Bob and I have dogs. So does my friend Gary. My neighbor has both cats and dogs. But whether we have cats or dogs, we are all fighting the War on Fleas.
The assumption of most folks is that fleas are bad in south Texas because we are having dry weather. They are bad enough that there’s a run on Advantage and Frontline at Walmart and Petsmart and pest control companies are booked days in advance.
Bob and I have fogged our homes, vacuumed carpets, mopped, and poisoned dog sleeping areas-which is any piece of furniture in our respective houses when we aren’t at home. We have bathed and dipped and Frontlined the dogs. The little pests keep coming back. As is usually the case, I’m discovering that the fault lies with us. We aren’t consistent and fail to follow-through when we have the jump on fleas.
According to the Texas A & M Extension Service in Bexar County, the fleas that plague us are cat fleas. They don’t limit themselves to cats although cats are their favorite host. Dogs come second and humans are a distant 6th behind squirrels, possums, and rats. There are other less common flea types: dog, human, and oriental rat. In south Texas there’s a sticktight flea that burrows under the skin of its host but they are usually found on birds.
Female fleas lay 24 to 30 eggs a day which don’t stick and fall wherever the host is sleeping. Although adult fleas can only live a few days without a host, flea larvae can live for up to 5 months in carpet, bedding or grass. They spin a cocoon and stay dormant until they sense the presence of a host. Then, they hatch. That’s why vacant houses can come alive with fleas even though nobody (no body) was home for months. That is insidious to me.
Fleas do not like dry climates with less that 50% humidity and hot places with consistently higher than 90 degree temps, but those places aren’t exempt from fleas. Fleas like the moist dirt where the dogs lie and enjoy living in the A/C.
To get rid of fleas, you cannot just spray the house, Frontline the dogs, treat the yard, and rest. That’s what Bob and I have done. (Our work is finished. Let’s go fishing.)
Although all those things are good, they will not eliminate fleas. Floors need to be vacuumed or mopped daily for 2-4 weeks with the vacuum cleaner bags thrown away. That gets rid of the larval cocoons. Pet sleeping areas need to be washed or vacuumed, too.
Bathing the dogs and combing daily helps remove eggs. It’s recommended that the comb be dipped in alcohol or detergent water between fur passes. Brewers yeast and garlic help control adult fleas but won’t eliminate larvae. Likewise, lemon and orange oils make the dogs smell pretty but don’t control flea-kids.
The jury’s out on nematodes, a microscopic soil worm that attacks grubs, crickets and fleas. UC-Davis thinks they might work. TAMU Extension-SA is less sure. If you decide to try them, they need to be kept in moist conditions. We tried them with no success but it may have been that follow-through problem again since infrequent watering keeps them from being effective.
All this flea treatment comes with at a high price. Pet owners spent $9 billion last year controlling fleas; it is one of the biggest expenses of pet ownership.
If you can’t beat the fleas, you might try to capitalize off them. It could be time for the flea circus to make a comeback. Fleas used to be part of carnival attractions as early as the late 16th century and as recently as the mid-20th. Flea circuses were viewed using special lenses and were quite an attraction in the day.
Fleas don’t live long and couldn’t be trained. At an 1/8″, their brains aren’t really functional. They were sorted into jumping or running fleas. The running fleas were harnessed with tiny gold wire to props such as carts, vehicles or ferris wheels. I am not making this up. Their strong legs permitted them to move things much larger than themselves. The jumping fleas, also harnessed, were given small lightweight balls. When they tried to jump away, it appeared that they propelled the ball.
Since I have a hard time training much larger animals than fleas, I better get out the mop and vacuum cleaner. But if you are thinking about taking on the challenge, England’s Belle Vue amusement park is planning to replace their old flea circus. It went to the dogs. (Pah-dum-pump)