Suddenly your dog is itching and your cat is scratching. Your home is infested with fleas. What exactly are fleas? What is their life span? How can we prevent them? Read on for an up-close and personal look at fleas.
What are fleas?
Fleas are small, brown or black wingless insects with flattened bodies that are often seen scurrying or jumping abruptly on the hair or skin of a host animal (your pet). Their bodies are compressed laterally and are covered with posteriorly-directed bristles which aid in their mobility. Despite the belief that fleas fly, they, in fact, move from site to site by jumping. Using highly developed hind legs, they have been observed to jump from eighteen to thirty-six inches.
The Cycle of Fleas
Fleas feed by siphoning blood through piercing mouth parts which contain salivary and mouth tubes. A blood meal is needed for egg production. Once they have fed, fleas generally drop off the host animal and lay their eggs. The bedding or area around a favorite resting place of a cat or dog is frequently littered with eggs, as are cracks, crevices, and carpeting. A single breeding pair of fleas may produce 20,000 fleas in 3 months. Eggs hatch after 2-12 days into larvae that feed in the environment. After a week or more in the pupal stage in the cocoon, adults emerge to begin another generation of bloodsucking parasites. The life cycle is usually completed in 30 days.
Flea Producing Diseases
The most common effect of fleas is flea allergy dermatitis. This is a disease caused by an allergy to flea bites. The offending substance is carried by the flea’s saliva and causes redness, swelling, and itchiness. An effected animal scratches, licks, and bites its skin, especially around the rump, lower back, and tail where fleas most commonly live and breed. The pet may also scratch around the neck and ears. Flea bites appear as tiny red bumps; hair loss, crusts, and inflamed broken skin may result from extended scratching, although sometimes no fleas or evidence of flea bites are found. To define the problem as fleas, look for tiny, black granules that resemble black pepper. This material is flea “dirt” or feces and consists of digested blood.
The other major flea-related disease is tapeworms. This is an intestinal parasite transmitted solely by an ingested flea. Tapeworms usually produce few symptoms byt large numbers may cause digestive upsets, variation in appetite, poor haircoat and skin, weight loss, and vague symptoms or abdominal distress. Diagnosis of tapeworm is made by finding the segments in your pet’s feces or clinging to the hair around the anal area. Segments will be white, and 1\4-inch long, and may expand and contract. Dry segments will resemble cucumber seeds or rice grains.
The best cure for fleas is to prevent your dog or cat from being infested in the first place. There are several different products available, but Animal General only recommends two: Revolution® and Frontline®. Revolution is the first-ever FDA-approved topically-applied medication for cats and dogs that kills adult fleas and prevents flea eggs from hatching. Revolution enters the bloodstream through the skin. Revolution selectively redistributes from the blood to the skin and other tissues, where it provides protection against fleas, flea eggs, and ear mites. Frontline is an EPA-approved topical parasiticide that kills adult fleas and kills flea larvae and eggs. Frontline works by its active ingredient, fipronil. Fipronil is absorbed through your pet’s skin and into its oil glands. This allows Frontline to be released to your pet’s hair follicles and skin every time the oil glands are activated. Both of these products are applied topically, monthly, year-round, lifelong. Your veterinarian will make the best recommendation based on your pet’s lifestyle.