Often considered a nuisance, in reality fleas can cause havoc and serious health issues for everyone in the family, especially our beloved pets.
Fleas are tiny (1/16-1/8 inch), flat, dark reddish-brown, wingless, bloodsucking insects. They have existed for more than 100 million years, with approximately 2000 species. They reproduce massively and exponentially during their life cycle stages, resulting in flea infestations in many households. Despite their historical longevity, there is still much to learn in order to eradicate misconceptions about these pesky bugs.
Many people don’t realize that such a miniscule creature can actually kill pets. The most common found on both cats and dogs is the Cat Flea, and it only takes a few to cause a huge dilemma — and they’re not always readily apparent. A flea can jump 7 inches vertically and 13 inches horizontally, but rarely jump from pet to pet. When a flea jumps on its host, be it cat, dog, bird, wild animal (raccoon, skunk), or human, it will start feeding within five minutes and continue for up to two and a half hours. A flea’s saliva can dissolve skin, allowing its mouthpiece underneath to obtain needed nutrients from the host’s blood.
The average lifespan of an adult flea is 2-3 months, depending on the environment and host. Females lay eggs within 36-48 hours of their first blood meal, and ONE adult can lay 40-50 eggs per DAY, potentially generating 2,000 eggs in her lifetime!
The flea lifecycle is similar — just not as pretty — to a butterfly’s, with four stages: egg - larva - pupa - adult.
Eggs fall off the host and hatch best in humidified temperatures of 65-80 degrees. Flea larvae don’t eat blood, but feed on skin, hair, and flea waste. The pupa stage can last up to eight months, during which fleas await a suitable host and ideal environmental conditions (vibrations, heat, carbon dioxide and moisture) before emerging as adults. It’s no wonder, given the number of eggs laid in an ideal environment, that infestations can really flourish.
Numerous young, hungry adult fleas + a host (your pet) = Fleas, Fleas, more Fleas and A FLEA INFESTATION!
If your pet is found as a host, s/he is at risk of a variety of problems. Flea saliva is an allergen that can cause simple to intense itching, painful red bumps, and allergic reactions in both pets and people. Since fleas suck blood, numerous fleas can cause anemia, and occasionally life-threatening blood loss in pets. Fleas are also responsible for transmitting bacterial diseases and canine tapeworms to cats, dogs and humans.
Fleas lurk everywhere — outdoors, indoors, in wood floors, furniture, and carpets. All pets are at risk, even those with indoor-only lifestyles. You may not see these tiny insects, but they are always awaiting a suitable warm-blooded host (humans are least preferred) for meals and reproduction.
The best prevention and treatment? Annual veterinary visits, flea combing to elicit any fleas or flea dirt, and regular flea preventive and/or treatment.
Denise Kinstetter is a lifelong animal lover and advocate! Once a Pediatrician, she combined her passion for animals and medicine to help at a vet clinic and volunteer 4000 hrs to OHS in the past 5 years.