Companion Animal Parasite Council, The Case for Year-Round Flea and…

The Case for Year-Round Flea and Tick Control

Fleas and ticks are more than mere nuisances. They cause distress in dogs and cats and, more important, they cause disease. On-again, off-again preventive programs are not the optimal way to safeguard the health of pets and their families.

By the time a pet owner notices fleas on a pet, the fleas have injected salivary proteins, transmitted infectious agents and begun laying eggs. Ticks can transmit disease agents to a dog or cat before the pests are found and removed.

Clearly, reactive treatments are insufficient to prevent disease in pets and their owners. That’s why I support the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) guidelines, which call for year-round, lifelong prevention of common external parasites, including fleas and ticks. The guidelines recommend using parasite control methods that consider the lifestyle and health of the pet, managing the pet’s environment, and working closely with owners to prevent infestation and protect the health of the entire family.

Stopping flea reinfestation key to preventing disease

Most insecticides, including selamectin, fipronil, imidacloprid and nitenpyram, effectively eliminate existing fleas from dogs and cats within 4 to 24 hours after application. While this helps relieve pet discomfort, reinfestation is common.

Administering a residual insecticide such as selamectin, fipronil and imidacloprid will kill many newly acquired fleas within 24 hours. However, in that brief interim period, fleas may transfer disease agents, trigger flea allergy or produce enough eggs to reestablish infestation. Repeated applications often are necessary to bring this problem under control, and long-term control methods should be used to prevent reinfestation.

Topical or oral IGRs such as lufenuron, methoprene or pyriproxyfen kill flea embryos or larvae within the egg. Selamectin also is highly ovicidal. These products turn the treated dog or cat into a “flea vacuum.” As it moves through an infested environment, the pet acquires emerging fleas, which are killed rapidly by topical or systemic insecticides and their eggs are rendered nonviable by the ovicidal action of the compounds. Once all life stages have developed and emerged, the flea problem is over. This system works well to eliminate an infestation, but may require four to eight weeks or longer to eradicate all fleas. During this interval, both pets and owners can suffer.

Avoiding initial infestation altogether by placing pets on life-long prevention programs is the best option for pets and their owners.

Trickier tick control

Tick control is vital, since these bloodsucking parasites can transmit disease to pets and owners. Nearly a dozen tick species are encountered by U.S. dogs and cats. Most are potential disease carriers, transferring diseases as prevalent and concerning as Rocky Mountain spotted fever (Rickettsia rickettsii) and Lyme disease (caused by Borrelia burgdorferi).

Several studies have evaluated the efficacy of acaracides against ticks that infest dogs, but only a few have considered how well acaracides prevent tick-transmitted diseases. In one study, Lyme disease infection was halted by amitraz-impregnated collars, fipronil spray and a permethrin- imidacloprid spot-on treatment. Another study found fipronil spot-on significantly reduced transmission of E. canis by R. sanguineus.

While these studies provide valuable data, no product can completely prevent all tick-transmitted diseases, and successful control often depends on pet owner compliance. Owners may miss a few ticks on their pets for a day or two—enough time for disease agents to be transmitted from tick to pet. While not a perfect solution, disease transmission can be reduced by keeping pets on effective tick control programs.

Seasonal prevention may be inadequate

While seasonal flea and tick control seems appropriate in many regions of the U.S., sporadic treatment makes it difficult to prevent initial infestations. Due to changing climatic conditions, flea and tick “seasonality” also is changing. Experience over the past 10 years shows every year has the potential to differ from the previous year. Determining start and stop dates for seasonally timed applications may be impossible, and geographic differences affect flea and tick prevalence and seasonality.

In addition, many pets receive broadspectrum macrolide heartworm preventives. Heartworm and intestinal nematode transmission seasons occur at different times than flea and tick seasons. If veterinarians find it difficult to reconcile and respond to these shifting seasons, how can we expect clients to manage pest control timing? Year-round prevention is simply the most practical and medically sound approach.

While we can debate the value of various products in our efforts to minimize parasite infestation and related zoonotic disease, concerns about timing and product selection should not interfere with educating pet owners on the need for uninterrupted, effective parasite control.

The best prevention for flea- and tickborne disease is clear: year-round prevention of flea and tick infestation. Simplify your client’s lives and enhance the health of your patients and their owners with comprehensive 12-month parasite control.

What’s new in companion animal parasite control?

RENATA TURLEJ of MSD Animal Health reviews recent developments in parasite control which provide veterinary surgeons with greater flexibility in their choice of preparations

FLEA control has always been a need at the epicentre of the small animal veterinary practice and the options for managing seem to increase every year.

With the plethora of ectoparasiticides available, in order to implement optimal flea control it is essential to understand the mode of action of the selected products to have a realistic expectation of the results.

The potential pitfalls of implementing an effective flea treatment strategy lie with the owner as well as the vet. Educating the client is essential to ensure good compliance if the treatment strategy is to work at its best, so ensuring correct advice is given and taken on board by the pet owner is every bit as fundamental as the choice of preparation.

This area is a particular concern, not least when sales of these products are increasingly outside the influence of the practice.

Key points which need to be put across to the client are:

  • eliminating adult fleas is the tip of the iceberg of the problem;
  • effective environmental control is required for optimal management;
  • reducing environmental biomass with regular vacuuming, washing of bedding, etc.;
  • correct product application and discipline in the frequency of use.

Pupal-window effect

The continual or delayed emergence of fleas from the pupal stage is known as the pupal-window effect and is attributed to the resilience of existing flea pupae in the environment.

As a consequence, it may take several months of regular treatment to fully eradicate a heavy infestation, with a correspondingly large environmental biomass, in spite of the implementation of optimal flea control using effective ovilarvical products.

In addition to an effective flea product, persistence and consistence are key to obtaining a flea-free household.

The choice of insecticidal actives available varies widely and selection should be based on what the veterinary surgeon is trying to achieve: flea control, with or without ovilarvicidal activity, targeting specifically the flea or, if there is a requirement, other ectoparasites, including mites and lice.

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Vets should be aware of the mode of action of the active and, in particular, the stages of the life-cycle that it treats. Choosing an effective adulticide will have major limitations without effective environmental control.

Main considerations

The main points to be considered when choosing your active are:

  • What stages of the flea lifecycle are treated?
  • How long will the treatment last?
  • When should I expect the flea problem to be controlled?
  • Is there any known resistance to the molecule?

Manufacturers are constantly searching for novel methods to tackle the on-going flea problem that can help improve efficacy, safety or convenience.

The active, indoxacarb, was recently introduced into the veterinary ectoparasiticides market. It is a “novel” molecule with no known flea resistance.

It is essentially a pro-drug which is converted into its active form inside the flea, using gut enzymes, by a process called “bioactivation” which delivers targeted flea control at the site it’s needed – the flea.

Studies have shown a rapid onset of action and persistent levels of efficacy throughout the 28-day application interval. Egg production is affected immediately after application and is inhibited within 72 hours, thereby completely disrupting the flea life-cycle.

Ingesting debris

Flea larvae, found mainly in the environment, are similarly destroyed by the bioactivation process as they ingest the organic debris, mainly skin cells, coated in indoxacarb which are sloughed off during the natural shedding of skin cells in the regeneration process.

In a recent study carried out by M. Dryden on healthy cats, Activyl, containing the active indoxacarb, was shown to have 100% efficacy against the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis, over a 28-day period whereby cats were infested with fleas on days -2, 7, 14, 21, 28, 35 and 42 (Figure 1).

It continued to maintain a high level of efficacy on days 35 and 42 at 99.6%, up to two weeks after the required subsequent treatment date.

Flea egg production was inhibited by 66% or two-thirds within 24 hours and only 4% of the eggs laid during this time managed to hatch.

Indoxacarb is an active suitable for vets wanting to implement a specific flea-targeted treatment, with a persistent duration of efficacy and environmental control.

Making sense of parasite control

Products containing a combination of actives also target some of the important intestinal worms, Angiostrongylus vasorum and for dogs travelling to heartworm-endemic areas Dirofilaria immitis, but no single preparation is effective against the full range of ecto- and endoparasites we might want to control.

With new claims and new technologies come a greater range of options for controlling the spectrum of parasites we wish to manage (Figure 2).

Milbemax contains both milbemycin and praziquantel which provides broadspectrum worming including tapeworm.

Comprehensive cover

Given the recent licensed claim for prevention of Angiostrongylus for Milbemax, the use of this product in conjunction with the MSD range of ectoparasiticides gives optimum flexibility and choice to provide comprehensive endectocide and ectoparasiticide cover to suit a wide range of requirements in practice.

These recent changes and developments in parasite control provide veterinarians with greater flexibility in their choice of preparations in the persistent battle they face against common parasites affecting our companion animals.


Dryden, M. W., Payne, P. A., Smith, V. et al (2013) Efficacy of indoxacarb applied to cats against the adult cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis, flea eggs and adult flea emergence. Parasites and Vectors 6: 126.

All-Natural, Safe and Effective Flea Control for Cats

Junjira Konsang / Getty Images

The best approach to controlling fleas is to start with the least toxic and most natural choices, resorting to stronger measures only if reasonable control is not achieved. As a prerequisite to any flea-control program, I recommend building up your animal’s health and resistance as much as possible through a healthy diet and lifestyle. Along with that, it’s important to practice thorough sanitation and cleaning.

Understanding the life cycle of the flea makes it clear why cleaning is so important. Adult fleas live about three to four months. During that time they are steadily laying tiny white eggs on your pet that look like dandruff or salt crystals. Flea eggs hatch out into larvae that live in the cracks and crevices of rugs, upholstery, blankets, floors, sand, earth, and the like.

Because these tiny larvae cannot jump or travel very far (less than an inch), they feed on the black specks of dried blood («flea dirt») that fall off along with the eggs during grooming and scratching. After one to two weeks, the larvae go through a cocoon stage (pupa). A week or two later, they hatch out as small fleas that hop onto the nearest warm body passing by (usually your pet — sometimes you!), bite it for a meal of blood, and then start the whole process all over again. This cycle takes anywhere from 2 to 20 weeks, depending on the temperature of the house or environment. During summer — flea season — the entire cycle is usually just 2 weeks long. That’s why fleas increase so rapidly at that time.

The bad news is that, no matter how many adult fleas you manage to kill, numerous future fleas are developing in the environment simultaneously. The good news is that these eggs, larvae, pupa, and the flea dirt they feed upon can be sucked up by a vacuum cleaner or washed away in the laundry. And because the developing fleas are so immobile, they are most concentrated wherever your pet sleeps, so you know where to focus your efforts.

Your important ally in the battle against fleas is cleanliness, both for your pet and your home, particularly in your pet’s sleeping areas. Regular cleaning interrupts the life cycles of the fleas and greatly cuts down on the number of adult fleas that end up on your pet, especially if you act before flea season begins. So start your program with these nontoxic steps.

Steam clean your carpets at the onset of flea season (or whenever you begin your flea-control program). Though it is somewhat expensive, steam cleaning is effective in killing flea eggs.

Thoroughly vacuum and clean floors and furniture at least once a week to pick up flea eggs, larvae, and pupae. Concentrate on areas where your pet sleeps and use an attachment to reach into crevices and corners and under heavy furniture. If there is a heavy infestation, you may want to put a flea collar (or part of a flea collar) in the vacuum bag to kill any adult fleas that get sucked up and might crawl away. Or else immediately dispose of the bag or its contents because it can provide a warm, moist, food-filled environment for developing eggs and larvae. Mop vinyl floors.

Launder your pet’s bedding in hot, soapy water at least once a week. Dry on maximum heat. Heat will kill all stages of flea life, including the eggs. Remember that flea eggs are very slippery and easily fall off bedding or blankets. So carefully roll bedclothes up to keep all the flea eggs contained on the way to the washing machine.

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Bathe the animal with a natural flea-control shampoo. Use a nontoxic shampoo as recommended above, such as one containing d-limonene (dogs only).

Use a flea comb to trap and kill fleas that are on your pet. Most pet stores carry special fine-toothed combs that trap fleas for easy disposal. Make a regular habit of flea-combing your pet while you watch TV or talk on the phone. Depending on the degree of infestation and the time of year, this might be daily (at the onset of the flea season), weekly, or monthly.

Gently but thoroughly comb as many areas as your pet will allow, especially around the head, neck, back, and hindquarters. As you trap the little buggers, pull them off the comb and plunge them into a container of hot, soapy water (or dip the comb and pull the flea off underwater). Cover your lap with an old towel to catch extra clumps of hair and flea dirt and to wipe the comb off as you work.

When you’re finished, flush the soapy water and fleas down the toilet.

If your pet goes outdoors, follow these steps as well.

Mow and water your lawn regularly. Short grass allows sunlight to penetrate and warm the soil, which kills larvae. Watering drowns the developing fleas.

Encourage ants. Perhaps I should say «do not discourage ants.» They love to eat flea eggs and larvae. This is another reason not to use pesticides that kill all the insects in your yard.

«Sterilize» bare-earth sleeping spots. If your pet likes to sleep or hang out in a certain bare or sandy area, occasionally cover the spot with a heavy black plastic sheet on a hot, sunny day. Rake up any dead leaves and other debris first. The heat that builds up under the plastic does an excellent job of killing fleas and larvae. Of course, this is not appropriate to use where you want to preserve live grass or plants.

Apply agricultural lime on grassy or moist areas. This helps to dry out the fleas. Rake up any dead leaves and grassy debris first.

Along with the above steps, you might try these methods to repel fleas that may try to jump back on your pet, especially those harder-to-kill ones hanging out in the backyard.

Use an herbal flea powder. You’ll find them in pet stores and natural food stores, or you can make your own. Combine one part each of as many of these powdered herbs as you can find: eucalyptus, rosemary, fennel, yellow dock, wormwood, and rue. Put this mixture in a shaker-top jar, such as a jar for parsley flakes.

Apply the flea powder sparingly to your pet’s coat by brushing backward with your hand or the comb and sprinkling it into the base of the hairs, especially on the neck, back, and belly. To combat severe infestations, use several times a week. Afterward, put your animal friend outside for awhile so the disgruntled tenants vacate in the yard and not in your house. Some herbal flea powders also contain natural pyrethrins, which are not strong flea-killers but do seem to greatly discourage them.

Use an herbal flea collar. These are impregnated with insect-repellent herbal oils. Some are made to be «recharged» with the oils and used again. Buy them at natural food stores.

Try a natural skin tonic. The animal herbalist Juliette de Bairacli-Levy recommends this lemon skin tonic, which many of my clients successfully use on their pets for a general skin toner, parasite repellent, and treatment for mange.

Thinly slice a whole lemon, including the peel. Add it to 1 pint of near-boiling water and let it steep overnight. The next day, sponge the solution onto the animal’s skin and let it dry. You can use this daily for severe skin problems involving fleas. It is a source of natural flea-killing substances such as d-limonene and other healing ingredients found in the whole lemon.

Add ample nutritional or brewer’s yeast and garlic to the diet. Some studies show yeast supplementation significantly reduces flea numbers, though others indicate no effect. My experience with using yeast is that it has some favorable effect, particularly if the animal’s health is good. You can also rub it directly into the animal’s hair. Many people also praise the value of garlic as a flea repellent, though so far studies do not support this.

If these methods do not control the fleas sufficiently, take the following steps.

Get your carpets treated with a special anti-flea mineral salt. There have been some developments in safe flea control. My clients report success with a service that applies or sells relatively nontoxic mineral salts for treating carpets. (Fleabusters is the company recommended.) Effective for up to a year, the products safely kill fleas and their developing forms over a few week’s time.

Once or twice a year, sprinkle natural, unrefined diatomaceous earth along walls, under furniture, and in cracks and crevices that you cannot access with a vacuum. This product, which resembles chalky rock, is really the fossilized remains of one-celled algae. Though direct skin contact is harmless to pets and people, it is bad news for many insects and their larvae, including fleas. The fine particles in the earth kill insects by attacking the waxy coating that covers their external skeletons. The insects then dry out and die.

I do not recommend using diatomaceous earth frequently or directly on your animal — mostly because of the irritating dust that can be breathed in by both of you. It is also messy. Be careful about breathing it in. Wear a dust mask when applying. It is not toxic, but inhaling even the natural, unrefined form of this dust can irritate the nasal passages.


Do not use the type of diatomaceous earth that is sold for swimming pool filters. It has been very finely ground, and the tiny particles can be breathed into the lungs and cause chronic inflammation. Use a spray or powder containing pyrethrins or natural pyrethrum. These are the least toxic of all the insecticides used on pets, and they are found in both conventional and natural flea-control products.

For a more lasting effect, use a microencapsulated product, which is perhaps labeled «slow release.» Repeat the applications as you simultaneously use the carpet treatment system or diatomaceous earth. This will help kill both adult fleas and developing fleas at the same time.

Flea Control and Prevention in Dogs

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The flea is a small, brown, wingless insect that uses specialized mouth parts to pierce the skin and siphon blood. For millions of pets and people, it is a remorseless enemy.

When a flea bites your dog, it injects a small amount of saliva into the skin to prevent blood coagulation. Some animals may have fleas without showing discomfort, but an unfortunate number of dogs become sensitized to this saliva. In highly allergic animals, the bite of a single flea can cause severe itching and scratching. Fleas cause the most common skin disease of dogs – flea allergy dermatitis.

If your pet develops hypersensitivity to flea saliva, several changes may result:

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  • A small hive may develop at the site of the flea bite, which either heals or develops into a tiny red bump that eventually crusts over.
  • The dog may scratch and chew at himself until the area is hairless, raw and weeping serum (“hot spots”). This can cause hair loss, redness, scaling, bacterial infection and increased pigmentation of the skin.

    The distribution often involves the lower back, base of the tail, toward the back, the abdomen, flanks and neck. It may become quite generalized in severe cases, leading to total body involvement.

    Remember that the flea spends the majority of its life in the environment, not on your pet, so it may be difficult to find. In fact, your dog may continue to scratch without you ever seeing a flea on him. Check your dog carefully for fleas or for signs of flea excrement (also called flea dirt), which looks like coarsely ground pepper. When moistened, flea dirt turns a reddish brown because it contains blood.

    If one dog in the household has fleas, assume that all pets in the household have fleas. A single flea found on your pet means that there are probably hundreds of fleas, larva, pupa and eggs in your house.

    If you see tapeworm segments in your dog’s stool, he may have had fleas at one time or may still have them. The flea can act as an intermediate host of the tapeworm, Dipylidium caninum. Through grooming or biting, the animal ingests an adult flea containing tapeworm eggs. Once released, the tapeworm grows to maturity in the small intestine. The cycle can take less than a month, so a key to tapeworm prevention is flea control.

    The Life Cycle of the Flea

    The flea’s life cycle has four stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. The adult flea uses your dog as a place to take its blood meals and breed. Fleas either lay eggs directly on the dog where they may drop off or deposit eggs into the immediate surroundings (your home or backyard). Because the female may lay several hundred eggs during the course of its life, the number of fleas present intensifies the problem. The eggs hatch into larvae that live in carpeting, cracks or corners of the dog’s living area. The larvae survive by ingesting dried blood, animal dander and other organic matter. To complete the life cycle, larvae develop into pupae that hatch into adults. The immediate source of adult fleas within the house is the pupa, not the dog. The adult flea emerges from the pupa and then hops onto the host.

    This development occurs more quickly in a warm, humid environment. Pupae can lie dormant for months, but under temperate conditions fleas complete their life cycle in about three weeks. The inside of your home may provide a warm environment to allow fleas to thrive year round.

    Fighting the Flea

    Types of commercial products available for flea control include flea collars, shampoos, sprays, powders and dips. Other, newer, products include oral and systemic spot-on insecticides.

    In the past, topical insecticide sprays, powders and dips were the most popular. However, the effect was often temporary. Battling infestations requires attacking areas where the eggs, larvae, pupae and adults all congregate. Because some stages of a flea’s life can persist for months, chemicals with residual action are needed and should be repeated periodically. Sprays or foggers, which required leaving the house for several hours, have been used twice in 2-week intervals and then every two months during the flea season.

    Treating animals and their living areas thoroughly and at the same time is vital; otherwise some fleas will survive and re-infect your pet. You may even need to treat your yard or kennel with an insecticide, if the infestation is severe enough.

    The vacuum cleaner can be a real aid in removing flea eggs and immature forms. Give special attention to cracks and corners. At the end of vacuuming, either vacuum up some flea powder into your vacuum bag, or throw the bag out. Otherwise, the cleaner will only serve as an incubator, releasing more fleas into the environment as they hatch. In some cases, you may want to obtain the services of a licensed pest control company. These professionals have access to a variety of insecticides and they know what combinations work best in your area.

    Treatment and Prevention

    As one might expect, flea control through these methods is very time consuming, expensive and difficult. The good news is that currently, with the newer flea products on the market, flea control is much safer, more effective and environmentally friendly. Current flea control efforts center on oral and topical systemic treatments. These products not only treat existing flea problems, they also are very useful for prevention. In fact, prevention is the most effective and easiest method of flea control.

  • One group of products works to control fleas by interrupting the development of fleas by killing flea larva and eggs. These drugs are called insect growth regulators (IGRs). These products do not kill adult fleas, but they dramatically decrease the flea population by arresting their development. One common oral product used is lufenuron (Program®). Lufenuron is given monthly, and is combined with heartworm protection in the product lufenuron/milbemycin Sentinel®. Lufenuron is also available as an injection that lasts 6 months. Methoprene and pyriproxifen (Nylar®) are also very effective IGRs that are available as sprays or collars.
  • Other products kill the actual flea (adulticides) and work quite rapidly. These include both spot-on and oral products. Spot-on products are usually applied on your pet’s skin between the shoulders. The medication is absorbed into the skin and distributed throughout the body. Fleas are killed rapidly on contact with the skin. Spot-on products include fipronil(Frontline®), Metaflumizone (ProMeris® and ProMeris Duo™), imidacloprid (Advantage®), and Selamectin (Revolution®). A recently developed oral adulticide is nitenpyram (Capstar®), that when given begins to kill fleas in 30 minutes.

    All these products are safer, easier to use and, if used correctly, the most effective method of flea control. Additionally, some have the added benefit of efficacy against other parasites. Some veterinarians are even recommending a combination of an adulticide and insect growth regulator (Frontline Plus®) as a more complete method of flea control.

    With all these choices it is best to consult your veterinarian as to the best flea control and prevention for your pet. The choice of flea control should depend on your pet’s life-style and potential for exposure. Through faithful use of these systemic monthly flea products, the total flea burden on your pet and in the immediate environment can be dramatically reduced. Keeping your pet on monthly flea treatments, especially in areas of high flea risk, is an excellent preventive method of flea control. These products often eliminate the need for routine home insecticidal use, especially in the long run. Although it may still be prudent in heavy flea environments to treat the premises initially, the advent of these newer systemic flea products has dramatically simplified, and made flea control safer and more effective.

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