Within the world of insects, there are, unfortunately, good bugs and bad. The pesky ones that eat our plants, scurry inside our homes or even sting us tend to get the most attention. But we cannot forget that our family pets also have to deal with insect pests, primarily those biting ones — fleas and ticks.
According Extension Entomologist Dr. Xing Ping Hu, there are two common flea species — cat fleas and dog fleas. Fleas can infest our homes when pets split their time between indoors and out — flea eggs fall from pets onto carpeting and adult fleas hop off while pets are inside the house. Female fleas attach themselves along the ears and eyes of their hosts, on which they feed, mate and even lay eggs.
Flea eggs usually hatch in 2-5 days. The flea larvae are long, hairy, worm-like creatures that feed on dried blood and the excrement of adult fleas. Larvae crawl around feeding for 1-2 weeks before forming small silken cocoons in which they pupate and develop into adults.
Remember, flea larval development is restricted to protected places with at least 75 percent humidity. They will not survive in open, dry, clean places. Adult fleas can live around 30-50 days, mainly restricted to pets. However, they will bite humans and other animals.
The American dog tick is the most common tick in Alabama and the most common carrier of the disease-causing agent for Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Larvae, nymphs and adults are commonly found on dogs but rarely on humans. The body length of an unengorged adult is about ⅛ inch, but can extend to ½ inch when fully engorged after a blood meal.
Try these strategies for controlling fleas and ticks.
In most cases, sanitation alone will solve a flea problem. Thoroughly clean pet-resting areas indoors and out. Vacuuming is very effective in killing flea larvae in the carpet and picking up adults and eggs. Thoroughly and regularly vacuum where you find adults fleas, larvae and eggs, such as floors, rugs and carpets. Clean daily for a few days followed by weekly cleanings for at least 2 months.
Pet insecticide products are generally applied either topically or orally. Oral products, such as Program and Sentinel, require a prescription from a vet. Homeowners can also use topical products like Frontline Plus Advantage. There are also IGR products for topical use, such as Precor and vIGRen, sold in pet stores. Control requires 4-6 weeks. Always follow the product label. Another option are flea collars, which typically contain IGRs, such as methoprene and pyriporxyfen, and insecticides, such as permethrin and tetrachlovinphos. Unfortunately, there is little research concerning the effectiveness of collars.
Traditional insecticides formed as soaps, shampoos, powders and dusts are still available but aren’t as effective to use as the on-animal treatments.
Check your pets, especially dogs, for fleas and ticks as often as possible. Outside pets especially can pick up fleas and ticks and bring them into the home.
There are several products for controlling fleas indoors. Suggested IGR products Archer and Nylar (available to pest control professionals) can be applied wherever pets rest, indoors and out. Other products such as diatomaceous earth (dust), d-limonene (Demize, spray), and pyrethrins are available as well. Always read and follow label instructions carefully.
Carbaryl, permethrin, lambda-cyhalothrin and tralomethrin are just a few of the products for outdoor tick and flea control that come to mind. Acaricides alone are not effective in eliminating a tick problem but can help. Ticks can survive long periods of time between meals. Therefore, it is important to treat pet areas on the same day that you treat the pet to avoid re-infestation.
For help on other home and garden questions, contact your local county Extension office or visit us online at www.aces.edu.
Shane Harris is an Extension Agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.