Fleas are parasitic six-legged insects that feed on the blood of their hosts. Their bodies are made for jumping and their compressed shape means that it’s also easy for them to run through the hair of your pet. Although there are many different species of fleas, the most common one is Ctenocephalides felis, a cat flea that actually prefers dogs.
Fleas thrive in warm, humid conditions at low altitudes. A female flea requires a “blood meal” in order to lay her eggs. Their droppings, the reddish-brown “flea dirt” that you see on your pet, is actually what larvae need to feed on to live.
A flea has four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Fleas take about a month to grow from egg to adult. The female adult flea lays her eggs about two days after she mates and the eggs take an additional 2-6 days to hatch into larvae. Flea eggs are not sticky and tend to fall onto places your pet rests or sleeps. These hatch into larvae which feed off “flea dirt.” This is actually the mother flea’s feces. In about a week, they start spinning a cocoon. The cocooned larva, now called a pupa, is now resistant to dangers that could kill the flea in other stages of its life cycle. Under normal circumstances, the cocooned pupa remains in this state for about 15 days; it can extend this time up to one year if the environment is hostile (i.e., too cold).
You need to thoroughly examine your pet’s skin and hair coat under sufficient light. Fleas are reddish-brown and very fast, so you have to look closely. There may only be telltale flea dirt (flea feces), most often occurring above the dog’s rump or between a cat’s shoulder blades. Take a moist, white paper towel and rub it on the area. When moist, flea dirt turns reddish.
Fleas are not only a nuisance to humans and their pets, but can cause medical problems in pets including flea allergy dermatitis, tapeworms, hair loss, and secondary skin irritations. Also, large numbers of fleas can cause anemia, especially in puppies and kittens. Some pets have been known to die if the anemia is severe. While bites are rarely felt, it is the resulting irritation caused by the flea salivary secretions that varies among pets. Some may witness a severe reaction (rash or inflammation) resulting in secondary infections caused by scratching the aggravated skin area. Tapeworms normally plague our pets but may appear in children if parts of infested fleas are accidentally consumed. In some cases, fleas have been known to spread bubonic plague from rodent to rodent and from rodent to humans.
FAD is one of the most common allergies in pets. Pets with FAD are not only irritated by flea bites, but are also allergic to the parasite’s saliva, which contains 15 reactive components. When the pet receives his first flea bite, his immune system responds and sets up a hypersensitivity reaction. The reaction manifests itself as severe itching when the pet is bitten again. This means a bite from a single flea can set off a delayed itch reaction from flea bites received over the past six months. This not only starts a seemingly never-ending itch cycle; it also causes hive-like lesions from all of the bites, making the pet uncomfortable.
Since your goal is to prevent bites from occurring in the first place, you should use a product that kills adult fleas before they bite, as well as eliminates as many stages of the flea’s life cycle as possible. This involves using an adulticide, like pyrethrin and an Insect Growth Regulator (IGR) or Insect Development Inhibitor (IDI).
We recommend topical adulticides such as Bio Spot, Advantage, or Frontline. These treatments both kill fleas on contact with the pet’s skin or hair and kill eggs and larvae.
If your pet is on a flea control program and still suffers occasional flare-ups, itching can be controlled with antihistamines, Soothing Mist and Itch Stop products. In severe cases, your veterinarian may prescribe oral steroids or even hyposensitization.
Q. How do I treat my pet for fleas?
Last from our Flea Control FAQs. For a dog, begin by giving him a bath using flea eliminating shampoo like our Flea & Tick Shampoo or for heavy infestations, use a flea dip. Apply a once-a-month topical or give your pet an oral once-a-month flea preventative. We recommend topical because they generally eliminate the fleas before they have a chance to bite your pet. If you bathe your pet frequently when using topical, remember to use a gentle shampoo that will not wash away the protection.
Cats need to be treated carefully. Read all labels and only use those products that are meant for cats. Bio Spot for Cats contains the Flea Halt Towelettes contain an pest control.