Can fleas survive a typical Midwestern winter? How do you know the flea products your veterinarian sells are better than the ones in the pet store or grocery store? Have “super fleas” emerged that are resistant to these drugs? Conflicting and even confusing information seems to abound when people talk about these nasty parasites. Fleas are nasty parasites programmed for survival and hard to eradicate. Thankfully, veterinary science has given us effective ways to control these pests, bringing relief to our dogs and cats. But what happens when people think the Internet or local store has a better solution?
Anyone who has suffered through an infestation of fleas knows these parasites are programmed for survival. In ideal conditions, fleas can complete their life cycle in just 12 days, adding thousands of new offspring. Understanding how to control this life cycle and killing adult fleas helps your pet – and your home – remain flea-free!
Flea Myth #1: Fleas go away during winter months. Although a good part of the country sees a decrease in flea cases during colder months, fleas can survive by taking advantage of our human comforts. Fleas thrive at temperatures above 65 degrees, making our homes a perfect winter refuge. The cocoon stage can actually survive up to five months in cooler temperatures – allowing the next generation of fleas to hatch and attack our pets in the spring!
Flea Myth #2: Natural remedies like brewer’s yeast and garlic are safe and effective flea control methods. For many pet owners, avoiding man-made chemicals and “going green” is important. Garlic, for example, is purported to kill fleas, but the only study conducted showed no effect. Organic and natural remedy products are not only often ineffective at controlling fleas, but sometimes even cause illness in pets.
Flea Myth #3: Chemical pesticides are harmful to pets and to the environment. Historically, this is true! The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned products containing organophosphates like Diaz anon due to cancer risks and environmental impact. Advances in pest control provide us environmentally safe products that can be used on pets. Your family veterinarian has both oral and topical products providing effective and immediate flea kill. Additionally, these products are harmless to both pets and children.
Flea Myth #4: Fleas are resistant to these new chemicals – even products my veterinarian carries. With stories of “super-bug” bacteria making headlines, it’s easy to imagine a super flea shaking off pesticides like water. Veterinary products have a great track record of killing fleas and experts state resistance to these products has not occurred. Most perceived product failures are likely due to excessive numbers of fleas or inappropriate application. However, one ingredient – permethrin – does have a history of flea resistance. Many insects in North America are resistant to permethrin, a common insecticide found in over-the-counter medications.
Flea Myth #5: There is no difference between flea products purchased from grocery stores and your veterinarian. Unfortunately, this myth is the cause of many emergency room visits – and pet deaths. Grocery store products may contain older insecticides and chemicals like permethrin. This could mean that they are simply less effective, but in some cases, these products have actually killed pets – especially cats. In an attempt to save money, well-meaning owners have used dog products on their cats, causing the cat to seizure uncontrollably – creating a potentially fatal emergency.
Your veterinarian has access to at least ten non-toxic flea products. Your veterinarian can recommend what’s best for your dog or cat.