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Jessi talks about fleas! What are they? How do you prevent them in your home? How do you deal with them once they've entered your home or become established on an animal?

Thanks Lindsey Doe!

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Hi, guys, I'm Jessi and this is Animal Wonders. Today, I'd like to talk about parasites.


First off, what is a parasite? Well, it's an organism that lives in or on another organism, and it benefits from the relationship at the expense of the host. Some common parasites that infect domestic animals are mites, fleas, ticks and worms. Today's episode was inspired by my good friend Dr. Lindsey Doe. I was at the pet store and I ran into Lindsey. She had an armful of supplies and a sad look on her face. She told me that she had offered to watch her friend's dog and unknown to her, that dog had fleas, which were then shared with her dogs and then her entire house. Hence, the armful of supplies and sad face. Parasites are really common, which is why there's an entire section at the pet store devoted to getting rid of them. And we've also had our fair share of animals that have come in with fleas.

When dealing with an infestation, it's really important that you know what your parasite is. So, what's a flea? A flea is a small insect with sucking mouth parts that eats blood from endothermic animals like mammals and birds. They have a complete metamorphosis, meaning the adult lays the egg, the egg hatches into a larva, the larva builds a cocoon and then comes out as an adult. When you see an adult flea, it's really just the tip of the iceberg. Adults account for just a small percent of the population, which is mostly made up by eggs and larva. So now that you know what you're dealing with, you know that stopping the life cycle and ridding your pet of fleas is more complicated than just killing the adults. You need something to target the eggs and larva as well.

Alright, the eggs. They're laid and they drop off the host animal, and  they accumulate where that animal spends most of its time. The larva feed on the feces of the adults, which is actually partially digested blood. It falls off the host animal as well and accumulates around the area. So the best course of action is to prevent an infestation with a clean environment. Getting rid of the eggs and the feces will drastically reduce the chance of a major infestation from occurring. So, vacuum the floor and wash pet bedding often.

But sometimes it's just not your fault, like Lindsey found out. So, for those of you that are just victims of circumstance, I'd like to give you some tips on how to get rid of these teeny tiny freeloaders. When looking for a product that kills fleas, I strongly recommend using a solution that includes a pyrethrin compound. Pyrethrins are derived from chrysanthemums and they've been used as an insecticide for over a hundred years. The reason that I recommend pyrethrins is because they're less toxic than organophosphate pesticides. They're also fairly easy for mammals to digest so you can spray it directly on the host animal and not worry so much about them licking it off. It's still toxic, though and it can build up in an ecosystem, which isn't good for anyone. So, use the smallest percentage of pyrethrins as possible. I like to use a 0.06% strength for dogs, cats, guinea pigs and rats, and a 0.03% for birds. You can find the percentage of the pyrethrins right here on the label - sometimes it's on the back, sometimes on the front. Right here, 0.03%. 

So the pyrethrins will kill the adult fleas. But remember, they're just the tip of the iceberg. The eggs are dropping off and the larva are all over where the animal hangs out. So that could be your couch, the carpet, the pet bedding, even the blankets on your own bed. First, vacuum and wipe up all the dusty ledges and corners where eggs and larva and feces and cocoons might be hanging out. Then, put everything that you can in the washing machine. Before you spray down the house, cover any fish tanks and turn off the pump. And if you're using anything stronger than 0.03%, remove any birds from the house. Now, spray the areas where your pet hangs out and keep children off the floor until it dries for at least four hours. My second recommendation for a serious flea infestation is using an IGR, or insect growth regulator. This prevents the larva from turning into a reproducing adult. This is great for preventing re-infestations but it can harm marine invertebrates so use it sparingly and only for serious infestations and not as a preventative measure.

So, now you've got the products but how do you actually do this? This is Pimms, he's one of our rats and he's going to help us demonstrate. There are three ways to get this done. First, you can put the animal directly in the water, like the bathtub or the sink. Once they're in the water, put the spray on a towel and rub them down all over. Water alone can actually kill adult fleas if they're submerged long enough but that can be difficult for many animals. The next option is to do it outside of the water. So, heavily dampen a towel with the spray and then rub it on your dry animal, going against the grain of the fur. Avoid direct contact with the eyes. And then the third way, the way that I do it, is to spray directly onto the animal and then rub it into them with your hands or a towel. I'm going to use water instead of spray because Pimms doesn't actually have fleas. There you go, thanks for helping out, Pimms!

Remember, the best practice is to prevent a flea infestation because IGRs and pyrethrins are mildly toxic. When you do need to use the compounds, use the smallest percentage possible with the minimal amount to treat the infestation. And remember, you're not alone. Parasites are no fun.

Thanks for joining me talking about fleas! I hope you learned something useful and I hope you never have to use it. I'd like to give a big thank you to Dr. Lindsey Doe for inspiring this episode and letting us use her office. If you'd like to say thank you to Lindsey as well, please do! She's a clinical sexologist and you can find her educational YouTube channel Sexplanations in the link below. And, as always, if you'd like to go on an adventure with us every week, subscribe to our YouTube channel Animal Wonders Montana, and we'll see you next week.


There are several foxes that people have had as pets including fennec foxes, red foxes, and Arctic foxes.