Fleas are a dreaded creature to all pet owners. They seem to infest our beloved pets and make theirs, and our lives a misery. They make our pets itchy and can carry diseases, like Lyme disease, and tapeworms. So, what can we do about it? How can we help our pets and keep our houses flea free during the warmer months?
Everything You Need to Know About Fleas
The two most common flea species in North Carolina are the dog flea, Ctenocephalides canis, and the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis. The cat flea is the most abundant species. It can survive longer and reproduce better on human blood than the dog flea.
There are four stages to a flea’s life cycle: flea eggs, flea larvae, pupa, and adults.
The average life cycle of an adult flea is 14 – 28 days, but in perfect conditions, they can live well over 100 days. After taking a blood meal and mating, the females lay eggs. The egg production begins 1-2 days after a female flea has her first blood meal. No eggs are produced on the first day of feeding. Flea eggs are laid on the host animal, but because they are round and smooth, they tend to roll off into the ground or carpet. Most female fleas lay about 500 eggs in their lifetime and, under optimal conditions, the eggs will hatch within 2-12 days.
New adult fleas have a flat-bodied appearance and are dark in color. Once they’ve fed, they swell and become larger and lighter. These are the fleas we tend to see and are more recognizable.
Adult fleas account for less than 5 percent of the overall flea population in an infestation, so if you’re seeing adult fleas, know that there are a lot more hanging around ready to turn in to these blood-sucking adults.
Flea eggs, on the other hand, account for most of the flea population, with about 50 percent. Flea eggs are white. Flea eggs need a warm, moist environment to develop with temperatures that hover around 70 degrees with 70 to 85 percent humidity.
After the fleas hatch, they enter the larvae stage, which accounts for 35 percent of the average flea population in a household. The larvae emerge from the eggs blind and will avoid being out in the light. They take several weeks to develop and feed on pre-digested blood that the adult fleas pass, along with other organic debris, such as skin cells, in the environment. The larvae are about 1.5 millimeters long and look like white, segmented worms.
Once the larvae grow, it spins a cocoon and becomes a pupa. The pupa accounts for about 10 percent of the flea population. The cocoon has a sticky outer coating that allows them to hide deep in carpeting and also serves to protect the developing adult fleas from chemicals. The pupa can hatch anywhere from 7 days to 1 year after being laid. Adult fleas do not emerge from their cocoons until they know that a potential host is present. The flea can sense a host by vibrations, rising levels of carbon dioxide, and body heat. Your pet, or anyone walking, will alert the flea to emerge from its cocoon to feed.
How to Tell if Your Pet has Fleas
The first sign of fleas you will probably notice is consistent scratching and chewing. Your pet’s constant scratching may lead to visible patches of hair loss and reddened irritated skin. Fleas may also cause skin allergies in some pets and can transmit other parasites such as tapeworms. While fleas themselves are not deadly, they are irritating and can cause severe problems in your pet such as lethargy and loss of appetite. The parasites that fleas transmit, such as tapeworms, are deadly and can cause long-term damage. If you want to keep your pet healthy, best not to welcome these pests into your home.
You may also see live fleas running around on your pet when you go to pet them, or you may come across dark red or black specks on your dog’s skin, fur, bedding, or furniture. These dark specks are called “flea dirt” and are digested blood that is excreted. If you’re not sure if the spots you’re seeing are flea dirt or just regular dirt, wipe some specks on a damp paper towel. If the paper turns red, the specks are flea dirt and your pet has fleas.
Fleas like to congregate on the back half of your dog or cat’s body, inside the back legs, at the base of the tail, or on the belly and groin, wherever is warm and protected. If you are concerned that your pet has fleas, gently comb back the fur in these areas and check for live fleas or flea dirt.
Most fleas are found in the environment, indoor, and out. That’s why it’s important to treat both your yard and your house if you have fleas.
Outdoors, fleas like to live in shady, humid areas away from bright sunlight. Flea eggs settle into the soil and protect the pupa from being damaged. Keep your grass mowed and your hedges trimmed. This way, fleas will not have as many places to hide. Plant shrubs and bushes away from each other and your house. Rake up fallen leaves in the fall and immediately bag and dispose of them. Michael K. Rust, Ph.D., Professor of Entomology at the University of California Riverside said, “Any time you have air movement and sunlight, it will kill flea larvae.”
Discourage feral pets and wildlife from coming into your yard. Opossums, raccoons, and feral cats carry a lot of fleas and will easily bring them into your yard if not deterred. Don’t leave bowls of cat or dog food outside. This will encourage strays to come to your house. If you have an issue with feral pets, a motioned activated sprinkler will keep them away for a bit. Seal off any openings to crawl spaces, garages, sheds, decks, and attics as wildlife enjoy hiding and living in these spaces.
There are chemical treatments you can use for your yard to help kill fleas. These can be found at your local hardware store or by calling a pest control specialist. However, some insecticides will only kill adult fleas and not eggs. Because fleas can survive for such a long time in their egg, it can be difficult to eradicate them all using insecticides.
Fleas get into homes by hitching a ride on a pet, but they may also attach themselves to humans. Before you and your pet head inside after a fun day, run a flea comb or brush through your pet’s coat. This will help brush off fleas that are attached to your pet that you may not see. More hair gives fleas a better chance of hiding, so keep your pet well-groomed.
Once inside, fleas like to hide. Common indoor sites for fleas are pet sleeping mats, carpets and rugs, upholstered furniture, floor cracks, and tile joints. Keep your house well swept and floors washed. Flea cocoons are sticky, and may not be easily removed with light sweeping or light vacuuming, so make sure to vacuum at least once a week. Remove the contents of the vacuum immediately after use.
Thoroughly wash your pet’s bedding and toys in hot soapy water to remove eggs, larvae, and pupa. Treat the adult fleas living on your pet with your preferred treatment. There are several treatment options for your pet including flea and tick shampoo, sprays, dips, spot-on medications, and/or prescription medication. If you’re not sure what’s best for your pet and your family, ask your veterinarian. They can help you determine what the best solution is.
If you have a flea infestation, talk to the professionals, and treat all the areas that your pet spends time in, including the car and the yard!
Flea Treatment for Your Pets
There are many options for flea prevention and treatment for your pet. These include dips, sprays, powders, shampoos, flea collars, and topical and oral medication. Before starting your pet on any flea treatment, consult your veterinarian. Our veterinarians at Lazy 5 are experts in pet health and can help you find the perfect flea treatment for your pet and their lifestyle.
One of the most common types of flea medication is a topical medicine that you place on your pet’s skin, typically in one spot on the back of the neck once a month. Oral flea control products, such as flea pills, are given by mouth to kill fleas. Flea collars are worn around the neck and deliver preventative medication to your dog’s skin and coat. Make sure you wash your hands after placing the collar on your dog’s neck as the medication can irritate the skin.
If your pet already has fleas, flea shampoo will help kill fleas already on your pet. Make sure you read the label and use it as directed for it to be the most effective. Flea sprays are another option and are applied to the skin and coat. They need to be applied more frequently and tend to be less effective than other flea preventative options.
A Preventative Pest
No one wants fleas in their house or on their pet. They are irritating and can pass on more dangerous parasites such as tapeworms. However, fleas are something you can prevent as a pet owner. By giving your pet a monthly preventative, such as an oral pill or topical treatment, you can keep fleas away from your pets. Make your yard less friendly for fleas and, always, keep a watchful eye for any signs of different behavior from your pet. If you think your pet has fleas, bring him/her into our office for a check-up! We can put together a health plan that’s best for you and your pet! If you’re interested, give us a call at 704-636-1100.
If you enjoyed this blog and want to learn more, be sure to check out our Pet Obesity Blog here.