We all know what they are: little jumping, blood sucking insects. They feast on our cats and dogs, and every once in a while take a bite from a person too. They cause our pets misery, and gross us out.
How does your pet pick up fleas in the first place? Typically it starts when your pet goes to a place where a flea-infested animal has been. Say a stray cat walks through your back yard. The fleas on that cat are constantly laying eggs (up to 40-50 a day!), which quickly roll off of the cat and onto the ground. The eggs hatch into larvae, which feed on flea dander (a.k.a. flea poop) which has also rolled off the stray cat. The larvae eventually go into the pupa stage, which is very hardy. The adult flea can emerge from the pupa within a few weeks, but they can also remain in that stage for several months, only coming out when the environment is right (good temperature, changes in light that indicate a potential meal is walking by, and vibrations caused by the pitter-patter of your pet’s feet). The flea comes out of its pupa and jumps onto your pet, and gets a nice blood meal. Within 24 hours that flea is laying eggs wherever your pet goes, including in your house! Once that happens you have an infestation, and the adult fleas you see on your pet are only the tip of the iceberg. 95% of the flea population consists of eggs, larvae, and pupae in your carpet, bedding, and floor boards.
Consider these tidbits:
1) Fleas are a problem year round. Why? Because they’re not outside sitting in the cold. They are living on warm-bodied animals, laying eggs wherever the animal goes (like on a nice warm pet bed, or in a comfy barn).
2) Your indoor cat can actually get fleas. Most often it is from the family dog. Even if the dog is on prevention, they can carry live fleas into the house, and they can sometimes lay eggs before they die from the dog’s preventative. If your flea preventative doesn’t have a growth regulator in it to prevent those eggs from developing into larvae, you’ve got a flea infestation. Don’t have a dog? Fleas and flea eggs can be carried into the house on your clothing and shoes.
3) Fleas are not just benign pests. They can cause a variety of disease conditions in pets:
a) Anemia: Low red blood cell count due to a high burden of blood-sucking fleas. This can be life-threatening in very young or very old, debilitated animals that don’t groom well.
b) Flea allergic dermatitis: Pets can be allergic to flea saliva, so when they are bitten they become very itchy, lose hair over their back near the base of the tail, and down their back legs. They frequently get skin infections from licking/chewing at themselves.
c) Tapeworms: An intestinal parasite picked up when a pet ingests an infected flea. The tapeworm intermittently sheds egg packets, which look like wriggling grains of rice in your pet’s stool or stuck to the fur on their rear end.
d) Feline Infectious Anemia: Anemia caused by a blood parasite that is transmitted by fleas.
e) Cat Scratch Fever: A human disease caused by a bacteria (Bartonella). Cats pick up the bacteria from fleas and are not affected by it. But an infected cat can transfer the bacteria to a person by scratching them. The disease is usually minor in people, but immune suppressed people can become very sick from it.
Need more reasons to get a flea preventative? Visit Veterinary Partner for more information.
Check out this flea preventative comparison chart, then talk to your vet about which flea preventative will work for you.