Fleas. The very word conjures mental images of some poor dog or cat scratching in a desperate attempt to rid themselves of tiny, biting bugs. Indeed, fleas are horrible little creatures on many levels, but what you may not know about them could horrify you.
If you want to win the war against these blood-sucking parasites, you need to arm yourself with the following facts:
Fleas have Four Life Stages
Flea eggs are laid by adult fleas on the pet. The eggs fall off the pet into the environment within a few hours and then quickly develop into maggot-like larva.
Larvae feed on the blood found in adult flea feces, organic debris, flea eggshells and other flea larvae. Common outdoor areas for larvae include under decks and porches, partially shaded lawns and around shrubbery and flower beds. Common indoor areas for larval development include on and under furniture, bedding (human and animal) and carpet/area rugs. In general, larvae love to grow where your pet likes to hang out!
During this phase of development, larvae build a protective cocoon around themselves that is virtually indestructible to the outside world. Under the right conditions, pupae can emerge as adult fleas in as little as 8 days. When conditions are less than optimal, pupae can remain in an arrested state of development within the cocoon for as long as 30 weeks, awaiting the proper environmental stimuli before emerging as an adult flea. This amazing ability allows the flea to “over winter” or continue the life cycle uninterrupted through the colder months of the year.
4. Adult Flea
Under the right conditions, the adult flea emerges in as little as little as 21 days and immediately begins the search for a host. Females begin egg laying within 24 hours of the first blood meal, laying on average 40-50 eggs per day. Females lay 4,500 eggs on average over a lifetime.
What Does All This Mean?
Having four stages to the flea life cycle means that at any point in time, your home likely has all four stages living within your walls, if your pet is not on year-round flea prevention. Most of the flea life cycle is spent off the pet, in the environment, so the absence of visible fleas on your pet is no guarantee that your pet if flea-free and when live fleas are seen on your pet, the number seen represents only 5 percent of the actual flea population living within your home. That’s a horrifying thought!
And what’s more, while itch is a frequent problem associated with fleas, it may surprise you to know that fleas are responsible for the transmission of many diseases that affect both pets and people, including:
- Tapeworm infection
- Iron deficiency, anemia and death
- Flea Allergic Dermatitis
What Can I Do?
Management of a flea infestation is costly and frustrating. Moderate to severe infestations may take several months to come under control and will require treatment of both pets and the environment.
Administration of year-round flea prevention to all dogs and cats in the household as soon as is safely possible is your best defense against fleas. Indoor only cats require prevention too if they live with other animals that go outside.
It is also important to manage the environment by washing bedding regularly (yours and Fido’s) and vacuuming often. Treatment of your pet’s environment as a stand-alone flea control program is ineffective.
As a veterinarian, I recommend Bravecto(R) for your pet's flea and tick prevention, which is available at Tuscan Ridge Animal Hospital. For a list of additional flea and tick preventatives, please visit our online pharmacy.