Unfortunately, the recent rain we received was not enough to drown the flea problems that some folks are currently having to deal with, so here are some tips that could be followed to help reduce your flea problems.

Fleas are small, wingless insects that feed on the blood of animals and people.

Americans spend about $9 billion a year controlling fleas - one of the biggest expenses for pet owners.

In Texas, most flea problems are caused by the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis. This flea feeds on cats, dogs and wildlife.

Fortunately, fleas need not be a serious problem because there are many effective treatments.

During their life cycle fleas pass through four stages- egg, larva, pupa and adult. Although they can jump, adult fleas do not usually travel long distances without a host.

Fleas prefer to wait and jump onto a passing animal. Once aboard, they remain until they are dislodged or groomed from the animal. Without a host, adult fleas live only a few days to two weeks. On short-haired cats and dogs fleas survive an average of 8 days; they live longer on long-haired animals.

Fleas can be a source of both irritation and disease. Dogs and cats scratch constantly when heavily infested, resulting in soiled and roughened coats and, sometimes, in nervous conditions. The most serious effects occur when a pet develops an allergy to flea bites. As few as one or two bites can cause severe itching and scratching in allergic pets.

So how do get these little pests under control? A good flea control program includes good sanitation and treatment of the pet and environment. OK, the first step is to practice good sanitation. Change pet bedding regularly and vacuum thoroughly. Vacuuming removes up to 30 percent of the larvae and up to 60 percent of flea eggs from a carpet, as well as the larvae's food supply of dried blood. If your pet is indoors, vacuum under furniture, cushions, chairs, beds, and along walls. Discard vacuum cleaner bags at least once a week. Fleas can continue to develop inside vacuum cleaner bags and re-infest the house.

Your pet's first line of defense against fleas is a flea comb and a good bath. Soap acts as a gentle insecticide and helps control light infestations on your pet. Though time consuming, combing helps reduce the need for insecticides. Flea combs have fine teeth that remove adult fleas from fur. Most dogs and cats seem to enjoy this treatment; pay special attention to the face and neck, and the area in front of the tail. Dip the comb frequently in soapy water or an alcohol solution to kill fleas removed from the pet.

You can break the cycle of flea development by killing the eggs as they are laid on the pet or eliminating the egg-laying adults. Of course, the best way to do this is to take action before the flea problem gets out of control. There are several products now available to help with this task. There is a product dispensed through veterinarians with the active ingredient (lufenuron) which can be administered orally to pets once a month, which prevents flea eggs from hatching.

In addition, now there are "Egg-Stopper" Collars, unlike the conventional flea collars, they contain an insect growth regulator which prevents egg hatch for several months.

Another effective treatment involves applying a few drops of material know as "spot-ons" between the shoulder blades of the animal. These products can control fleas up to one month.

It is sometimes claimed that garlic, Brewer's yeast, cedar bedding and various herbal sachets control fleas, but there is little scientific evidence to support such claims. Volatile oils in fresh cedar chips are toxic to fleas, but the effect lasts a very short time. Tests have shown that Brewer's yeast does not protect pets from fleas. I have also heard folks say that agricultural lime helps control fleas in yards, however there is no scientific research to support this and therefore not recommended.

Fire ants and other predatory insects eat flea larvae but they do not control fleas completely. Several kinds of predatory nematodes (a type of microscopic worm) are sold for outdoor flea control, but their effectiveness has not been well tested. Studies suggest that nematodes work best in sandy soils. Irrigate with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of water before and after application. This prolongs nematode survival and helps them move through the soil in search of flea larvae.

Don't wait until fleas get out of hand. Begin your flea control program early for best results. Start a frequent and thorough sanitation program, regularly inspect your pet for fleas, carefully follow the label directions of the insecticide product you choose, and dispose of all pesticides safely. It is also important to use a product on your pet for which it is labeled. If you have questions check with a veterinarian. Products that can be used on dogs may not be appropriate for cats. Sometimes it's best to have professional help when dealing with fleas.

A pest control company can treat both indoor and outdoor areas. For more information about flea control check out this Web site; http://citybugs.tamu.edu/FastSheets/Ent-1002.html.

Jeffrey Stapper is the Agricultural and Natural Resources Agent for Nueces County. Readers may contact him at 767-5217.