Fleas are small, pinhead-sized insects that are dark brown to
almost blackish in color. They do not have wings but jump to get
from place to place. Only adult fleas feed on blood. Although
fleas will feed on people, causing red spots that look like
mosquito bites on the lower legs and other areas of the body,
they will usually not bother people if dogs, cats, mice or any
wild animals are present.
Flea eggs hatch 10 days after they
are laid, producing slender, whitish, wormlike larvae. These
larvae feed on debris in carpeting, upholstered furniture and
pet bedding. Fully grown larvae enter a short pupae stage,
followed by the adult stage that feeds on blood. The entire life
cycle, from egg to adult, takes about six weeks in the home.
Pet owners who have fleas on their pets can usually eliminate
these insects by treating their pets weekly with a flea and tick
powder for at least six weeks, using one of the newer generation
topical treatments, or flea collars may also be used.
Here is the main caution when treating areas and animals.
Pyrethrin-based products, such as flying and crawling or
household insect aerosol sprays, can be used to eliminate the
fleas, but there is an extreme toxic effect of this group
of chemicals on dogs and cats. Directly treating a cat for fleas
with permethrin can send the cat into shock and may result in
Carbaryl (Sevin dust) is available and labeled to treat pets
and their living quarters safely.
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Read the label. If a product does not say it can be used on dogs
or cats, it shouldn't be. Under the precautionary statements on the
label, most of the pyrethrin and pyrethroid insecticides actually
prohibit their use on pets.
Most treatments do not kill the eggs and pupae of the fleas, so
three times at two-week intervals are needed to eliminate the fleas.
Infested lawn areas can be treated with an insecticide to reduce
the chances of your home being reinfested. Spray any area where
fleas appear to be present, particularly tall grass areas and areas
where pets or wild animals tend to rest. Remember the safety issue
of the pyrethroids versus carbaryl. The pyrethroids include
permethrin, bifenthrin, fenvalerate, cypermethrin, resmethrin,
tetramethrin and just about anything else that ends in an "in."
In summary, there is a toxicity that can cause death in pets
(cats in particular) from treatment with pyrethrin and pyrethroid
insecticides. Usually this is from direct application, such as
trying to kill fleas on the animal. Fleas can be a definite problem
this time of year, but there are other control options. Get animal
products recommended by your veterinarian. Also, carbaryl dust
insecticide is much safer for animals and can be used in bedding
areas, lawns, etc.
Good luck in your battles against the fleas, and remember to keep
your pet safe.
Fulton, unit leader,
University of Illinois Extension,
Logan County Unit]