Eye on Extension: Warm winter means early pest problems for pets

VALLEY — With the warm weather we have had for much of the first part of the year, pests of people and animals are showing up early. Yes, fleas have been found already this year. As always, one of the best control plans is to get an early start on control. If you wait until summer, you might lose the battle.

There are reports of fleas already this spring. Fleas can be difficult to eradicate.  Once they are found on a pet and that pet has been in the house recently then you know they are in the house. 

The best way to manage fleas is through prevention. This way you can avoid severe infestations. Preventative flea control is possible with new information on flea biology. Adult fleas spend almost all their life on the pet, not on the carpet or other places in the house. Eggs fall off the pet when they move around the house or lay down to spend time. 

Pet owners can break the cycle by killing the eggs as they are laid on the pet, or eliminate the adults before they lay any more eggs. If you suspect you have fleas, take action right away to reduce the problem.

There are several ways to break the flea life cycle. The first recommendation is to talk to you veterinarian. They will be able to provide information on what works in our area. Some general ways will be discussed. 

One is called “The Pill”. This product prevents flea eggs from hatching when administered orally. When a female flea bites a pet given “The Pill”, she ingests the active ingredient and passes it on to her eggs. This prevents the egg from hatching.  “The Pill” is available from veterinarians. 

Another option is the “Egg-Stopper Collar”. These collars are not the same as conventional flea collars. They contain an insect growth regulating ingredient. This keeps the egg from hatching for several months. It is similar to “The Pill” in this way.  Again, talk to your veterinarian about this treatment.

The third option is the “Spot-On” treatment. Here you apply a few drops of material between the shoulder blades of the animal. While there are some over the counter treatments, ask your veterinarian what works well with this treatment.

If you have fleas in the home

If you have fleas in your home, there is a three-step process you can use to get rid of them. Before you start, understand that solving the problem will take time. One treatment likely won’t get rid of them. Treatments are not immediate cures; they take time to work.

Now, look for fleas or flea signs on your animals, around their loafing area, along walls and other areas the animals frequent. 

Step 1. Get rid of existing fleas on the pet. We discussed this earlier. Talk to your veterinarian about the best treatment for your infestation. The best treatment technique will depend on the treatment you chose and how you apply it. Be sure to give the entire recommended dose to the animal. It may take several hours, up to 36 or so before all fleas are dead.

Step 2. Eliminate fleas on the premises. It may take several weeks to eliminate all the fleas in the home and outside. Eggs on the floor or outside will have to be killed before complete control is managed. Many flea control products will not only kill fleas on pets but they also provide residual activity and will last for a month. Some will kill eggs or prevent them from hatching or being laid.

Step 3.  Prevent new infestations. Once eradication is achieved, continue to treat pets. Other animals in the neighborhood, pets, deer, rabbits or other animals can bring them back. Be sure to treat for the full season, maybe until October. Keep an eye out for infestations for at least up to a year after eradication.

Effective flea control starts with looking closely at your animals and then starting treatment as soon as signs are identified.

For more information, contact your veterinarian or call the Colorado State University Extension, San Luis Valley Area Office at 719-852-7381.

Marvin Reynolds is the Area Extension Director San Luis Valley Area. Extension programs are available to all without discrimination, Colorado State University Extension, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Colorado counties cooperating.