As we come into the beautiful Queensland spring one problem always pops up in lots of pets at this time on the year – Fleas! On top of making your pet itchy, flea infestation can also lead to a range of other problems.
- Flea Allergic Dermatitis
- Flea Burden Anaemia
- Feline Infectious Anaemia
- Tapeworm Infection
There are over 1900 flea species in the world. In our pets there is only one species of concern: Ctenocephalides felis, the cat flea. This is the flea that we find on our pets (cats, dogs, rabbits, and other species) in 99% of cases. By understanding a little more about this parasite and the conditions it can cause, you can help your pet to live a flea-free life!
The Flea Life Cycle
Once you understand the flea life cycle the easier it is to control any infestation. There are four life stages of the flea and it is important to know how to break this life cycle in more than one place.
At any given time about one third of the flea population in your home is in the egg stage. The adult female flea lays up to 40 eggs daily. The eggs are laid on your pet where they fall off to hatch in the environment.
At any given time about 57% of the fleas in someone’s home are in the larval stage. Larvae are like little caterpillars crawling around grazing on the flea dirt (faeces) that is generally in their vicinity. Flea eggs and flea dirt both fall off the host. When the eggs hatch, there is a bounty of food prepared lovingly by all the host’s fleas waiting for the hatchlings.
Only 8% of fleas make it to the pupal stage but once they have spun cocoons they are nearly invincible. Inside the developing cocoon, the pupa is turning into the flea that we are familiar with. They are especially protected under carpet, which is why carpet has developed such a reputation as a shelter for fleas. The pupa can remain dormant in its cocoon for many months, maybe even up to a year as it waits for the right time to emerge.
The Adult Flea
After the pupa develops, it does not automatically emerge from its cocoon. Instead, it is able to remain in the cocoon until it detects a nearby host. When the mature pupa feels the time is right, he emerges from the cocoon, hungry and eager to find a host. An unfed flea is able to live for months without a blood meal. After the adult flea finds a host and takes its first blood meal, the cycle begins again. The female flea begins to produce eggs within 24 to 48 hours of her first blood meal and will lay eggs continually until she dies. The average life span of the adult flea is 4 to 6 weeks.
Problems caused by flea infestation
Flea allergic dermatitis is the most common skin disease in dogs and cats. It occurs due to the pet’s immune system over-reacting to the saliva from flea bites. This leads to intense itchiness, scabs, open sores and hair loss, often seen around the base of the tail. For the flea allergic patient, 100% flea control is essential for the pet to remain symptom-free.
Flea Burden Anaemia
Did you know that the female flea consumes 15 times her own body weight in blood daily! A very large burden of fleas in small, young, the very elderly or debilitated pets can lead to a severe and life threatening anaemia. Often late in the disease the only successful treatment is a blood transfusion and rapid treatment with flea control.
Feline Infectious Anaemia
Feline infectious anaemia is a bacterial parasite called Mycoplasma haemofelis that is spread to cats by fleas. A cat becomes infected from a bite from an infected flea and soon the cat’s red blood cells are covered with free-loading mycoplasma organisms. The cat’s immune system eventually detects the foreign bacteria and mounts an attack which leads to the red blood cells removal and destruction. The problem is that if many red blood cells are destroyed that the cat becomes anaemic. The infected sick cat is pale and weak, and they will sometimes have a fever. Treatment generally involves antibiotics, flea control and sometimes a blood transfusion and medication to decrease the attack on the red blood cells.
There are many species of tapeworm but the one most of us are familiar with is the common tapeworm, Dipylidium caninum. This parasite is commonly spread to cats and dogs by fleas. Humans, especially children can also become infected! Tapeworms usually do not cause clinical signs unless the tapeworms are present in large numbers. Diarrhoea may occur in this situation. Proglottids (white segments of the tapeworm) may be seen in the faeces and these may cause an irritation which causes the dog to drag its bottom (scoot) on the ground or floor.
Common myths about fleas
• My pet cannot have fleas because he lives entirely indoors.
Fleas thrive particularly well in the warm, humid, well-regulated temperatures in the home.
• My pet cannot have fleas because if there were any fleas they would be biting the people in the household.
Fleas prefer animals as their feeding source, humans are the last choice on the menu and humans tend not to be bitten unless flea population numbers are high.
• We do not have fleas because we have only hard wood floors.
Fleas love to develop in the cracks between the boards of hard wood floors.
• My pet cannot have fleas because I would see them.
You’d be surprised how frequently this is heard, but alas particularly when there is only a small population of fleas they can be surprisingly easy to miss!
Flea control and prevention
Prevention is always better than a cure, so it is imperative to keep your pets covered with regular flea prevention. This is generally a monthly product given as a tablet or top spot (liquid applied between the animal’s shoulders). For dogs, Toowong Family Vet recommends the use of monthly Comfortis for flea control, or for a combined flea and tick preventative, Advantix fortnightly. For Cats we recommend the use of Advocate or Revolution monthly, there are also other options available that you can discuss with your veterinarian.
In combination with preventatives for your pets, it is advisable to use environmental control and regular vacuuming to limit the number of fleas in the environment. Fencing off sandy areas, particularly under houses, can be very advantageous in limiting nesting places for fleas on your outdoor pets.
The truth is this: fleas are always going to be around. You can however, help your pet be as flea free as possible. Know as much about this pest as you do about the dogs and cats that it feeds upon. One thing's for sure - you can't know too much when it comes to flea control!Please feel free to contact us on 3613 9644 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or would like more information.