Flee Fleas!

Did you know that there are over 2,000 species of fleas found all over the world and that there are more than 300 of these varieties that live in North America?  Did you know that they are excellent jumpers and can jump 200 times their length?  Did you know that a female flea can lay between 40 to 50 eggs in one day?  And did you know that if you find a flea on your cat or dog, that there could already be a flea infestation on your pets or around your home?  These pesky creatures have been on our planet for approximately 100 million years!  Fortunately, we now have the latest technology in flea control that help us to keep both our pets and our environments relatively flea-free.

The most common flea found on household cats and dogs is the domestic cat flea.  There are four stages to the flea life cycle: egg, larva, pupa and adult. Fleas can remain in the pupa stage for up to eight months if necessary. They wait until a suitable host is present and environmental conditions are right before becoming an adult.  Environmental cues that trigger a pupa to emerge include vibration, heat, carbon dioxide, and warm, moist environments.  This can make it very difficult to get rid of a flea infestation.   Fleas can remain in the pupa stage for several months.  Often, when treating adult fleas on a pet, the owner may believe the problem to be gone, only to see a re-infestation weeks or months later because the treatment plan did not consider all of the stages of the flea life cycle.

All too often, clients come in and are not aware that their pet has fleas.  So, what are the symptoms?  Is your pet scratching?  Can you see tiny dark specks that resemble black pepper on your pet’s fur? (That is actually flea dirt and is digested dried blood.)   Can you actually see fleas?  Do you have unaccounted for insect bites on yourself?  Yes!  Fleas like humans too!

Fleas can cause more than just itchy skin.  Pets can be hypersensitive to flea saliva and suffer an allergic reaction.  Flea allergy dermatitis can result in lesions and hair loss.  Skin inflammation and self trauma can lead to infections, requiring antibiotics and other anti-inflammatory treatment.  Fleas feed on blood and can cause young or frail animals to become weak, anemic, or even die from blood loss.  Fleas are also carriers of the common tapeworm parasite.

There are a wide variety of flea control products, but products suitable for one species may not be suitable for another.  There are some flea products that are not for use on young puppies and kittens.  It is important to only use a flea treatment that has been recommended for your pet and to also use the product correctly.  Treatment failure is often due to owners not treating monthly, not following the directions, or not treating ALL pets that live both indoors and outdoors. Starting and stopping the use of flea products based on the seasons or not using products on pets because they are only kept indoors is not always a good practice and will likely result in fleas.  It is important to remember that the life cycle of the flea must be broken.  Often owners will give one treatment and that is in no way sufficient to break the flea cycle.

The only successful means of battling fleas is to practice flea control and use effective treatment year round.  According to the AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) and AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) Preventive Care Guidelines, every dog and cat “should receive year round broad-spectrum parasite control with efficacy against heartworms, intestinal parasites, and fleas.”  The Companion Animal Parasite Council also advocates for year round control against heartworms, parasites, fleas, and also adds ticks, as well.  The old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” certainly has a ring of truth.  Consult your veterinarian for more information and to find the best prevention for Fido and Fluffy.

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(Information for this article provided by Pet Shed Petcyclopedia, PetMD, Cyberbee, and “No More Fleas, Please. Here’s How to Fight Back” by Dr. Marty Becker-Dogster Magazine)