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Summer: the Pest is Yet to Come

Matt Young's picture
a flea

 

Warmer Weather and Man’s Best Friend’s: most Intimate Associates

Somehow, about six months ago, I got caught up in a whirlwind of events involving a sob story, a broken leg, a puppy, and some rather steep financial limitations, and wound up with a dog.

Fleas are socially unacceptable and there’s nothing like desperately trying to eradicate them from a house you don’t own, to really hammer home quite how tenaciously fleas cling to life.

The flea life cycle

That’s the thing: fleas are designed to pretty much not die, ever.  The crawling brown beasties one pointedly ignores pootling about in Fido’s eyebrows are the adults, about 5% of the flea population at any given time.  The other nineteen out of twenty, you won’t see, ever.  They are either still among the roughly eight hundred eggs a female flea will lay in a lifetime, larvae, or, and here is their nasty little trump card, pupae.

You wouldn’t think fleas could get more unpleasant, but they can.  The pupa is essentially a cross between a grenade and a cockroach.  The hatchling flea, (larvae), hides itself, often in carpets or beds, behind skirting boards or under the house.  Here it hunkers down to spin itself a tough cocoon from silk, spit and surrounding detritus, (incorporating dust, fluff, hair and general refuse the better to blend in to its blend insidiously into its chosen hidey-hole) which dries out, and is basically indestructible.  They can hibernate, essentially immune to a nuclear blast, for six months at a stretch, only to burst forth like the butterfly nobody wanted on sensing favourable conditions.  Like humidity and warmth.  Like the onset of the coastal New South Welsh summer.

Controlling Fleas

You can vacuum and flea bomb until you are blue in the face, but the bravest and best of this revolting, static little hoard will survive to reinfect your pet when they are awakened by the onset of spring and summer.

The very best spot-on or tablet flea control, even if it has one hundred precent efficiency, can only kill the fleas on the dog or cat at that time.   If they are constantly being reinfected from the environment, Fluffy or Rover will still be itchying up a storm.

But the pinnacle of survivalist perfection is actually kind of the hopping invasion’s Achilles’ heel.  See, the pupae can easily go for months at a stretch without food.  But once they hatch… the adult flea has to eat within a week.  They’ve got to have blood within seven days, or they die.

Treat now!

What I’m saying is that right now is the weak point in the flea life-cycle.  The warm, humid weather is essentially the mother of all invertebrate alarm clocks martialling the ravenous teenage multitude, bleary eyed with sleep, and famished.

Simply, the best way to eradicate the largely ineradicable is to cut off their food supply.

Which, coincidentally, is what regular spot-on flea control does best.

If you treat every animal in your home, not just dogs, but cats (ESPECIALLY indoor/outdoor ones), rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, whatever, the new-hatched fleas will just starve.

They need to eat to breed, if you apply flea control religiously to every pet, the recent hatchese just won’t seed the next generation.  But you can still see adult fleas crawling about on your dog/cat/miner bird as they live out brief, sterile, futile lives.  Only they don’t look any different.  You could see them for months as waves of pupae awake, wander aimlessly about your cat or dog for a bit, then die.

And Keep Treating

It can easily take three months to crack the flea lifecycle.  If the fluffy family’s flea cover is spotty or incomplete, enough fleas will time their lives perfectly to prolong the trauma indefinitely.

Oh, and if you try with the best of good will for a month or two, and then give up because obviously it’s not working, there are still fleas on Snowy/Smokey, then the raggle-taggle band of renegade survivors will respond to the plentiful food and absent competition by setting themselves to replacing their fallen comrades with vigour and verve.

So the upshot of all that is this: sure, flea control is great all year round, but it’s really, REALLY important right now.

This is the end of the cold snap, and the next couple of weeks are flea’s flashing neon kryptonite.  If kryptonite were a brief window in time, and not radioactive remains of a world long gone.

What I mean is, now is the time to step up your flea control. ‘Cause trust me, it’s easier than de-fleaing a house in a hurry.

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