[Pest Spotlight] Common Flea Control Challenges

Features - PCT News

A guide to avoiding the flea callback blues.

June 15, 2009

As flea work trends back to pest control companies, technicians need to be familiar with the special challenges posed by flea control. Mess up and flea jobs can generate costly callbacks and unhappy customers. Here are five important factors to keep in mind when dealing with fleas:

Primary Target = Flea Larvae. An adult female flea lays 15 to 20 eggs per day while on the animal. The eggs fall off the animal, but they aren’t scattered uniformly throughout the house. The eggs likely fall in pet resting areas, pet play areas, or where a pet jumps down from a bed or couch or runs down the stairs. Larvae that hatch from these eggs create little pockets of infestation in carpets, furniture and cracks in wood flooring. Dark, blood-rich flea feces also drop from the animal, and this is the primary food of the larvae.

Before your treatment, get down on your hands and knees and look for “salt and pepper.” The “salt” is tiny, white flea eggs, shed skin and flea larvae. The “pepper” is black flea feces. Take time to inspect these areas carefully. If the family has a cat, keep in mind that cats often climb onto bookshelves, into closets and on top of appliances, electronics, windowsills, etc., to sleep. Ask your customer about pet resting areas.

Carpet Issues. Flea larvae that live in carpets spend most of their time at the base of the carpet pile. The thicker the carpet the more they are protected from insecticide treatment and the more difficult they are to vacuum up (when disturbed, they coil tightly around carpet fibers).

When treating a carpet with an insecticide, make sure to get good coverage while still complying with label directions. To ensure complete coverage when applying a liquid insecticide to a carpet with a compressed air sprayer, be sure that the nozzle applies a coarse spray, is fairly new and not damaged, and is held about 18 inches from the surface. The spray should be applied in straight swaths (not semicircles) and the swaths should overlap by about 7 inches. Likewise, take all steps necessary to get good coverage into carpets when applying insecticides by other methods, such as by raking — not sweeping — dusts like diatomaceous earth deep into the carpet.

Insecticides. A wide range of insecticides (residuals, contact insecticides, insect growth regulators) and formulations (liquids, dusts, aerosols, total release aerosols) are labeled and used to control fleas. Read the label carefully. Keep in mind common insecticides that are applied in exactly the same way when treating for cockroaches or ants may have very different flea treatment directions.

IGRs keep flea larvae from pupating and turning into adults, prevent eggs from hatching and reduce egg laying. They can be applied independently, in a tank mix with a residual and are sometimes combined with other insecticides in a flea treatment product. IGRs also can be used as a preventive, early season treatment to stop flea problems before they begin. An IGR will remain effective for two to six months.

Outdoor Flea Connection. An outdoor pet’s yard can represent a large reservoir of fleas just waiting to reinfest the house. Wild animals such as raccoons, opossums, squirrels and mice, as well as feral cats, also can have fleas that reinfest pets and the house. Always investigate the need for an outdoor treatment (see story on page 100). Concentrate on hot spots — areas where pets rest, travel, play and go to the bathroom. Outdoor flea populations tend to be highest in shady, moist areas rather than dry, sunny ones. Also check for animal nests and inside any open crawlspaces.

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Don’t Ignore the Outdoor Flea Connection
When pets go outside, it can be extra tough to get control of fleas inside. A pet’s yard represents a large reservoir of fleas just waiting to reinfest the house.

Wild animals such as raccoons, opossums, squirrels and mice all have fleas that can infest pets. But the fleas that a pet picks up outside usually originate from the pet itself. Here’s how: When “Rover” spends summer afternoons sleeping undaer the porch, his fleas drop dozens of eggs each day. The house and Rover are eventually treated for fleas. But weeks later, those flea eggs under the porch have hatched and developed. Adult fleas are now ready to reinfest Rover and, in turn, reinfest the house. Expect a callback in this situation unless you’ve included outdoor treatment as part of your flea control package. In addition, take the following steps to prevent a future reinfestation:

  • Have your customer mow and water the lawn, pick up children’s toys, pet bowls, etc., and clean out any dog houses or kennels before treatment.
  • If the pet is restricted to a kennel or chained to a dog house, you may be able to just spot treat those areas (make sure the pet is removed until the area has dried). But if Rover is a roamer, you may need to treat more of the yard.
  • Concentrate your treatment in the outdoor flea hot spots – the areas where the pet rests, its travel routes or runs and its “bathroom” spots.
  • Make sure the product you use is labeled for outdoor flea control of fleas. Check the label to see if any ornamental plants need to be protected. Reschedule the treatment if rain is due or if it’s windy.

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Customer Cooperation. All pet bedding should be washed in hot water. And, importantly, the pet needs to be treated with an on-animal or an in-animal flea treatment.

Just before flea service, the customer should thoroughly vacuum rugs (with a beater brush), floor and furniture. While vacuuming removes few eggs and larvae, it has a number of significant benefits. It triggers flea emergence from cocoons so they become more susceptible to treatment. Vacuuming also removes flea feces (dried blood), which is the main food source for the larvae. It fluffs up the carpeting and straightens the nap, thereby improving insecticide penetration. Vacuuming before treatment also means the customer is less likely to vacuum soon after treatment, which would remove some of the insecticide residues you just applied.

Editor’s note: This article and the sidebar at right were adapted from Techletter, a biweekly publication from Pinto & Associates, Mechanicsville, Md. To subscribe, visit www.techletter.com, or call 301/884-3020.