What are they?
The Oxford Dictionaries website1 defines a flea as “A small wingless jumping insect that feeds on the blood of mammals and birds. It sometimes transmits diseases thorough its bite, including plague and myxomatosis.”
Fleas are small, usually dark brown insects. Their bodies are flat and wingless. They have three legs but the strength of the two hind legs are sufficient enough to allow them to leap up to 200 times the length of their own bodies. They are parasites that feed on the blood of warm-blooded animals.
Fleas develop in the following sequence: egg > larva > pupa > adult. The span of their lifetime can last up to 2 years if the conditions of the surrounding environment are right. A female flea can produce thousands of eggs during her lifetime.
Here’s how it works:
- The tapeworm larva attaches itself to the flea.
- The pet ingests the flea hosting the tapeworm larvae during the normal course of self grooming.
- The now ingested larvae will grow & develop into a tapeworm.
- As this takes place inside the pet’s stomach, the pet now has tapeworms.
Figure: The cat flea, C. felis. Image courtesy of Parasite and Diseases Image Library, Australia
What dangers do they pose?
Flea bites cause your dog to itch & due to his discomfort, he will need to scratch for relief. Excessive scratching may lead to hair loss, scabs & hot spots. It also can advance to inflamed areas on his skin. If left untreated these inflamed areas may grow larger & possibly become infected. Some animals are extremely allergic to flea bites. In this case the above conditions will accelerate quickly.
Large flea infestations can lead to anemia in some pets. Severe anemia can lead to death. Since the flea has the ability to ingest 15 times their weight in blood2 with high infestation death is a very real possibility. Fleas are not only carriers of an assortment of diseases but are host to the tapeworm larvae.
How to get rid of them?
To get rid of these pests start with the dog because this is where the fleas are feeding & breeding. There are numerous products available to aid in flea removal. Some are more effective than others & some are safer than others. Available over the counter treatments for your pet are flea collars, medicated flea shampoos, flea dips, flea powders, sprays & topical spot-on treatments.
Your vet can also prescribe oral treatments but these medications are to prevent the flea egg from hatching. They are not for flea prevention or termination. In cases of pets with severe flea allergies, antibiotics may need to be prescribed. Speak to your vet to voice any concerns and don’t hesitate to research the internet on your own. Just apply a little common sense to the advice you find.
Getting rid of the fleas on your pet is a start, but you must also eliminate the pests in the surrounding environment. Otherwise the cycle of flea infestation will continue. Bedding should be washed in hot water; carpets should be vacuumed, shampooed & possibly treated. You also might want to set off foggers. All pets in the household should be treated. Remember medications & treatments are usually species specific and should be used as such. There are those for dogs and others designated for cats. The ASPCA recommends “Treat your yard as thoroughly as your house.” They suggest you use insecticide or nematodes focusing on the shady areas fleas prefer. (To learn more on nematodes click here.) It’s also helpful to keep your yard free of leaves and other debris that can provide a favorable habitat for the fleas and their larvae.
Click here to read about our experience with fleas.