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Fleas: How do we get rid of those itchy little buggers?
Fleas! Nobody likes that word, including myself (and the itch those little buggers cause helps to pay my electric bill every month). These disgusting little parasites can drive our pets crazy and produce many a sleepless night (for them and us).
Fleas are insects that are classified as hematophagites, or "blood eaters," and this means they obtain all of the nutrition they need to survive through another animal's blood. Therefore, they will always need a host and two of the most common fleas in North America, Ctenocephalides felis (the cat flea) and Ctenocephalides canis (the dog flea) can really cause some issues.
One of the problems with a flea infestation is the itch. Some pets are so allergic to fleas that they develop a condition called flea allergic dermatitis, or FAD for short. Dogs and cats with FAD will not only itch where the flea bit them, but also break out in hives or a rash all over their bodies.
In addition to an itch fleas can also carry diseases. They have been known to carry Bartonella hensalae (cat scratch fever), Yersinia pestis (bubonic plague) and tapeworms, just to name a few. The first article of this two-part series will focus on the life cycle of the flea and the second will focus on prevention strategies.
Before we delve into the different types of treatment and prevention we need to understand the flea life cycle. Understanding the life cycle allows both you (the pet owner) and we (your veterinarians) to jointly determine which medication best fits your pet's needs.
Like many insects, fleas start out as eggs laid by an adult female flea. A single adult female will lay up to 2,000 eggs during her lifetime. She lays the eggs around the host and the environment can be both inside and outside your house. This means that fleas are just as happy to hitch a ride indoors where it is warm all winter and lay eggs in your pet's bedding, your rugs, couches, beds, etc.
After a short while these eggs will hatch into larvae. Larvae are very small wormy looking creatures that survive by eating things in the environment such as old skin dander and adult flea feces. Nice!
After a good meal the fleas develop into a cocoon like state called the pupal stage. They stay in this little cocoon for anywhere from seven to 28 days and then hatch out as adults. These adults are very hungry and look for a host immediately. They take a good meal, mate, and then the cycle starts all over again.
Now that we understand the life cycle we can target these fleas based on our dog or cat's risk. The next article will focus on treatment and prevention strategies.
Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 14 years.