Jun 12 2017

What Are Fleas and What to Do About Them

picture of tick

Dogs and cats can get infected by fleas from the environment or from contact through other animals. Fleas are flightless and do not have wings but are very good at jumping, jumping from host to host or from environment to host. Fleas are a dark copper colouring, about the size of the head of a pin, and can be seen crawling along the surface of the skin. Flea dirt, which is actually flea feces composed of dried blood, looks like specks of pepper scattered on the skin. If flea dirt is seen on your pet, pick some of the flea dirt off and place it on a wet white paper towel. If the specks spread out like small blood stains, then it is flea dirt and your pet has fleas.

A flea bite can cause itching for the host animal; some pets are sensitive or flea allergic and bites can cause severe itching, hair loss, inflammation and/or secondary skin infections. A monthly preventive treatment is recommended during flea season to prevent your pet from contracting fleas.

Completing the cycle from egg to adult flea takes 12-22 days when the temperature and humidity levels are ideal, but more commonly takes 3-4 weeks to complete. Fleas thrive in temperatures of 65-80°F and a humidity level of 75-85%.

There are four life stages to a flea: eggs, larva, pupa and finally the adult.

The adult female lays eggs in the pet’s fur following a blood meal from the host. Females can lay 40 eggs every day. The eggs fall off when the pet moves, spreading throughout the environment especially where the pet spends most of their time. Eggs take 2 days to 2 weeks to hatch depending on the temperature and humidity levels. Larvae emerge as the next life stage.

Larvae are blind and avoid being in the light. They develop over several weeks by eating pre-digested blood (flea dirt) and other organic debris that adults pass along in the environment. Flea larvae are up to ¼ inch long, white and legless. If the conditions are ideal, they spin cocoons in 5-20 days following being hatched from eggs.

Pupae are the last of the life stages before the adult flea surfaces. The cocoon protects the pupae for several days or weeks before the adult flea emerges. The cocoon has a sticky coating which allows it to be hidden deep in carpeting and is not easily swept or vacuumed up. It also protects the developing adult from any chemicals being used in and around the environment.

An adult flea does not come out of the cocoon until the presence of a potential host is obvious, usually sensed through vibrations, rising levels of carbon dioxide and body heat. Adults begin feeding from a host within a few hours of emerging from the cocoon. After the first blood meal, they breed and lay eggs within days. Females are unable to lay eggs until after a blood meal. Fleas live on the host for a few weeks to a several months eating, breeding and laying eggs, continuing the cycle.

Only 5% of a flea infestation is considered to be adult fleas on the pet leaving the other 95% in the home and environment as eggs, larvae and pupae. It is important to prevent and control fleas on the pet and in the environment together when an infestation occurs. To eliminate fleas, vacuum every several weeks, sealing and removing vacuum bags after each cleaning, and wash bedding, blankets and toys in hot soapy water regularly. Use sprays for the household and only veterinarian approved flea medication on all pets in the household.

At Avro Pet Hospital, our veterinarian can advise you on the best monthly flea preventive medication for your pet. Contact us today for the best treatment to help prevent fleas on your pet.

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