The Role of Environmental Treatment for Controlling Flea Infestations

ArticleLast Updated April 20234 min readSponsored
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Cats and dogs with flea-allergic dermatitis (FAD) suffer from intense pruritus,1 and rapidly reducing their exposure to flea saliva is essential to providing relief.1,2

Bella’s Case

Bella, a 5-year-old, spayed female corgi is presented for itching and is diagnosed with a flea infestation and severe FAD. Despite veterinary recommendations, Bella’s owner had previously declined flea/tick control, citing that Bella’s time outdoors is mostly spent in the backyard or on short walks in a suburban neighborhood.

Along with antipruritic medications to bring Bella immediate relief, flea control measures must be enacted quickly to reduce Bella’s exposure to allergens.

Treat the Pet

To treat Bella’s flea infestation effectively, not only must the adult fleas be killed but the cycle of flea reproduction halted and the environmental biomass (ie, eggs, larvae, pupae) eliminated.1,2 An adulticide with a rapid speed of kill can break the cycle of reproduction by killing newly emerged adult fleas before they can lay more eggs, thereby progressively reducing the immature stages in the environment.1,2 On-animal IGRs are likewise helpful at addressing the environmental biomass by killing developing life stages and thus reducing the overall flea burden.1 Residual activity of flea control products must remain 100% effective during the entire labeled timeframe to successfully eliminate flea infestations so as not to create treatment gaps during which fleas survive long enough to reproduce.1

Treat the Home

An effective on-animal treatment will progressively remove flea infestation from the home.1,2 However, for pets with severe FAD like Bella, this process may be too slow to bring her necessary relief, as some blood meals of emerging adult fleas will be unavoidable.1,2 Environmental measures can help reduce the flea biomass (and therefore the number of emerging adults) even further. In addition, environmental flea control may also reduce risk for flea exposure to any pets that may visit Bella’s home or yard that may not be receiving on-animal flea control.

Eggs make up the majority of the flea biomass in the environment; adult fleas make up only 5%.3 Under ideal temperature and humidity conditions, the flea life cycle from egg to emerged adult can be completed in ≈2 weeks.3-5 However, this timing can be highly variable, not uncommonly lasting weeks longer based on environmental factors.3-5 Pupae can even survive up to 6 months when appropriate environmental stimuli are lacking.3,4 If left untreated, the environmental flea burden may restart an infestation long after it had appeared resolved.

Mechanical treatment of the environment can be helpful in reducing the environmental flea burden but will not eliminate it. Vacuuming reduces egg counts by 40% to 80% in carpets but is affected by carpet fiber length and other factors.6 When an effective knockdown of flea biomass is desired, treating the environment with an IGR can be helpful.1,2 Environmental IGRs, such as found in the Vet-Kem home products, come in sprays and foggers that can reach cracks and crevices effectively, as well into carpets with longer fibers.7

Treat the Yard

The outdoor environment at Bella’s home may be contaminated with flea biomass either by her or by visiting wildlife or stray animals.1 Although prolonged direct sunlight will discourage flea development, fleas thrive in the same areas that pets like to spend time in (eg, shady cool spots, under porches).4Outdoor sprays like Vet-Kem Yard Spray may reduce fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes in backyards for up to 1 month and only need to be used in shady areas where fleas thrive.7


When severe FAD is diagnosed, rapid knockdown of flea biomass may bring relief to suffering pets sooner.2 Aggressive flea control should include elimination of both adult fleas on the pet as well as immature stages in the home and yard envrionment.1,2 Thanks to a multimodal approach in addressing Bella’s flea infestation, her skin had healed and she was itch-free a month later at her follow-up appointment.

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