The sounds of spring in an animal-lover's household are likely as not flea-related. A hind claw kicking around a collar and tags, or digging deeply into that spot behind the front legs where fleas love to hide. That dreadful noise -- a friend of mine calls it "percolating" -- an animal makes when it's tracking a flea with its teeth, clacking and slurping along the way.
Truly, it's enough to drive you nuts and it's no picnic for your pet, either.
Unfortunately, there's no easy way to get rid of fleas, and a half-hearted effort is a waste of time and money. Fleas spend most of their lives off their hosts, so the only effective way to fight fleas is to treat the pet, house and yard on the same day. Treating one area one week and a different one the next doesn't help, because fleas from one area will reinfest another.
Some of the most effective products combine pyrethrin, which is made from chrysanthemums, and insect-growth regulators such as Precor, which keep flea eggs from developing.
Wash your pets with a flea soap containing pyrethrin and follow up with a long-acting dip. For pets that won't tolerate this procedure, use a spray or powder. Then send the pets elsewhere while you work on the house and yard.
In the yard, use a product that combines a "quick-kill" chemical with an insect-growth regulator so you can knock out both adult fleas and developing ones.
The best weapons for fighting fleas in the home are your washing machine and vacuum cleaner. Before you spray, wash pet bedding and thoroughly vacuum all pet areas. Pull up the furniture cushions and vacuum there, too, and don't forget to run the crevice tool along the baseboards. Take the vacuum bag to TTC the garbage can when you're done, to keep the appliance from incubating the next generation of pests.
When the vacuuming is finished, start spraying, paying special attention to baseboards and pet sleeping areas.
During flea season -- spring, summer and fall -- a monthly repeat of the one-day attack will keep your home virtually flea-free. But you probably won't need to mount a full attack that often if you keep up with the washing and vacuuming.
Use your vacuum cleaner frequently to pick up fleas, eggs and larvae. Pet bedding should hit the washing machine at least once a week. If you have pet bedding that cannot be washed, toss it -- it's just a breeding ground for fleas.
Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.