It may be fleeting, but we have had a few mornings where I threw on my sweatshirt and pulled out my fleece slippers. Wood is getting stacked, my horses are getting fuzzy and I joyfully do.
things outside without pouring sweat. Summer is still here and will rear its ugly head to make me sweaty and sad, but the cool mornings mean that soon we will see a boom in....fleas.
While fleas aren’t as gross as ticks (to me), they replicate much more quickly and love to be inside as it gets cooler. Fleas can jump over a foot which would equal a human jumping almost 300 feet. Just picture me jumping about 30 cars parked end to end. Spoiler alert, I cannot do that and I’m not here to judge your athletic prowess, but I’m pretty sure you can’t either. That means that you don’t even have to touch your pet for a flea to get onto you. If your animals aren’t allowed on furniture, nothing is stopping the flea from hopping onto your couch or bed.
Despite flea circuses, I don’t think they’re easy to train. Each flea lays an average of 20 eggs in a batch, though they can lay many of these batches. They typically will feed on a pet (or human), then lay eggs right on them. Little parasite eggs on you. The eggs then roll onto floors, bedding, or couches where the pet rests. The eggs then hatch into larvae, which love to hide out in cracks in floors and other dark spaces. From here, they hatch into pupae which are the hardiest of all stages.
Pupae are encased in a type of cocoon that they build from surrounding materials. This means that they look just like whatever is around them. In this stage, they are almost impossible to eliminate. No sprays or pesticides will get through the cocoon. They can hang out like this for a long time before they hatch (up to 6 months). This can fool you into thinking your house is flea-free before a big hatch that sends you back into a flea nightmare. When the pupae are ready and detect something with blood (through vibrations and CO2 emissions) they then hatch.
Pupae are picked up by vacuuming in most cases, though just like other small things they can often escape detection. Have you moved your couch to vacuum under it lately? I vacuum a lot and I can assure you that even then it isn’t pretty. It is important that when dealing with a flea problem you empty the vacuum after every cleaning; otherwise, the pupae will simply live and hatch in the vacuum.
Fleas are fairly small (a large sesame seed), so many owners don’t notice them. Cats are good at cleaning fleas off themselves (and eating them.) This means they may have bitten your cat and laid eggs, then been eaten and vanished from sight. Dogs aren’t so good at it, and you can often find fleas on them. The most common sign of fleas is what we refer to as “flea dirt”. Flea dirt is actually feces (poop) made by the flea and left on your pet. While it often looks like regular dirt, when exposed to water it will turn orange/red. This is because flea feces is digested blood, so when you melt it the color changes from dark to the color of dried blood.
We use special combs to screen all pets when they come into the clinic, but even when we see adult fleas on an exam most owners weren’t aware of their presence. Their size and burrowing can make them difficult to see.
I highly recommend getting flea prevention now before things get really bad. How much you care depends on the pet and your tolerance for insects. While pets can get anemia, tapeworms, and a few blood-borne diseases from fleas (especially cats) the main issue stems from fleas in the house. Additionally, some pets are allergic to flea saliva. These pets have a flea allergy. This means that even one bite from a passing flea can set off a cycle of itching and skin infection that can take months to resolve.
Houses can become infested pretty quickly. The average adult female flea can lay about 2,000 eggs in a lifetime. Multiply this number by 10 (the minimum most pets have) and you have 20,000 fleas waiting to hatch. Of course, not all of them will, but even a fraction of this number is a lot. Fleas don’t care what warm-blooded animal they bite, and many people in a house with a flea problem get bites as well. Many times pets sleep with children or in the rooms of babies, which means that each flea on your pet or in your house has the potential to be biting your child. In a temperature-controlled space (such as a house) they will live and thrive year-round.
If you haven’t been using flea prevention, now is the time to start. Adult fleas can live for about three months. We always say that three uninterrupted months of flea control is the absolute minimum to treat an infestation. Many heartworm pills (and some preventatives) have an ingredient that will make offspring non-viable. This means that when the female flea bites a pet and is able to lay eggs before she dies, the eggs won’t be able to develop. This is an especially important aspect if you already have fleas. There are a couple of 3-month flea products, including one that goes on cat’s backs which makes it easy. Have a discussion with your veterinarian on what product is best for your situation and pet.
The ideal is 12 months of flea control once fleas have been found on your pet. This ensures that adults and any yet to emerge adults will be exposed to an insecticide. In the initial stages, it is important to wash all bedding in hot water and vacuum all surfaces (including furniture backs and bottoms) daily while emptying the bag after each use or washing the canister. This must happen while your pet is on a medication that will kill any adult fleas that bite. All pets must be treated, even if you haven’t seen fleas on them. If your dog becomes a less desirable host, fleas will move to your cat next.
Many people have concerns that the products which kill fleas are poison. This is an unavoidable truth. Fleas have been around Earth for a very long time and have adapted accordingly. It is possible to kill fleas in other ways, but difficult. For example, while bathing a pet will help rid them of fleas to actually kill a flea it must be submerged in water for 24 hours. Fleas can revive after 20 hours in water and be back to their old self in about 5 hours.
It is always important to use flea control in a proper manner, as pets can become sick when exposed to large doses. For instance, using a collar, topical, chewable, and fogging your house will likely lead to a very sick animal. More isn’t better, and products made for dogs may be toxic for cats. Overdose is a possible thing, which is why the direction of your veterinarian is usually best.