Dog Days~


There is a saying, adapted from the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount, the meek shall inherit the earth.

Of this I am sure, people: this passage is not referring to the pious or mild-mannered followers of the Christian faith. As a full-fledged Darwinian I believe it means that things like ants, cockroaches, and, yes, fleas will be the last remaining inhabitants of this planet.

La Zona Tropical is a bad place to get a flea infestation, and this summer– especially hot and humid– has been a particularly bad one. We are still battling them.

Before I left for Japan we had a major outbreak and had to battle back with everything known to the toxic and environmentally friendly world of Pest Control. We bathed dogs every third day with flea shampoos. We have three dogs and one is so big it’s a bit like washing the side of a boxcar, but we lathered on. When they were dry, we powdered them, sprayed them, and, excuse the new verbs here, Advantaged® or Frontlined® them, depending on which product we could find and buy.

Alan crawled under the house, where the dogs den, every three days and sprayed with a combination of poisons and boric acid. Boric acid? Yes, boric acid. According to some literature I have read on the subject it is a miracle of sorts in the fight against insect infestations. My daughter-in-law, Yuka, says she remembers her parents making balls with “some white powder” and foodstuff to kill cockroaches in Japan. I’m almost certain that it was boric acid, but I’m unable to ask them as they speak only Japanese. But according to all I’ve read, boric acid kills cockroaches on contact and “apparently” will do the same to fleas. We were trying anything.

It’s been an uphill battle.

I’ve learned a lot about fleas in the past month or two. They, like other insects, pass through four stages in their life cycle- egg, larva, pupa and adult. An adult female begins laying eggs within two days after her first blood meal. Sounds vampirish, doesn’t it? How about this– within 9 days she will produce up to 30 eggs a day and consumes 15 times her body weight in blood every day. Multiply this by an infestation of twenty or more (lots more, actually) and it’s no wonder our poor dogs were scratching. That very scratching only spreads the eggs further afield, I might add, the game plan of the pesky flea. But there’s more. Once the eggs are scattered around nicely and develop into larvae, they live off the feces of the parents, manifested as partially desiccated blood.

The whole thing sounds really creepy and not so meek to me. It also makes me want to CLEAN MY HOUSE. Which, it turns out, is exactly what needs to be done.

According to the Texas A&M site I visited, and Texas should know about fleas, regular vacuuming is the key to controlling fleas indoors. They tend to nest in dog bedding, carpets, under furniture, and in cushions of couches. We keep our house very clean and free of any food products out on counters because we live in the tropics, but now it’s time to double up on the effort. I am now vacuuming every other day.

Here is an interesting fact and more ammunition for my postulation about the inheritance of the earth theory. When fleas, laid as eggs and fed on feces as a larva, enter the pupa stage of the transition to adulthood, they spin their own cocoon and reside inside until the time is ripe to enter the world. Normally, they will emerge within a couple of weeks but if the environment doesn’t suit them, the adult flea may remain in the cocoon for up to five months. When stimulated by a passing animal the adult can emerge within seconds. Old houses or apartments can still be infested and can “come alive” when new tenants move in. Yikes!

So, I am back from my trip to Asia and the fleas are still here. Not as fiercely as before, but still present.

There is a wonderful book called The War of the Flea, by Robert Taber. It is not about fleas, but about guerrilla warfare. Clearly Taber knows what it’s like to battle the flea and he uses the analogy well in his book. One passage reads: “The guerrilla fights the war of the flea, and his military enemy suffers the dog’s disadvantages: too much to defend; too small, ubiquitous, and agile an enemy to come to grips with.” He also points out The West’s inability to truly understand how to wage war against these non-conventional forces.

It’s a bit the same battling the lowly flea here in Punta Uva. It requires time, patience, and an understanding of the enemy.

I washed both our dogs today and hope that our hired man, José, will do the same with his. Alan was under the house again spraying and hopefully…hopefully we will put a dent in the flea population.

I know I’ll never be able to eradicate them, but perhaps I can keep them in check until I totter off this world, or… more likely, it gets colder.

  10 comments for “Dog Days~

  1. Ruth D~
    10/09/2008 at 11:53 pm

    Swear by Advantage (can’t make the little circle around the R). But we’re sown to one cat in a non-tropical clime. Still I remember reading the newspaper at night and hearing the fleas hit the paper as the leapt to who knows where? No problems any more. Any thing I need to scratch is unrelated to fleas.

  2. Ross Eldridge
    08/09/2008 at 10:41 am

    Hello again, Sarah,

    I’m just recalling a skit I saw in a live comedy programme … in Bermuda … where Baygon is so very popular (and where the very few remaining frogs and toads tend to have more than four legs) …

    Anyhoo, in the skit: Mom is washing the dishes after dinner, Daughter is drying them, Son is spraying the dried dishes with Baygon, and Dad is putting the dishes away in the cupboard.

    Just looked under my sink here (in Northumberland, of course) and I inherited a can of RAID spray three years ago when I moved in. (The place was furnished with the oddest things …) which I’ve never used. I catch and carry my few spiders and beetles outside (which they don’t appreciate). Just this morning I found an exquisite snail taking a stroll towards my neighbour’s plantpots outside her door. I knew (from experience) what would become of the snail (such a huge one, easy to spot) … so (much to Cailean’s amusement) captured the snail and carried it off to some empty ground beyond the flats.

    With the Large Hadron Collider being fired up on Wednesday, I trust there will be some karma coming my way and I won’t be sucked into a black hole in Switzerland along with the rest of the universe … because I am Snail Friendly.

    R.

  3. sc morgan
    06/09/2008 at 8:10 pm

    Connie- Your solution of fire reminds me of the sure cure for crabs…

    Pest Control– Hi there. According to the Web, Baygon products contain the pyrethroids cyfluthrin and transfluthrin, and the carbamates propoxur and chlorpyrifos, as active ingredients.

    And, Pyrethroids can lead to a variety of ill effects if ingested in sufficient quantities, including tremors, dyspnea, and paralysis.

    I think that’s the Nerve Gas component I was think about. 😉

  4. pest control
    06/09/2008 at 6:24 pm

    great posting its interesting to read about how people in other countries treat fleas etc.. just out of interest can anyone tell me the ingredient in baygon?

  5. Connie and Pat
    05/09/2008 at 11:22 pm

    I feel for you. Around 1956 we had an infestation on the southern oregon coast. We used something that you could only get from a vet. We mopped the floors, washed the dog, our clothes and thru some in the bathtub with us. I can still remember the odor. Probably as toxic as hell, but it worked. The greatest revenge was having bonfires and watching the little buggers leap to their death.
    Years later Pat and my first dog, Sam, was allergic to flea medicine so when he was crawling with fleas we took him into the bathtub and sprayed him with RAID. They died on contact and we were able to immediatly give him a bath. No side effects and he slept quietly for the first time in days.

  6. sc morgan
    04/09/2008 at 9:16 pm

    M- I’m thinking it does work. I used it in my kitchen and the roaches are gone. GONE!

    Maybe it’s not working in your case because you live in an apartment and therefore have no control over your neighbor’s hygiene, if you know what I mean.

    If there is a constant supply and no one but you is treating the problem, it’s pretty tough to irradiate them. We can only do our best.

    Hope the rest of your vacation is great. Sounds as if Boo is settling in on a sleep pattern… maybe… hopefully.

    s

  7. Tim and M
    04/09/2008 at 12:21 pm

    The boric acid trick is BS, at least where cockroaches are concerned. We scattered, dusted and sprayed that stuff EVERYWHERE and the roaches just seemed to bathe in it… I read the same stuff on the Internet and was so full of hope, but alas, it was not to be. Those insects really are much more wiley than we are.

  8. sc morgan
    02/09/2008 at 3:10 pm

    Hi there Ross– Our dogs have learned that baths somehow make them feel more comfortable. I wouldn’t say that they “enjoy” them exactly, but they don’t head for the hills when I call them for one anymore.

    I know Baygon well. It is readily available here in Costa Rica (in the grocery store, no less) and we do use it. I’m sure it’s Nerve Gas or some other horrible WMD, but it does work. Alan was spraying with it yesterday, as a matter of fact.

    He also used something by Bayer called Bayticol® EC. I suppose the EC stands for Environmentally Contaminated or Everybody Croaks, but it does seem to work.

    Thank God the writing on the label is too small to read so I don’t know what’s in it. Maybe they did that purposely. It does say it’s an “Ectoparasiticida.” Yes, please! But it also says(IN CAPS) LIGERAMENTE PELIGROSO. Ligeramente translates in my dictionary as: 1. giddily adv. 2. slightly adv. 3. swiftly adv. 4. lightly adv. I’m going for giddily, as in giddily dangerous. Sounds a bit like my youth, actually.

    Alan mixed the two together and added boric acid for good measure. When we get a mixture that explodes, we’ll probably be on to something that will actually work on the fleas.

    I forgot to add in the post itself that the flea pupa can indeed live inside the vacuum bag and hatch from there, re-contaminating the house, so changing the bags is a must. Yes.

    It’s warfare, I tell you.

    itchily yours

    s

  9. Ross Eldridge
    02/09/2008 at 2:09 pm

    Hi Sarah!

    I sure recall the never-ending battles we had with fleas in Bermuda with our spaniels. The spaniels hated being bathed, for a start!

    We grew up in a world stinking of “Flit” … an all-purpose bug spray, which was, I suppose, DDT or worse. Despite the toxicity, I think the roaches and mosquitoes were quite resistant, unless you smashed them with the can itself. The fleas were not even dented, not a cough or a sneeze from them, from the spray or attempts to crush them.

    I remember, as a child, picking fleas off one spaniel (she really did suffer) and squishing them between my thumb nails, one flea at a time, and, I suppose, sucking on my fingers as I did it. A wonder we didn’t catch some awful disease.

    My Aleks did not have fleas. He loved to be bathed, and my roommate, Noel, used to get Aleks in the tub, or in the garden with the hose on warm days, every week, sometimes twice a week. And the house was free of them.

    Here in Northumberland we have a major flea/tick problem. Related to the nearby farms as much as anything. I have cattle and sheep not many yards from the door. But … the vet prescribes “Advantix” and (knock on wood) it is working fine. And we do walk in fields, in woodland and on the beach. Cailean, like Aleks, loves to be bathed. He wants to jump in the shower with me every day! (But hates to be taken out in the rain, go figure …)

    Advantix is a Bayer product, and legitimate.

    Bayer also makes BayGon, a bug spray so vicious that your brain cells rot when you pick up the can. BayGon is banned in most of the world, but is manufactured (as you might know) in some small Caribbean country, to avoid international conventions on poisons. It did NOT work on our Bermuda fleas, however.

    If you are hoovering every other day. I suppose the thing to do is somehow have flea poison in the bag in the machine, eh? And burn the lot quite often.

    Makes me itch to think on!

    Cheers!

    R.

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