Understanding the flea life cycle

In order to understand how and why treatment options work, we must first understand the flea?s life cycle since the various modern treatment and prevention products work on different parts of this life cycle. There are several stages to its life cycle: egg, larva or caterpillar, pupa or cocoon, and adult. The length of time it takes to Flea bite dermatitis in a cat. complete this cycle varies depending upon the environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, and the availability of a nourishing host. Yes... the various flea stages are quite resistant to freezing temperatures. The flea's host is a warm-blooded animal such as a dog or cat (or even humans!) The adult female flea typically lives for several weeks on the pet. During this time period she will suck the animal?s blood two to three times and lay twenty to thirty eggs each day. She may lay several hundred eggs over her life span. These eggs fall off of the pet into the yard, bedding, carpet, and wherever else the animal spends time.

These eggs then proceed to develop where they have landed. Since they are about 1/12 the size of the adult, they can even develop in small cracks in the floor and between crevices in carpeting. The egg then hatches into larvae. These tiny worm-like larvae live among the carpet fibers, in cracks of the floor, and outside in the environment. They feed on organic matter, skin scales, and even the blood-rich adult flea feces. The larvae grow, molt twice and then form a cocoon and pupate, waiting for the right time to hatch into an adult. These pupae are very resilient and are protected by their cocoon. Pupae can survive quite a long time, waiting until environmental conditions and host availability are just right. Then they emerge from their cocoons when they detect heat, vibrations and exhaled carbon dioxide, all of which indicate that a host is nearby. The newly emerged adult flea can jump onto a nearby host immediately. Under optimal conditions, the flea can complete its entire life cycle in just fourteen days. Just think of the tens of thousands of the little rascals that could result when conditions are optimal!

Knowing this life cycle allows us to understand why it has always been important to treat both the host animal and the indoor and outdoor environment in order to fully control flea numbers. Simply sprinkling some flea powder on your pet will not work; simply vacuuming the home vigorously will not work, simply placing a flea collar on your pet will not work. There are a wide variety of flea products on the market today, but the newer prescription products are finally taking the frustration out of flea control. In some cases it is even possible to gain control by treating only the pet. One of these products is called Program. It is given orally once per month for dogs and cats, or by injection every six months for cats. The adult flea is not harmed but the eggs she lays will not hatch, thus breaking the life cycle of the flea; with no reproduction the flea population eventually dissipates as long as the pet isn't coming in contact with new fleas continually. In warm climates, this treatment is typically year round, but in other climates treatment should begin in early spring before the flea season starts. This may not be the product of choice for animals that are allergic to flea saliva (have flea bite hypersensitivity) since the adult fleas are not killed and are still able to bite the animal.