By Dr. Méline Joaris
None of us want to see fleas on our fuzzy pets but sometimes it does happen. Fleas can be brought into the home in many ways. Their eggs are tiny and you may carry them into your home on your clothes or your pet may bring home unwanted passengers after going to the park or meeting other dogs and cats. The one thing you do not want is for them to make your house their home! That’s why prevention is definitely better than cure.
Most of the fleas we see, both on dogs and cats, are actually the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis).
Fleas are adapted to live in our homes
Did you know that adult fleas make up only 5% of the flea population? The rest of the life cycle is actually spent in the environment ie. your home. This is why just treating the affected pet is not enough, it’s important to treat all the animals in the home as well as the environment (see below).
Adult female fleas can start laying up to 40-50 eggs a day 24-48 hours after taking their first blood meal. Those eggs are spread freely into the environment and will start to hatch into larvae after 2-7 weeks. The larvae will stay hidden in dark places and feed off the blood from the adult flea’s feces (gross!). After this, they will cocoon themselves and can lay dormant for up to 6 months at normal room temperature! Once they emerge from their cocoons, the whole life cycle starts again.
Thanks to good housing insulation, air conditioning and heating, flea prevention is necessary year-round because our houses are the perfect environment for flea infestation, even in winter!
Fleas can transmit tapeworm and other diseases
When your pet grooms herself, she could eat a flea which may be carrying tapeworm (Dipylidium caninum) and become infected. Tapeworm infestations are usually asymptomatic though they may cause an itchy bottom (such as scraping or scooting on the ground/carpet) and, in more severe cases, diarrhea and weight loss.
Keep in mind that, though rare, humans can also become infected with tapeworm if they inadvertently eat a flea. Children in this case are more at risk, making flea prevention even more important if you have little ones.
When fleas take a blood meal, they can transmit diseases, like Cat Scratch Fever (Bartonella henselae), to your cat. Unfortunately, it isn’t just your pet that is at risk, fleas can also rarely transmit diseases to humans via a bite, such as flea-borne typhus.
Flea bites are itchy!
Most pets will react to a flea bite and get a small spot of irritated skin - that’s called flea dermatitis. Unfortunately some of our fuzzy friends can be allergic to flea bites and they will get very itchy, so much so that they can chew their skin raw and cause trauma and skin infections for which your vet may need to prescribe a course of antibiotics.
I want those fleas gone and for them to stay gone!
For your pet:
It is clearly very important to make sure that your pets are protected against adult fleas year round, even in winter, unless your house gets colder than 35 °F for 10 days in a row (which we hope it doesn’t!). If you currently have a flea infestation, you need to make sure to use an effective flea treatment for at least 3-4 months on every single pet (cat and dog) in the house before you will stop seeing fleas. This is because new fleas are continuously hatching and catching a ride on your pet before being killed by the preventative medication which takes any time from 8 to 36 hours.
Flea prevention should be used as directed by your (friendly Fuzzy) veterinarian. Set a monthly reminder to make sure you don’t have any gaps in preventative application.
For your home:
As you now know, fleas spend 95% of their life cycle in your home and not on your pet. Once your pet has received flea treatment, you want the fleas to emerge from the environment and onto your pet so they can be killed by the flea preventative. You can achieve this by vacuuming your house very thoroughly (everywhere!) everyday for the first week, then gradually reducing the vacuuming over a few weeks. This will also help to get rid of some of the eggs, larvae and adult fleas directly and stimulate others to come out. Make sure you empty your vacuum cleaner in a sealed bag every time.