Fleas!!! Those particularly pesky parasites can persistently pester our pet pals. These ectoparasites are common in dogs and cats, and the issues that they cause range from a nuisance to potentially life-threatening.
The flea we most commonly see feeding off dogs and cats is the cat flea, also known as Ctenocephalides felis. This parasite feeds by biting and sucking blood though the skin of the host animal. Adults are just the final stage in the flea’s life cycle. Knowing more about each life stage can shed light on how fleas become a problem in the home and how we as pet owners can treat and prevent infestations.
The Flea Life Cycle:
Adult female fleas can lay up to forty eggs a day, which fall off the host into the environment to incubate and hatch into a larval stage. This larval stage lives in the environment, feeding off of the feces of the adults. This is known as flea dirt and looks like pepper. When rubbed on a wet paper towel, it will streak red. The larva continues to develop and molt, eventually spinning a cocoon to pupate. The pupal stage of the flea life cycle is extremely hardy and resistant to most treatments used in pets, as well as in the home environment. The pupae, like an armored car, can stay protected and dormant in the environment for months. The developing flea within the cocoon can sense the vibrations and exhaled carbon dioxide of hosts (like your dog or cat, or even you). This will trigger the hungry flea to emerge to feed. Once the female flea has taken a blood meal, she turns into an egg-laying machine, starting as early as one day after feeding. So within a day of feeding each adult female flea will be capable of laying 40 eggs a day for the next 4-6 weeks (the average life span of an adult flea). That’s a whole lot of eggs giving potential rise to many, many more egg laying fleas!!
So why is this all so important? Fleas unfortunately are not only just a nuisance.
A large number of fleas can cause life-threatening anemia (blood loss), which is particularly common in small, young, or elderly pets, or those who have concurrent diseases. Life-saving measures, like blood transfusions, are often needed for these pets.
Not all dogs and cats with fleas itch. This itching occurs when our pets have developed an allergy to the flea saliva itself. And as allergies go, this one causes intense itchiness, which can result in hair loss and severe skin infection. One of the tell tail signs of a dog or a cat with flea allergy is the “loss of pants look”, with the majority or hair loss and infection occurring from the waist, hip, thighs, and hind limbs.
When grooming themselves, cats and dogs will often ingest fleas. The flea happens to be an intermediate host to tapeworms, which when swallowed will develop into an adult and set up shop in the dog or cat (the definitive host). Tapeworm segments (which contain numerous eggs) are shed in the feces and can often be seen stuck in the fur around the anus. They look like small rice or sesame seeds.
So how as pet owners can we prevent and deal with fleas?
Integral to the prevention of fleas, is the long acting flea product. Products that are designed to kill and sterilize fleas are preferred. We at Easton Animal Hospital carry a number of flea preventatives, such as the new chewable flavored Nexgard for dogs. Our staff has used these products on our pets, and would be happy to share our experiences with you. Please ask us about which product is best for you and your pet. Please be wary about store bought pet flea products. Some contain older, less safe ingredients that may lead to adverse effects. And remember to check the label. Many products are to be used on dogs only. When used on cats, the side effects could be life-threatening.
Year round usage is crucial to the long term prevention of fleas.
If home infestation is suspected, or your pet is particularly sensitive, treatment of the house with area sprays is helpful. Again be careful choosing home treatment products, some may be harmful to you and your pet. We are here you and your pets, feel free to contact us anytime with questions or concerns.