Fleas… I hate them, as I hate all parasites but atlas fleas seem to be one of the hardest to get rid of and one of the easiest to prevent. As much as I hate them, we need to discuss the little bloodsucking creatures. I will be discussing their life cycle, signs of fleas, treatments, and preventatives.
Fleas have four life cycles: eggs, larvae, pupae and adults. Fleas reproduce rapidly and in very short amounts of time. Adults will mate within 24 hours after emerging from their pupae state. One adult female lays up to 50 eggs a day. Over the course of her lifetime, that equals up to 2,000 eggs. Eggs will hatch within 2 weeks. They can stay in larvae and pupae stage for up to several months waiting until conditions are just right for the adults to emerge. Think of their life cycles like an upside down pyramid. The adult section of their life cycle is at the top. Pupae is the next one down, then the larvae and at the very bottom is the egg stage.
Just because you don’t see any adult fleas doesn’t mean they are not there. Especially if you’re looking on your cat – since they are fastidious groomers – they probably lick away any evidence of fleas before you see them. Some signs of fleas include: pepper-like specks in your pet’s coat or in areas where they lay is flea feces; flea eggs look like light-colored specks on your pet’s coat or in areas where they lay; your pet is scratching and/or biting at their legs or at their rump; patches of hair loss near their tail or around their neck; tiny dark brown insects scurrying around on your pet.
Adult fleas feed every 30 minutes which is why your pet is so miserable when they have fleas. A large number of pets (over 80%) have a condition called flea allergy dermatitis (F.A.D.). Flea allergy dermatitis is not just an allergy to the fleas but to the flea’s saliva. When a pet has F.A.D., if they are not kept on a flea preventative – they will require antibiotics and possibly a corticosteroid. Also, because fleas feed so often, very small or young pets can develop anemia. If all of those things weren’t bad enough, fleas will also spread tape worms that both your pet and human family can get.
Prevention: Obviously, if your pet is allowed outside they should be on a flea prevention. If your dog goes to doggy daycare, dog parks, boarding facilities and/or into the woods – flea preventative is a must! But what if your pet is an indoor only pet? Guess what? Your pet still needs to be on a preventative. There is no such thing as a zero risk. Your yard is constantly being visited by wildlife and probably other neighborhood pets. (I can’t be the only person who has a neighbor who feeds all the feral cats.) These animals will spread fleas and their eggs in your yard. Any person who is in your yard can carry the fleas and eggs into your home and infest your indoor-only pet. Fleas don’t even have to be in your yard to come into your home. If someone was in an area where there is a flea infestation and then they come into your home, your pet will be exposed to fleas. Because fleas can live year-round indoors and mild weather can extend the flea season, keeping your pet on a preventative year-round is highly recommended. Remember, they will breed and create an infestation that is very hard to eradicate. If you’re concerned about the cost of yearly flea prevention, think of it like this: Do you change the oil in your car to keep it running smoothly? Providing preventative health measures for your pet helps cut down on expensive “clean ups”. Once fleas are in your home and on your pet, the cost quickly adds up:
- All animals in your home will need to be treated for at least 3 months in a row – this includes dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits and guinea pigs. Never apply dog flea treatments to any animal other than dogs – some preventatives have a chemical that can be extremely harmful to other pets like cats. (**Make sure you talk to a veterinarian before applying any flea products to ferrets, rabbits or guinea pigs.)
- Professional flea foggers need to be used in each room. No pets or humans can be in the home for several hours during or after the foggers are used – so you will need to find a safe place to keep your family and pets until it is safe to go back inside the home.
- All areas of the home need the properly cleaned. All pet beds and human bedding (blanket, sheets, etc) will need to be washed. Vacuuming several times a week to clean up flea eggs. (If you have a vacuum that requires bags – after every single vacuum use, the bag will need to be taped up and thrown away.)
Some areas of your home that fleas love to be when they are not on your pet includes: under furniture, buried deep in carpets, in pet beds, around stairs (indoors and outdoors), shady areas of your porch and deck. To decrease the areas in which fleas love to hide outdoors:
- Treat your yard for fleas.
- Routinely cut your grass.
- Eliminate weeds and brush piles.
Mountain View Veterinary Services recommend certain flea/tick preventatives for your dog and cat because we have done research on the products and the manufactures we buy the products from stand behind their products. If the product doesn’t work like they say it will, most will refund your money and in some situations, will pay to have a professional company come in and take care of the flea problem in your home. Also, a majority of the products we recommend combines other agents to control other parasites as well. Over-the-counter flea preventatives are not as potent due to improper amounts of medication or incorrect types of medication to effectively treat fleas. If administered incorrectly, it can be toxic to your pet. Note about “natural” products that are suppose to control flea infestations: prescription flea control products have been extensively tested and approved by the FDA; there are no regulations or safety studies for these “natural” products. Of the products that we recommend, there are advantages and disadvantages of each product. By having a discussion with one of our staff members, we can find the best product that will work for you and your pet. Be ready to answer questions like:
- Are you willing to or going to remember to apply a flea preventative each month or would putting on one product that last 8 months be better for your lifestyle?
- Are there small children in the home? Topical products (ones that are applied in-between the shoulder blades to the skin) may not be a good idea for children who might touch the product then place their hands in their mouth or eyes.
- Does your dog play/swim in the water a lot? Again, topical products might not be the best due to the product has to be on for 48 hours before they can get into the water.
- Is your pet groomed by other pets in the house? I have to use an oral (goes into the mouth) flea preventative on my dog because my cats love to groom her. (Even more so than they groom themselves!)
- If you have cats that have access to the outside; do you want a product that, besides from controlling fleas, kills ticks or kills ear mites and 2 species of intestinal parasites?
Remember this final note: It is much easier to prevent fleas then dealing with their consequences!