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Flea Facts:
1. The cat flea Ctenocephalides felis is responsible for most of the severe flea irritations in animals and man.
2. The adult flea spends its entire life on the coat of an animal unless forced off by an insecticide or grooming.
3. Adult fleas lay eggs on the pet’s coat. These fall off onto bedding, carpets or soil where they hatch into larvae in 1-6 days.
4. These larvae feed on organic debris and adult flea faeces, which are essential for the development of the larvae. The larvae can only survive in shaded, humid environments because they are very susceptible to dessication, therefore they are usually found in cracks in hardwood floors, at the base of carpet fibres or in moist, shaded soil. The larval stage lasts 1-3 weeks.

5. The larvae then spin cocoons in which they pupate for 1-2 weeks. These can also be found in carpets, bedding, soil and floor cracks. The adult flea can delay emergence from the cocoon for 6 months until environmental conditions are favourable for its survival.
6. Newly emerging fleas jump onto people and animals to cause infestations. They mate after feeding and can begin egg production within 24-48 hours of taking their first blood meal.  
7. It is estimated that for every flea seen on a pet there are 100 living in the pet’s environment.

Controlling Flea Infestations:
This needs to be a two pronged approach, and will take at least 3 months.

1. Treat all the animals in the household.

This can be with:
a) Products that are distributed in the coat - the one available in Zimbabwe is Frontline.
 Application of Frontline Topspot results in a rapid (within 48hours) “knockdown” effect of existing fleas on the animal. It is formulated with a vehicle which keeps the active ingredient on the pet for at least 4 weeks. This vehicle is not present in ‘generic’ forms of Frontline. By using the unregistered generic form of Frontline (fipronil), you may be increasing the chances of drug resistance in the flea population in your environment. Sebum-stripping shampoos will decrease the efficacy and increase the need for more frequent applications.

Fleas in the environment may still jump onto the pet which is why some people notice live fleas on the animal a few days after application. These fleas will die within 48 hours if the Topspot has been correctly applied.  
There are other products in the group which are not available in Zimbabwe – Advantage and  Prac-Tic. There is also a sustained release imidocoprid collar called Seresto – it lasts for 6 months

b) Products that are absorbed into the circulation – There is a new product registered in Zimbabwe – BravEcto – this is a tablet which is given every 3 months and it kills ticks and fleas – this is a good product to use if your dog swims a lot. It is not for use in cats.
Other products not licensed in Zimbabwe are Stronghold, Activyl and Comfortis.

2.    Environmetal control
a) The pet’s bedding should be aired in direct sunlight daily and washed frequently to kill flea larval stages. Indoor resting places such as carpets should be vacuumed frequently.

b) Use of Program tablets – given by mouth to all the animals in the household, once a month. Program stops the flea eggs from hatching
c) For indoor pets, and in severe household infestations, house-owners should consider calling in     fumigators  to apply an insecticide with residual activity to the environment where the fleas are breeding – these sprays are usually a pyrethroid like permethrin, deltamethrin or tetramethrin  in combination with an insect growth regulator – like methoprene or pyriproxyfen, which prevent the development of flea eggs and larvae. We have Ultrum available at the surgery – spray the places where your pets like to lie/sleep.. Insecticidal treatment of outdoor areas is usually unfeasible in our large Harare gardens.
NB. Existing pupae will generally not be affected by the application of an environmental insecticide so adult fleas can continue to develop inside the pupae and continue to emerge from cocoons 2-4 weeks later, when they jump onto available animals. Therefore it is imperative to use a product that kills the adult fleas on the pet.