What to do this week
By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening” on 970WFLA
How to Control Fleas in the Home and Yard
Since October, the Tampa Bay area has received only forty-three percent of its’ average annual rainfall. The effects of this deficiency are quite obvious in the landscape. Our lawns, bushes, and even our trees are suffering from lack of water. Drought conditions not only affect our landscape, but there is another problem many of us are dealing with, fleas. Flea populations have been exploding. Whether or not you have a pet, you have probably been bitten by fleas, and you know how bad a flea infestation can be. In this article, I will go over the symptoms, which lead-up to a flea problem. I will also cover the steps necessary to lessen their impact and how to control them. Let’s get started.
We all love our pets. For some of us, our cat or dog is just that, a pet. Others look at them as a family. Wherever you fall in the pet owner category, we can be assured you want to protect them from harm. Fleas carry diseases that not only can infect your pets, but they can also be harmful to you. Diseases like dermatitis can cause constant itching and biting. If your pet swallows a flea, then they can develop a tapeworm which can rob your pet of nutrients. Because fleas feed on your pet’s blood, too many bites can cause anemia. Anemia can make your pet become lethargic leading to other conditions, which can cause death. Bartonella infection or cat-scratch fever as it is known commonly, not only affects your pets but can be transferred to humans. All of these problems are preventable with the right type of information.
The first step to lessening a flea control problem is recognizing you have one.If you pay attention to your pet’s habits, then you will notice distinct differences in their behavior as flea populations grow. One of your first clues will be in the constant scratching your pet will exhibit. Normal sleep intervals will be interrupted. Dogs may seem distressed and whine erratically. Cats will not walk on the floors. Chairs, tables, and counter tops will be their primary highway of getting around in the home. Sinks and bath tubs will become resting or sleeping spots. All of these behaviors are signs that your home is infested with fleas, and control methods are needed soon.
If you pay attention to your pet’s habits, then you will notice distinct differences in their behavior as flea populations grow. One of your first clues will be in the constant scratching your pet will exhibit. Normal sleep intervals will be interrupted. Dogs may seem distressed and whine erratically. Cats will not walk on the floors. Chairs, tables, and counter tops will be their primary highway of getting around in the home. Sinks and bath tubs will become resting or sleeping spots. All of these behaviors are signs that your home is infested with fleas, and control methods are needed soon.
This is the stage most people will give their dog a flea bath or comb out fleas on their cat with a flea comb and a dish of soap and water. Unfortunately, your flea population is about to explode and merely bathing the dog or combing the cat will not alleviate the problem. You need to make a multi-point attack on the flea population in order to regain control of the situation. Even if your pets do not go outside, you will need to treat the exterior of the home, the interior of the house, the patio, and the pets themselves in order to regain control. This will probably involve your veterinarian, your pest-control applicator, and yourself.
The hot and dry days we are experiencing now are perfect for flea reproduction. Fleas can lay about fifty eggs per day. These eggs fall to the ground when your pet jumps off your bed or their favorite resting spot. Flea eggs hatch within a short period of time. The larvae stage of the flea emerges from the egg and must feed upon the feces of an adult flea to continue its life cycle. Flea feces contain blood, which is required by the larvae to pupate. Outside, during periods of heavy rain, flea feces are washed away making it very hard for the larvae to find the food it needs to continue its development. If we can simulate a rain shower inside the home by wet-mopping tiled surfaces, then this may help us gain control of fleas. First, we will need to get rid of the adult fleas.
Vacuuming carpeted areas, including space rugs, regularly can help eliminate adult fleas and their feces. I recommend that the vacuum bag is thrown away when you are finished. Next, you will need to wet-mop all non-carpeted areas, such as your tile or linoleum floors, including any wood surfaces. Non-porous surfaces can harbor not only flea eggs but also larvae seeking to feed. Cracks or joints in-between the tiles should be treated especially well to eliminate any flea eggs or larvae caught in this area. You would be absolutely amazed at the number of flea eggs and larvae that can be found on these surfaces. Controlling the immature stages of fleas is very important to overall elimination of the infestation.
Now that the home has been vacuumed, and the tiled floors wet-mopped, it is time to apply an insecticide to control the remaining fleas. Products like Nyguard Plus and Nyguard EZ1 will control the adult while prohibiting the eggs from developing into adults for a period of up to six months. Make sure you pay special attention to areas of the home your pets frequent like the corner of the bed, the end of the couch, or their favorite resting areas. Treat these areas accordingly. Before you make any application of an insecticide, please read the entire label, including mixing and application instructions. These professional products can be found at your local Do-it-Yourself pest control store.
Of course, any interior application would not be complete without treating your pet. Your veterinarian can treat your dog or cat for you prior to them re-entering the home. They may also recommend to you products to keep your pet free of fleas over the coming months. Some products work more effectively than others, so I recommend you try different products to find out which ones work best for you and your pet. You may also find that many of these products are available online at discounted prices so check regularly for the best deals.
Finally, you need to treat outdoors to kill any fleas before they have a chance to re-infest the home. Even if your pet does not go outside, the likelihood that you have transferred the pests to your indoor areas is great. Many people want to treat their entire lawn for fleas. This is a common misconception. Fleas do not like to live in open areas; they prefer to live under ornamental plants and along fence lines. During the night, raccoons, armadillos, and other scavengers follow fence lines under shrubs leaving behind fleas and eggs. When your pet wanders into these areas, they pick up the fleas. In order to reduce flea populations in these areas, you will need to treat both the ornamental plants and the areas directly beneath and around them. Products such as Bifenthrin or Liquid Sevin can be sprayed over and under your plants’ outdoors to help reduce flea populations.
Those of you with pool decks or balconies will also have to wash off all outdoor surfaces, just as we did inside the home with our tile floors. Outdoors, a simple jet of water from the hose will dislodge all the flea eggs and larva from your decks, walkways, and entryways. The force of the water will kill the flea eggs and eliminate the food source the flea larvae need to survive, thus reducing the population. You can also run your sprinkler system regularly over your plants to keep fleas in the landscape to a minimum.
Fleas can become a major problem for you and your pet very quickly. Hot and dry weather gives flea larvae the opportunity to breed unobstructed. Paying attention to your pets daily habits may give you an indication that flea numbers are rising. Fleas can infect our pets and us with diseases. Treat the interior, exterior, and pet in order to achieve total control. Make sure you read the label prior to using chemical controls. Seek out professional services if you feel uncomfortable using control products. Good luck and remember, without plants, we would not be here!