How do I know if my pet has fleas?
You can often see fleas running around on your pet's face or stomach. A pet will constantly scratch or may be losing hair in areas. Black specks on your pet or in your dog's or cat's bed may be "flea dirt" the fecal matter from adult fleas. Flea dirt will turn reddish rusty color when wiped with a wet white paper towel or Kleenex. There are two easy ways to check for black specks: Flea Comb available from your veterinarian (the metal ones are the best). Run the comb over your pet, making sure the comb reaches the skin through the coat. If black specks are on the comb when you pull it off, they might be flea dirt. If fleas are on the comb, drown them in a bowl of soapy water before they can get away or jump back on your pet. White paper towel place a white paper towel beneath your pet and rub your hands across its fur. If black specks appear on the towel, it may be flea dirt.
*Image of a flea from www.capcvet.org
Where do fleas live?
Fleas are very hardy insects. They can live outside until we have a hard freeze for weeks. Inside your home they can live in carpet, furniture, hardwood floors and even in tile and concrete. Fleas can hibernate for up to 2 years. This may be why if you move into a new home, your house can become infested with fleas.
How do fleas affect my pet?
-Anemia - Anemia may occur in pets if too many fleas suck their blood. The signs of anemia include pale gums,
weakness and lethargy in your pet.
-Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD) - When a flea bites your dog or cat, it deposits a small amount of saliva in the skin. Your pet can develop FAD in reaction to this saliva, which causes severe itching. In addition to your pet scratching or biting excessively around the tail, groin or backside, scabs or bumps may also appear on your pet's neck or back.
-Tapeworm (Dipylidium caninum) - Dogs or cats may become infected with tapeworms by ingesting an infected flea. Pets may have intense anal itching, and tapeworm segments may be seen around the anal area or in the feces.
-Rickettsiosis (Rickettsia felis) - Infected cats may not have clinical signs or show symptoms, but this disease can be passed to humans through flea bites. People with this infection may have severe headache, high fever, delerium and depression.
-Plague (Yersinia pestis) - Three forms of plague are seen in cats and people: bubonic, septicemia, and pneumonic plague. Bubonic is
the most common in cats and is associated with high fever, dehydration and enlarged lymph nodes.
-Cat Scratch Disease (Bartonella henselae) - Although cats usually have no signs of this disease, it can be passed to people, by contamination of cat scratches with flea excrement. Signs in infected people include a pustule at the infection site, low-grade fever,
enlarged lymph nodes and listlessness.
What can I do to prevent fleas living on my pet and in my home?
Flea prevention products are available in a couple forms. Most products are a liquid that can be applied to the pet monthly. Some products are in a pill form and are also taken monthly. For the health of your pet, we recommend keeping your pet on flea prevention year round.
Daily vacuuming will also help remove fleas from your home. See the section about flea collars.
What about flea collars?
Flea collars do not work well to prevent and treat fleas on your pet. Usually the collar will only protect the neck of your pet. Fleas will continue to live on the rest of your pet. We recommend using a flea collar in your vacuum bag or vacuum canister. The fleas you vacuum up will come into contact with the collar and die, and therefore will be unable to escape from the vacuum.
I have fleas! Now what?
We need to treat all your pets, your home and any outside kennels. Frontline kills fleas quickly and lasts one month. Fleas on your pet will die within 24 hours of application of Frontline. Fleas will continue to jump on your pet from the house, so it is important to treat the house at the same time. We have a high quality house spray available. The spray includes an IGR (insect growth regulator) to kill the eggs. It is very important to purchase a high quality spay so you can get fleas under control quickly. Spray purchased at places other than a veterinary clinic are often not as effective as those at a vet clinic. You may end up spraying many, many times without results.
You MUST retreat your home in 10 to 14 days. The pupa stage of the flea cannot be killed by any product. By day 10 to 14, the pupae will have hatched into adult fleas and will be susceptible to the flea sprays.
Frontline, Revolution and other new products work by migrating all over your pet's skin. The chemicals stay on your pet's skin, they are not absorbed. A flea jumps onto your pet and comes into contact with chemical. The flea dies. If a female flea lays an egg before she dies, the egg will also die.
You can use flea shampoo if you like. However with many of the products purchased at a vet clinic, flea shampoos and dips are not needed. If you choose to bathe your pet, wait 2 days after you have applied the flea solution, or wait 2 days after a bath to apply it. Flea shampoos will often stun and wash away many fleas, however it will also leave many still on your pet.
Flea sprays that can be sprayed on the pet are also not needed if you purchase a flea killer from a vet. Flea sprays are often not effective way to control fleas. You MUST read instructions carefully. Only use products intended for use on your cat or dog. Do not use a dog product on your cat. The dog spray is too strong for cats and can make cats very ill or cause them to die. DO NOT use a premise spray on your pet. This spray is too strong for pets and can make them very ill or die.
What about flea drops I can purchase elsewhere?
Flea drops purchased at places other than a veterinary clinic have the potential to harm your pet if not used properly. Many of these products contain older, more harmful chemicals. These products work differently than the newer products. The older drops are absorbed by the pet's body. When a fleas bites a pet, the flea sucks blood along with the chemical. The flea then dies. Before dying, a female flea is still able to lay healthy eggs. We see many problems with these older chemicals. One problem is overdose due to the use of multiple flea spays, drops and shampoos. You must NOT use multiple flea drops or reapply early. You must NOT use these drops in combination with other shampoos or house sprays. Your pet can become ill or die if too many of these chemicals are used at once. If too many chemicals are absorbed by your pet, the animal is overdosed. When a pet is overdosed, nerves, the brain and other organs start to shut down. If this happens, bring your pet to the veterinary clinic immediately. We may be able to treat the overdose. A second problem we see is damage to the liver and kidneys. The chemicals in the drops are toxins. Your pet's kidneys and liver must filter out the toxin. Over time this can damage the organs, causing your pet to become sick. A third problem with these drops is the loss of effectiveness over time. Over months to years of using the drops on your pet, your pet's body can eliminate the chemical faster. This means the drops last for a shorter and shorter amount of time.
We have seen several cases of pets who have been exposed to too many chemicals. We were brought a cat who had been sprayed with a dog flea spay. The owner had purchased a flea spray, but did not notice it was for use on dogs. Unfortunately, the cat did not live. We also saw a kitten who had been sprayed with a cat flea spray. Her owner was very upset because her new kitten was comatose. We were able to help this kitten and she was able to recover.
The fleas you are seeing on you and your pets are only 5% of the total flea population living in your home.
What is a flea's life cycle?
A female lays about 2,000 eggs in her lifetime. In one day, a single female flea can lay up to 50 eggs. The eggs aren't sticky so they quickly fall off your pet and into areas of your home. In 2-10 days, the eggs hatch.
After hatching, the larvae head toward dark places around your home and feed on "flea dirt," flea feces containing partially digested blood from your pet. The larvae grow, molt twice, then spin cocoons, where they grow to pupae.
Immature fleas spend approximately 89 days in their cocoon. During this time, they continue to grow to adulthood, waiting for the signals that it is time to emerge. A flea can stay in this state for years.
Full-grown adults detect heat, vibrations and exhaled carbon dioxide from inside their cocoons, telling them a host is nearby. The adults leave their cocoons, hop onto a host, find a mate and begin the life cycle all over again.
Some text and illustrations are courtesy of www.merial.com.