Flea Meds Don’t Work

Despite the hype, people are coming to realize that flea medications for pets do not work over the long term.

Image by Robert Hooke (yes, THAT Robert Hooke)
Image by Robert Hooke (Yes, THAT Robert Hooke)


The flea med industry disputes the idea that fleas are becoming resistant to pesticides. Yet, a person does not have to look far to find anecdotal reports suggesting otherwise. The first customer complaints were dismissed out of hand. User error, the industry said. And unfortunately the ‘industry’ includes veterinarians who receive their information from sales reps.

People continued to complain. So, the marketeers had to adapt their strategies to compensate for the public’s growing realization that they were being cheated. When blaming the user didn’t end the complaints, they suggested people needed to use their products year round since the flea life cycle allowed for new infestations to occur. If people bought more of the product the problem could be solved.

But then people observed that even with continuous use they still experienced infestations. Why buy a product if it seems to make no difference? So, the industry offered new suggestions. They said switching products from month to month might help. I am surprised competing companies would cooperate in this way but I guess some sales are better than none. Still, the industry still wouldn’t admit to fleas becoming resistant though.

Around the same time, the industry also offered a new suggestion: people needed to treat the environment as well as their pets. This practice makes sense based on the parasite’s life cycle and was a smart move on the industry’s part because it meant that they could sell even more products: one for the pet, one for the home and another for the garden. But maybe it wasn’t such a good move for health and safety. Is it really wise to use pesticides in a closed living space? Should children play on grass treated with poisons? How can you protect welcome arthropods (pollinators & pest predators) from harm?

The Most Effective Way to ‘Treat’ the Home Environment for Fleas

Use a vacuum cleaner regularly. Throw out the stuff hoovered up immediately. Some studies show up to a 96% mortality rate for fleas at all stages in their life cycle just from the trauma inflicted from the vacuum cleaner. Yeah. It really can be that simple. If you don’t have a flea problem, credit probably ought to go to your good housekeeping skills rather than any pesticide you use.

How Big is the Flea Med (Snake Oil) Hoax?

I found these factoids for the United States.

  • Half of households keep dogs or cats
  • 74% of all pet owners use flea medications
  • The majority of pet owners choose spot-on flea medications
  • The Southeast and Southwest regions present the strongest market for spot-on flea medication
  • Target and Walmart can now sell these products (meaning lower income families can more easily purchase these products)

U.S. retail sales are projected to grow 38% from 2010 to 2015 to reach $9.3 billion.

I have one question: if these treatments worked wouldn’t there be less of a need for them instead of more?

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