Fleas are tiny, strong and can be very fast (especially when moving around in your pet’s hair). They can jump 10,000 times in a row (the length of three football fields). Three pairs of legs make for excellent leaping capabilities (up to two feet) and they do not have wings.
Fleas are most commonly found at the base of the tail. You will normally see what we call “flea dirt”, which is the digested blood. It looks like ground pepper in your pet’s fur. You can also see the adults moving around, but they are very, very swift moving!
With heavy infestations, however, fleas can be anywhere on the body. Fleas will wait for a pet to walk or run by, then jump on them. Once aboard, they remain until they are dislodged or groomed from the animal. Fleas can live an average of 8 days on cats and dogs. A female flea can start to reproduce within a day or two; she can produce thousands of eggs during this time. They feed once to twice daily, and will then remain on the pet until they are done or dislodged.
Fleas commonly prefer to feed on hairy animals such as dogs, cats, rabbits, squirrels, rats, mice and other domesticated or wild animals.
Flea Life Cycle
The life cycle of the flea is composed of the egg, larval, pupal and adult stages. Cycle length ranges from several weeks to several months and is largely dependent upon environmental conditions. With a complete life cycle ranging anywhere from 16 days to 21 months, depending on environmental conditions.
Fleas lay about 40-50 eggs a day, thousands in a lifetime!
Flea eggs are not sticky and usually, fall to the ground immediately upon being laid. Flea eggs hatch into larvae within 1 to 12 days. Flea eggs represent about one-half of the entire flea population present in an average home.
Eggs are no larger than a grain of sand, meaning they are essentially microscopic!!!!
The larval stage lasts from 4 to 18 days. Larvae like shaded locations such as floorboards, carpets, baseboards, pet bedding, or your furniture. Flea larval survival depends on the humidity and temperatures. They will not survive humidity less than 45-50 percent or temperatures greater than 95 degrees Fahrenheit. However, outdoor larvae will survive in cool, shaded areas. Fleas can also survive year-round if the humidity and temperatures are just right. Larvae spin silken cocoons and enter the pupal stage. The pupal stage may be complete within three days. Fleas in the pupal stage will become adults more rapidly in the presence of warmth and high humidity. Larvae feed on organic debris, particularly the feces of adult fleas, which contain undigested blood.
Larvae make up about 35 percent of the flea population, while the pupal stage accounts for 10 percent. They are also microscopic!!!!
Adult fleas begin searching for food when they emerge from the pupal stage. Fleas are known for their jumping abilities when a host (your dog or cat) is located they will leap onto them. Females begin laying eggs within 48 hours of the first feed, thus beginning the life cycle again. They only make up about 5 percent of the population. Fleas are capable of surviving winters if they can locate shelter, such as your warm house, garages, under porches, etc.
Fleas In The House
Fleas depend on a blood meal from a host to survive. They can come in on your pet (even if they go outside to do their business and come right back in). They can even come in on you, they take a ride on your shoe or pant leg without you even suspecting they are there. They are also small enough to fit through screens on doors or windows.
Fleas only need 30-40 degrees to come out of hibernation during our winter months in Hamburg (or Buffalo area)!
Although fleas do prefer warm weather, your cozy house provides the perfect environment for them to thrive in during the colder months. Freezing temperatures will kill some of them off but not the ones that are sheltered. Fleas are capable of surviving winters if they can locate shelter, such as your warm house, garages, under porches, etc. Plus, if there are no hosts to feed on, developing fleas can become dormant. This means they’ll just wait around until conditions are right again and emerge.
Fleas are a year-round problem, which is why year-round control is so important!
Adult fleas (the ones you can see) make up only 5% of the population. The other 95% are the eggs, larvae, and pupae- they are microscopic and we cannot see them! They are hidden in our carpets, furniture, bedding (pets and ours), gardens, garages, under porches waiting for a pet to walk by so when they are adults they can jump on and start the life cycle again!
Signs of Fleas
Many signs can indicate flea activity. A common indication would be pets that repeatedly scratching or grooming themselves. Flea dirt, the adult flea feces, also can indicate activity. Flea dirt looks similar to coarse ground black pepper and may be seen on the pet, in pet beds, carpets, rugs, and other areas where your pet likes to hang out. Typically you will find the flea dirt at the base of the tail, along with scabs if the pet is allergic to the bites. This area is called the caudal dorsum. If your pet is itchy at the base of its tail or down its legs or has scabs there… reasons for this problem are Fleas!… #1, 2, and 3.
Other common indications of fleas include:
– Allergic dermatitis
– Excessive scratching, licking or biting at the skin (especially the backs of legs, back end, around the base of the tail)
– Hair loss
– Scabs and hot spots
– Pale gums
Since fleas can consume 15 times their own body weight in blood, they can cause anemia, which is a loss of blood and causes great illness to pets. This is especially problematic in young puppies or kittens, where they have an inadequate number of red blood cells. Signs include pale gums, cold body temperature, lethargy, and listless.
When a dog or cat is sensitive to the saliva of fleas, just ONE BITE of a flea can cause an allergic reaction. This condition is known as flea allergy dermatitis and causes intense itching and discomfort for your dog or cat. You can correlate this to when a human gets bit by a mosquito. You usually end up with a large welt because you are allergic to the mosquito’s saliva as they are taking a blood meal. This causes an allergic reaction, in turn causing the welt and itchiness to the bite. Signs include hair loss, reddened skin, scabs and hot spots (dogs), or potentially eosinophilic granulomas (cats). Flea allergy dermatitis often leads to skin infections.
In order to treat for fleas, you need to have ALL pets in the house on preventative for a minimum of 3 months. That will break the life cycle of the flea. When flea bites and starts to lay eggs, those eggs do not hatch out typically 1-2 months later.
Treatment for your house includes vacuuming (cushions, rugs, baseboards, any darkened areas, etc). And continuously washing bedding or wherever your pets like to lay. If needed we do have products that we have had success with at the clinic, called Knock-Out spray. It is a premise spray, but you must use it with no pets in the area. Please consult one of the veterinarians before use.
DO NOT Use to Treat Fleas:
Flea shampoos: These products can be very stripping to the oils on your pet’s skin. It can lead to dryness or flakiness. Most importantly it can remove topical flea medications! These products generally only prevent one part of the life cycle of the flea, the adult. This will stop them for a few days, but as soon as the next round of fleas hatches from their cocoons in your house they are back on your pet.
Oral or topical products from your veterinarian prevent all life stages, which will stop them from reproducing and essentially stop the life cycle completely.
Over the Counter Flea collars: These products are only effective in the area where the collar lays. This will not give your pet the full protection it needs. Fleas can still survive if they are living near their tail, which is normally where they live on your pet.
Generic over the counter flea medications (medications found in stores, online, etc): These flea medications are not the same as veterinary-approved medications. They generally last HALF the amount of time, 2 weeks on average, and can potentially cause dangerous side effects. These products are also known for not being labeled as what they truly are (false products), and the amount of the medication may also be incorrect. For these reasons, manufacturers do NOT back these over the counter products!
For more information about fleas please visit: http://www.capcvet.org
For more information about fleas please visit: http://www.petsandparasites.org