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Fighting fleas in the winter

Like ticks and mosquitoes, fleas represent a common nuisance to both pets and their owners. We tend to think of summer as “bug season” and winter as “bug-free,” but the common flea is a resilient and resourceful creature. It has a complex life cycle that allows it to survive on pets and in your home, despite sub-freezing outdoor temperatures. 

Here we’ll take a quick look at the life stages of the flea, and how you can best combat flea infestation during the winter months. 

The Life Cycle of the Flea

The life cycle of the common flea has four stages: the egg, larva, pupa, and adult. An adult female flea can lay up to 50 eggs at a time—while eggs are laid in your pet’s fur, they can easily drop off into bedding, upholstery, and carpets. Hatching can occur anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks after laying, depending on conditions. Fleas prefer temps in the 70º–80ºF range with moderate to high humidity (about 70%). Dry furnace heat can push development to the slower end of the spectrum, giving you a chance to combat the problem. 

Once the larvae hatch, they will feed—mostly on dried blood in the feces of adult fleas, as well as any organic matter they encounter. After 5 to 18 days in this phase, the larva creates a cocoon or pupa and remains dormant until conditions are amenable. The pupa stage can last from days to a year, so ignoring a flea problem won’t help.

How To Keep Your Pet Flea-Free

Continue treating your pets with flea control products during the winter, even if you don’t see fleas. A variety of products are available in stores and online. Formulations differ, and some products can be applied to cats but not to dogs, so read and follow labeling directions carefully. The FDA offers comprehensive information on the proper use of flea control products on pets.

Vacuum thoroughly and often. A vacuum will pick up fleas in all stages of their development—egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Applying flea spray inside the bag or canister before vacuuming will increase the chances of killing whatever fleas you pick up. Vacuum not only rugs, but baseboards, floors, furniture, upholstery, even floor-length drapes—anyplace fleas might lay eggs.

Wash your pet’s bedding.  A good way to disrupt the fleas’ life cycle is to wash any fabrics (bedding, blankets, slipcovers) with which your pet has frequent contact. The life cycle of the flea slows during the winter months, giving you the best chance of gaining the advantage. In cases of more severe flea infestation, you may want to consult a professional extermination service.  

Consult your veterinarian if you have questions about the proper use of specific flea-control remedies—from collars, powders, baths, and sprays to flea foggers and other treatments for the home. We hope these tips will help you keep your pets—and your home—flea-free!

Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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