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Fleas. They’re the tiny little insects that can be the ruin of us all. Ok, that may be a little dramatic, but one flea can quickly turn into hundreds of fleas overnight. Fleas are a serious issue and need to be addressed in a timely manner to avoid future complications. Even more unsettling, if your house becomes infested with fleas the cost for getting them out can be costly, that’s why we recommend stopping fleas before they become an issue. Year-round flea prevention is essential for dogs and cats alike.
How Fleas Affect Your Dog
Flea allergy dermatitis is a common ailment associated with flea bites. Though each bite from a flea can cause minor skin irritation, some dogs can develop an allergy to the saliva of the flea. Just one flea bite can result in significant irritation, itchiness, and aggravation, making for one very unhappy cat or dog. Flea bites can usually be seen most predominantly at the base of the tail, but small red scabs from the flea bites will most likely be present all over your pet’s body.
Tapeworms are another common problems associated with fleas. Although they are not transmitted by bites, fleas cause tapeworm infestations when the dog grooms and ingests a flea carrying the tapeworm larva. We know; ew. After ingestion, the tapeworm larva continues to develop in the dog’s gastrointestinal tract. When developed, the head of the tapeworm will attach to the intestinal wall, and small egg-filled segments periodically break off and are passed out the rectum.
Lastly, flea bite anemia can occur in severe flea infestations or in tiny puppies. When a flea bites, it feeds on blood and when many fleas are feeding at once significant blood loss can occur. After a while, if a severe flea problem is left unchecked, those same fleas can be the cause of significant blood loss for your cat or dog. At that point, blood transfusions, iron supplementation, and hospitalization can be necessary. Sadly, if the infestation becomes too severe, some pets may not survive the resulting anemia.
Flea Dirt Explained
You may have heard the term “flea dirt” during your research into fleas. The term can actually be a little confusing. Flea dirt is not dirt at all; it’s actually flea feces. This waste usually looks like little black pepper flakes on cats and dogs. It’s typically easy to spot flea dirt on lighter colored animals, but it can be found easier on darker colored animals along their back or by the space where their tail meets their back. You can also usually spot flea dirt on your pet’s bedding.
How can you find flea dirt on your dog or cat? By separating your pet’s hair and looking at the skin, you should be able to see this flea identifier. There are also special flea combs that will pull out any small objects such as fleas or flea dirt from your pet’s coat. If you’re not sure if you’re looking at real dirt or flea dirt, place a small amount of the substance on a damp paper towel. Flea dirt will make a reddish or down spot as opposed to a deep mud brown color like real dirt.
The Life Cycle of a Flea
The flea’s life cycle has four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.
- Eggs: The adult flea uses your dog as a place to take its blood meals and breed. Fleas either lay eggs directly on the dog where they may drop off or deposit eggs into the immediate surroundings (your home or backyard). Because the female may lay several hundred eggs during the course of its life, the number of fleas present intensifies the problem. The eggs hatch into larvae that live in carpeting, cracks or corners of the dog’s living area.
- Larvae: The larvae survive by ingesting dried blood, animal dander, and other organic matter.
- Pupa: To complete the life cycle, larvae develop into pupa that hatch into adults. The immediate source of adult fleas within the house is the pupa, not the dog.
- Adult: The adult flea emerges from the pupa, then hops onto the host.
- This development occurs more quickly in a warm, humid environment. Pupa can lie dormant for months, but under temperate conditions, fleas complete their life cycle in about three weeks. The inside of your home may provide a warm environment to allow fleas to thrive year round.
Preventing and Treating Fleas
As one might expect, flea control can be very time consuming, expensive, and difficult. The good news is that currently, with the newer flea products on the market, flea control is much safer, more effective, and environmentally friendly. Current flea control efforts center on oral and topical treatments. These products not only treat existing flea problems, they are also very useful for prevention. In fact, prevention is the most effective and easiest method of flea control.
IGRs also known as insect growth regulators, work to control fleas by interrupting the development of fleas by killing flea larvae and eggs. These products do not kill adult fleas, but they dramatically decrease the flea population by arresting their development. The most common types of IGRs include lufenuron (Program®), Methoprene, and Pyriproxyfen (Nylar®).
Adulticides are a type of flea medications that kill fleas. These include both spot-on and oral products. Spot-on products are usually applied on your pet’s skin between the shoulders. Popular spot-on adulticides include fipronil (Frontline®), imidacloprid (Advantage®), and selamectin (Revolution®). A popular oral adulticide is nitenpyram (Capstar®).
There are a lot of choices when it comes to finding the right flea prevention and treatment for your pet. Did you know that some pet insurance plans can cover the cost of your pet’s flea prevention or treatment? This could help you save big in the future. The best course of action when deciding on medications is to talk to your vet to find the right flea treatment for you and your pet. You should always check with your vet before switching to, or trying a new flea treatment or prevention.