Little Flea Don’t Hop On Me!
Our flea problem reared its ugly head twice this fall with the appearance of little white, rice-like pellets popping out of our cat Luke’s butt. Tapeworms again, yuck! Sure, we can poison them and him thereby ridding ourselves of this icky nuisance but we aren’t addressing the real problem – fleas. This tapeworm (which really only infects cats) is transmitted via ingestion of fleas. Luke apparently finds eating fleas a way to rid himself of the itchy pest. More poison applied to the back of Luke’s neck only poisons him and breeds more resilient fleas. We need to reduce our flea population.
To defeat this little jumping pest, I must learn how to outwit it. The flea we are dealing with is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis). The cat flea has a typical insect lifecycle – egg, larva, pupa, adult. Adults suck blood from animal hosts, poop and lay eggs on their hosts. These eggs roll off the host animal anywhere the host lays down. Larvae hatch from eggs and feed on the feces of adult fleas. Feces are little bitty black grains peppered around where your cat sleeps. Larvae pupate in place. Pupa or cocoons are hidden beneath debris or blow with dust bunnies to the edges of the room. Adult fleas emerge from the cocoons and continue the cycle.
Important things to know about flea cocoons. They can be viable for a really long time – like months or years. They are stimulated by vibrations to break open and release adults. Think about it this way, the cocoons are waiting for food to be available; vibrations made by the movement of an animal mean it’s go time. That is why the flea infestation was so sudden in the book Angel’s Ashes.
To outwit the fleas, we need to vacuum frequently, groom our cat with a flea comb daily, wash animal bedding frequently and treat areas with desiccating dusts. Vacuuming is the key. Not only does it suck up eggs, poop, cocoons and some adults, it causes a vibration that excites the cocoons to break open. Close up or freeze vacuum bag to prevent escapees. Flea combs help remove adults, eggs, poop and cocoons from your cat. Dunk the combed-out hair in water with detergent. Launder and change animal bedding each week. Use smooth, soft cloth that is easy to clean and avoid fleece or wood chips that can help camouflage cocoons. Diatomaceous earth is effective at slicing open fleas and drying them out. Just sprinkle it on bedding, furniture and along room edges then vacuum up after 30 minutes. Be sure to use only food grade diatomaceous earth and avoid getting dust in the lungs.
Knowledge is power, now we just have to keep at it. Hop on!