Fleas are parasites that feed on your pet’s blood, causing irritation and discomfort as well as the potential for more serious health problems.
Flea bites may go unnoticed on some pets or cause slight irritation in others, however in some dogs and cats they cause extensive itching, red lesions, hair loss and even ulcers. Often this is due to flea allergy dermatitis; an extreme sensitivity to flea saliva. Very rarely severe flea infestations can cause anaemia, especially in young kittens or puppies. Fleas can transmit several diseases, as well as tapeworms.
Adult fleas are wingless insects, only a few millimeters in size. Their large back pair of legs gives them an extraordinary jumping ability; adult fleas can jump 600 times an hour and each jump, in terms of the flea’s size, is the equivalent of a person jumping a 50-storey building. The largest recorded jump for a flea is 33 cm.
Fleas mate, with females laying 30-50 eggs per day. These eggs drop to the ground where they hatch into larvae, within as little as two days. The flea larvae hide in dark places, such as carpets and upholstery, and feed on adult flea droppings, crumbs and skin particles. After a week the larvae spin cocoons to become pupae. The pupae can remain in this stage for very long periods of time. The cycle continues when the pupae develop into adult fleas; they emerge from their cocoons when they sense that a dog or cat, or other animal host, is near. This cycle, which can take as little anywhere from 12 to 180 days, can then begin again.
The best way to control flea problems is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Several products are now available, in topical or oral forms, which both eliminate existing fleas but also work over the following weeks to prevent future infestations. They work by killing adult fleas before they can reproduce, or preventing the eggs from developing into larvae. Daily vacuuming of frequented areas and washing pets’ bedding regularly will also reduce infestations.
Consult your veterinary surgeon for advice about the most appropriate product for your pet.
If, despite your best efforts, you find that your cat or dog has picked up fleas, you will need to treat them with a product that will kill and/or repel the parasites. This may be a once-a-month topical treatment, spray, or oral medication. Once again, you should ask your veterinary surgeon for advice about what the most appropriate product for your pet is.
As described above, a large part of the flea’s life cycle is in the environment rather than on the dog or cat. For this reason if your pet has brought fleas into the home, it is advisable to treat the house with an apropriate product. Otherwise the house may continue to reinfect the pet.
Treatments used to kill fleas take a few hours to a few days to work fully; the fleas have to absorb the product before they will be affected. For this reason it is not uncommon to see live fleas in the day or two after application; this does not mean the product has been ineffective! It can be very dangerous to dose a cat or dog with multiple products; if you are unsure about the efficacy of your pet’s treatment please call the practice.