Good morning Helen and Thomas,
Thank you for your question about flea control. I can help you exterminate your infestation with only one flea control product and some elbow grease.
First we need to talk about the flea lifecycle so that we can best talk about killing them. The adult flea lives on your pet (all pets with fur, including cats, rabbits, ferrets, etc). The female flea mates with a male flea and takes a blood meal. Then she lays thousands of eggs that drop off the host (your pet) and land on the carpet. The eggs hatch in 1-3 days and become larva. The larva live on the surface of the carpet and eat the dead skin cells that fall off you and your pets. After about a week, the larva burrow down into the carpet to the BOTTOM of the carpet and carpet pad. Once buried deep in your carpet pad, they become cocoons. These cocoons are essentially impossible to kill without extremely toxic chemicals and can remain alive for up to 5 years in hibernation. After a minimum of about 6 weeks, the cocoons hatch and the new adult fleas emerge to the surface of the carpet. They wait patiently for an animal to walk by and then jump and land on the animal. They crawl to the skin of the pet and take their first blood meal, starting the lifecycle all over again.
Now that we know how fleas live, we can talk about killing them!
We can kill the adult fleas with an adulticide (adult-killing) product. There are numerous products on the market but the over-the-counter product that I like the best is Frontline PLUS. The “PLUS” is important and I will explain that in a minute. There are also several good prescription products available through your regular veterinarian such as Comfortis, Nexguard and Parastar to name a few. Shampoos do not help as they wash off the Frontline Plus and they only kill the adult fleas currently on the dog. They do not kill the fleas in the cocoons.
Back to Frontline, this product contains the ingredient Fipronil. There are less expensive products on the market that also contain this ingredient, but they do not have the same carrier (chemical that moves the fipronil over the skin of the dog) and do not work as well. The fipronil stays on the skin surface in the oil on the skin and when the flea lands on the dog it becomes paralyzed and dies. Using an adulticide is vital to controlling a flea infestation.
Frontline PLUS also contains another ingredient called S-Methoprene. This is an insect growth regulator. It works by making the eggs the female lays wrinkly so they cannot hatch. It also has an added bonus that it remains in the dead skin cells that drop off your pet. These are eaten by the larva and when they try to make cocoons, they are also wrinkly and cannot hibernate, and therefore die. This ingredient lasts for 3 months after you apply Frontline PLUS, so even if you forget to apply Frontline Plus for a few months, you are still having some control in your house.
Lastly we need to talk about environmental control. Remember, the majority of the fleas in your house are in the bottom of your carpet, impossible to kill. Foggers don’t work because fleas are not flying in the air. Powders only kill the larva, but stay on the surface of the carpet, again not touching the cocoons. Steam cleaning also doesn’t work because it doesn’t penetrate into the bottom of the carpet and carpet pad. Don’t waste your time or poison your family with any of the products.
The way to kill the fleas that are hibernating in the cocoons is to force them out of the cocoons and then kill them. You can force the cocoons to release their adult fleas by vacuuming. The vacuuming vibrates the carpet and this vibration makes the cocoons think there are hundreds of dogs running around all ready to be fed on. The adult fleas emerge and when the vacuum passes over them, you suck them in the vacuum and they cannot take their first blood meal, so they DIE! The problem is that you need to vacuum daily for about 6 weeks, because the fleas must remain in the cocoon for a minimum of 6 weeks before hatching. Also, you need to vacuum every inch of carpet in your house every day to prevent the adults from jumping on your dog and taking another blood meal. I know this is a huge amount of work, but by vacuuming every day for 6 weeks, you will reduce the flea population in your house by over 90%. Then you can continue using Frontline Plus to ensure the remaining fleas are killed.
Frontline Plus on all of your pets (dogs, cats, etc)
Vacuum EVERY day for 6 weeks
Its that easy!
As for Sammy's itchy skin, you can increase Benadryl to 50mg (2 tablets) every 8 hours if he needs it, but I think once your control the fleas, he will feel much better. If not, you may need to talk to your regular veterinarian about stronger itch control like Apoquel or steroids.
I hope this helps answer your questions about flea control and Sammy's itching. If this answer helps, please consider giving it a rating.
Best of luck and happy vacuuming!
Amanda Mouradian, DVM
Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Class of 2001