Most pet owners have had the unpleasant experience of dealing with fleas. These pesky little insects can carry disease, cause serious harm to our pets and be an irritant to humans. For this reason, it is important to be well informed regarding fleas, their life cycle, and the best way to get rid of them!
There are thousands of species of fleas, but the cat flea is the most common one found on our pets. Fleas can be responsible for causing many disease processes, including an allergic reaction to bites, anemia, transmission of blood-borne parasites in cats and transmission of tapeworms.
Fleas don’t live on your pet but in the surrounding environment. Fleas can be found indoors and outdoors; they thrive in well-regulated homes! Fleas are susceptible to cold and cannot survive under 3°C. Fleas will bite humans but prefer animal blood, so just because fleas do not bite you, does not mean they aren’t there! Fleas are ubiquitous in the environment. They can be found anywhere a mammal with fleas would be, including a park or your backyard. Fleas will jump onto your pet, feed and can then be brought into your home.
One adult flea can lay approximately 50 eggs/day. The eggs are deposited onto your pet’s coat and drop off in the environment. They hatch into larvae which develop into their pupae form. Once mature, they emerge from their cocoon as adult fleas. The eggs and larvae feed off of organic material in the environment and adult flea feces. Adults fleas take blood meals from mammals, this life cycle can last from 2 weeks upwards of a year depending on the environment.
How do I get rid of fleas? It is important to remember that fleas don’t live on your pet. Therefore, it is important to treat the environment and your pet! Avoid over the counter flea products, the majority of these products will only deal with fleas that are on the pet at that time but have no residual effect. Some over the counter products also contain Permethrins which are toxic to cats! Always read labels before using products on your pets! There are multiple products available from your veterinarian that not only kill adult fleas that feed on your pet but also help to kill fleas in the environment. The flea treatment is contained within the skin cells, thus when your pet’s dander is spread throughout your house, flea eggs and larvae will feed on this and die. It is essential also to clean the environment very well to decrease the flea population. Be sure to vacuum floors and carpets and anywhere your pet frequents! There are insecticide products that can be used in the home to kill eggs and larvae. Treat all pets in the household. Even if your dog has the fleas and your cat is always indoors, once a flea is seen assume they are in your house. They will feed on all your pets!
The majority of flea products last one month; it is recommended to repeat this treatment three times. Remember the flea life cycle can take a few weeks, plus the pupae stage is resistant to drugs. This resistance means only one month of treatment may miss certain phases of the flea life cycle.
How do I prevent fleas? If your home is free of fleas, you’ll want to keep it that way! Any pet that goes outdoors should be on monthly flea medication during the spring to fall months.
If you’re concerned about fleas or have any questions about fleas, our team at Coxwell Animal Clinic will be happy to help!
Written by Dr. Alana Kestelman, DVM