Seeing many of my clients and their animals are plagued by fleas, I thought it was best to address the flea issue on the website with an informative article about fleas and how to control them.
Flea infestations of dogs and cats and their environment are an ongoing problem for pet owners and veterinarians alike. Flea bites can cause severe itching in some animals and people – especially those that are allergic to them. Vets often refer to the allergy as ‘Flea allergy dermatitis’. To control fleas you need to understand a bit about their life-cycle.
WHAT ARE FLEAS
Fleas are wingless insects 1.5-4.0mm long. Fleas have a laterally compressed body (so if you look at a flea side on, it looks like it’s been flattened ie it’s tall and skinny!) and they have an outer skeleton that is made of chitin (really hard stuff – ever tried squishing a flea?). Fleas are different from lice in that lice are flattened dorsoventrally (ie they are short and fat).
Fleas are not host-specific ie they don’t really care whose blood they suck, therefore a cat flea can infest dogs and vice versa. This also explains why humans get bitten too. Fleas are not fussy when it comes to blood! Strangely enough, large animals like sheep, cattle, goats and horses do not usually have ‘specific’ fleas that are associated with them, although they have been known to be infested by dog and cat fleas.
LIFE CYCLE OF THE FLEA
Note that only the adult flea is parasitic – ie only the adults suck blood and live on the animal. All other stages ie flea eggs and flea larvae are present in the environment. Which explains why you get repeat infestations of fleas despite you having killed all the adult fleas on the animal if you have neglected to get rid of the flea eggs or flea larval stages in their bedding, in the carpet etc…
Adult fleas (on the animal) » hops off animal, female fleas lay eggs in the environment » flea larvae hatch and feeds on organic debris » spins a pupa case (like a caterpillar) » adult fleas emerge from pupa case and hops onto next available animal (which could be you!) and the cycle starts again
Interestingly enough, adult fleas emerge from the pupal case when stimulated by vibrations – like you walking by, so they can increase their chances of getting onto a ‘food supply’. The rate of development depends on the temperature, hence the pronounced difference in the flea population between seasons – peaking in summer and tapering off in the cooler months.
Flea bites on humans are usually small raised singular lumps found near the ankles or feet (where the fleas get on) or can be higher up on the body if it’s the couch they’ve emerged from! People with an allergy to fleas can develop huge welt like reactions which are extremely itchy. Similarly in dogs and cats with flea allergies, the scratching and secondary bacterial infection which could result from it makes life miserable.
To control Fleas we will prefer for you to bring your pets in for a proper diagnostic.