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Fleas in Pets: Everything you need to know! by Jenna B, RVT

What are fleas?

Fleas are small, usually 4-9mm in length, wingless insects. They have powerful hind legs that are used to jump on their host (your pet).  They survive by sucking blood off the cat or dog to nourish themselves. The female flea can lay up to several thousand eggs in her lifetime. The whole flea lifecycle from an egg to an adult flea takes only a few weeks.

Where do fleas come from?

Adult fleas need a host to survive so they will most likely already be on a pet and can then jump onto yours even just with a brief moment of contact between the two pets. The flea eggs and larvae are frequently found in the pet’s environment. They can be practically anywhere; owner’s bedclothes, pet’s bedding, travel carriers, carpets and rugs… so your pet could also catch fleas this way, without even being in physical contact with another animal.

How can I prevent my pet from getting fleas?

Prevention is definitly key and will save a lot of work and headaches in the long run.  There are so many great products out now to protect your pet from fleas. Some can be in a digestible oral medication form, some may be topical drops that need to be placed on the back of the neck. These have to be administered once per month for proper prevention and control. I strongly recommend the use of veterinary flea products over store bought products. Veterinary products are proven to be safe for your pet and don’t contain any harmful pesticides. Fleas are also known as an intermediate host to tapeworms, which means they are needed in the tapeworm’s lifecycle for them to reside in a host and become adults. So not only are you preventing fleas, you are also helping in preventing tapeworms!

**CAUTION** Some store bought medication can be very dangerous for your pets! For example: flea drops for dogs. If placed on a cat or even if a cat were to rub on the dog or lick the treatment off the dog, can cause severe seizures an even cause death!

What are the signs of a flea infestation?

The basic symptoms that an owner will notice with their animal is discomfort and irritation of the skin; they will be itching more frequently than normal. Adult fleas survive on sucking the pet’s blood and will defecate large quantities of partially digested blood, commonly called flea dirt. They look like little pepper specks. A good test to identify if you indeed have flea dirt or just regular dirt/dandruff is to sprinkle some on a white piece of paper or paper towel. Gently moisten the paper with a little bit of water and observe if there is any color change; If the black speck turns a red-ish color, you’ve found some flea dirt. You may even see the adults jumping on your pet, they are more easily noticeable in lighter colored fur.

What do I do if my pet seems like they have fleas?

If you think your pet has fleas, I highly recommend calling your veterinarian. Veterinary flea products do need a veterinarian’s prescription to be purchased. It is important for us to examine your pet and make sure it’s healthy before administering any products. The Riverview Animal Hospital offers complimentary exams to check your pet for fleas and then give a yearly prescription so that you can purchase flea products for your pet.

How do I kill fleas in my household?

Did you know adult fleas (the ones on your pet) only account for less than 5% of the infestation? The other 95% consists of eggs, larvae and pupae that are spread out in your home (couch, carpet, rugs, pet bed, … ).

In very severe home infestations, you may need to use sprays or powders containing adulticides. Most veterinary products though now claim that by treating your pet regularly every month with oral medication or topical treatments, the fleas in the home will have no way of surviving and will die off on their own so that the need of pesticides and adulticides in the house are not necessary. Frequent, thorough house cleaning and vaccuming should do the trick.

How long does flea treatment usually take to work?

Most veterinary products will start to take effect within the first 24-48hrs. Once administered, the product will be active for about 30 days, where you will need to then administer another dose to keep up with flea control.

How quickly do I need to see the vet if I think my pet has fleas?

The sooner your notice the flea problem and take action, the easier it will be to get rid of the dreaded fleas. One single adult female can lay up to 40-50 eggs per day, they have a very rapid reproduction rate. In very severe flea infestation cases, fleas can actually suck so much blood out of a pet that it can cause the pet to become very sick and anemic.

Can fleas be passed on to my children, myself or other pets?

As mentioned earlier, fleas can definitly be passed on to other pets. This is why it is so important to use flea prevention on all your pets. Even an indoor cat can get fleas if he’s around a dog that goes out to pee, out for walks, etc. As for humans, the fleas generally don’t like the taste of our blood and may occasionally bite, but won’t stick around very long. They will try to find a dog or cat to feed on instead. There are though, some diseases and illnesses that can be transmitted to humans by fleas. Although very rare, the most common ones noted are the plague and murine typhus.

Remember: Prevention is key! Monthly treatment is all thats standing between you and an unpleasant flea infestation.

 

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Last updated: June 25, 2021

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