The flea is the most common parasite to infect both cats and dogs. When fully grown, a flea looks like a pinhead-sized red or brown dot and will usually be concentrated around the neck or base of the tail on your pet. There are at least seven different varieties of fleas in North America.
The flea, characterized by its fantastic ability to jump and multiply, is an “ectoparasite”, which means that it is found on the outside of the body. Along with ticks and ear mites, fleas feed on the skin and blood of their feline and canine hosts. Fleas can also transmit tapeworms to your pets if they are ingested.
Fleas are considered more of a nuisance than an extreme danger to your pet. However, they are not to be taken lightly. Fleas can cause dermatitis, hair loss from scratching and, in large numbers, anemia due to blood loss. The latter is a particular concern for kittens and puppies. A flea infestation can also be maddening for pet owners; hiding in carpets and upholstery and biting humans as well as cats and dogs.
Ticks can pose an even greater threat to pets and humans. In addition to inflicting a nasty bite, ticks transmit diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease. Ticks are more commonly found on dogs, but cats are occasionally affected too. Ticks are large enough to be seen by the naked eye and can be removed by a special tweezers instrument that will not crush the tick’s body. Using a removal tool is essential, as a squeezed tick can release bacteria into your cat or dog’s bloodstream if it is not removed properly.
The flea’s life-cycle must be stopped. Getting rid of fleas from your dog or cat’s body won’t help if there are still flea eggs or cocoons embedded in your carpets and furniture. An adult flea can lay up to 600 eggs during its lifetime. These eggs will hatch in a two-day to two week period. If you find fleas on your pets, you’ll have to embark on a Flea Eradication Action Plan:
Step One: Vacuum all carpeting in the house and dispose of the bag or container contents outside.
Step Two: Spray all carpets, rugs, sleep areas and upholstery with a vet approved flea spray. There are a number of products available at your pet store or supermarket to treat homes and yards. Very large flea infestations might require removing all pets and humans from the home so that you can set a flea “bomb” or “fogger” insecticide device. These contain an IGR (Insect Growth Regulator) ingredient, which stops the flea reproductive cycle. You will have to vacate your house for several hours while these products are working. As part of the total flea eradication effort, you should also wash all pet bedding and spray any outdoor patio or garden areas that your pets frequent.
Step Three: Treat your pets simultaneously, along with the house cleaning effort. There are a number of “old school” products available, including shampoos, powders and flea collars. However the most effective flea and tick medications available today are topical liquids that are applied directly to your pet’s skin.
Getting rid of fleas after they have already taken over your home is not an easy process. Far more efficient is to prevent fleas from ever infesting your pet to begin with. There are many topical (also known as top-spot) products available today that will help you battle fleas. These solutions are applied once per month as a small dose of liquid between your pet’s shoulder blades. All of them will prevent fleas from attacking your dog or cat. Some also prevent ticks, ear mites and heartworm infestations.
You should see your veterinarian for a recommendation on which product would be best for your pet. But be forewarned: these medications are not one size fits all. Your vet will determine the proper dosage, usually according to your pet’s size and weight. You should never give dog flea medication to your cat. Topical flea medications will cost approximately $10-$15 per month, but they are extremely effective. The following are a few of the most popular products:
The life cycle of the flea consists of egg, larvae, pupae (cocoon) and adult. The egg-to-adult process takes anywhere from two days to two weeks.
Fleas can cause an allergic reaction in some pets and humans called allergy dermatitis.
Deer ticks are the type of tick most likely to carry Lyme disease, which is a bacterial infection that can be cured with antibiotics. In its early phase, Lyme disease symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and a circular rash.
Fleas have evolved to prefer certain hosts, but they are not picky eaters. The dog flea (ctenocephalicles canis) is just as happy to chow down on a human ankle if one is available!