards and deep into carpets where they mature into adult fleas in cocoons known as pupae. Pupae are extremely resistant to being killed, even by veterinary grade household insecticidal treatments and when the timing is right, are more than likely to still hatch even after treatment. Environmental factors such as high carbon dioxide levels, warm temperature and vibrations can all trigger an adult flea to hatch, from which they will immediately begin searching for a blood meal. Female fleas can then start producing eggs 24 hours after their first blood meal.

The entire lifecycle of fleas can take as little as 12 days to complete if conditions are right, or fleas can lie dormant as the pupae stage for up to a year waiting for the right time to develop and continue feeding and reproducing. Elimination of flea infestations must take into account the need to break the lifecycle of fleas and this can take time and more than one simple treatment attempt.

Effective flea treatment is three fold:

  1. Treat all pets in the home, ideally with an effective spot-on treatment to prevent further egg laying. It is important to remember that live fleas may still be seen on the pet hours or even days after treatment depending on the product used.
  2. Treat the environment with an insecticide and also by washing pet bedding, cleaning and vacuuming areas where the pet resides.
  3. Compliance and expectation – flea infestations can take months to eliminate. Remember, a persistent flea infestation is not in itself an indication of resistance. Elimination of a flea infestation takes time and compliance by the pet owner.

Many of us are still awaiting the winter ‘cold snap’ this year, as we have been experiencing unseasonably warm weather so far, but bear in mind that it is not only us that are currently benefitting from above average winter temperatures causing a boom in flea populations countrywide. In addition, when the cold snap finally hits and we crank up the central heating, this encourages the dormant pupae to hatch out, so don’t be surprised to find yourself with rather nasty flea infestation. Remain vigilant and remember prevention is the key, it is much easier to prevent a flea infestation by using regular year round protection, than eradicate a flea infestation from scratch – excuse the pun!

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About the Author

Debbie Martin has worked at Beeston Animal Health for over five years, having previously worked as a nurse in equine and small animal practice. Although generally involved with aspects of marketing these days and putting her psychology degree to good use, she still has a great depth of up to date knowledge in all creatures great and small. Debbie lives at home with her partner and two children and spends much of her spare time looking after her horses, dogs and cats or at the home farm with the cows, sheep and turkeys.

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