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Blood Sucking Fleas

Author: Andrea Obey | Date: October 13, 2012

‘Tis the season!  Well, at least here in the Midwest.  In warmer climates, it is a year-round ongoing battle.  It is here too, make no mistake, but the late summer and autumn are the time of year we predominately see those blood-sucking critters on our pets and in our home (I’ll get to why later).  Costly, annoying, disease and intestinal parasite carrying ectoparasites.  Okay, everyone itch together!  Ewww!  Did you get that out of your system?  I hope so. Now let’s talk about some facts about fleas.

Fleas are pretty darn impressive, biologically speaking.

  • Fleas have been around for at least 60 million years and some research says 100 million years.
  • They can be found on almost all continents.
  • They can jump 150 times their own length.
  • Adult fleas are only about 5% of the infestation you see.
  • A flea’s live cycle is pretty incredibly consisting of egg, larvae, pupae and adult stages with the pupal stage being the most resilient stage.  Pupae are resistant to destruction by living in a silk-like cocoon and can stay in that stage for a year.
  • Flea saliva contains approximately 15 different allergens.
  • Fleas can hitch a ride and come in on you.
  • The most common flea that dogs and cats contract in North America is the cat flea.
  • The life cycle of a flea from egg to adult death can be anywhere from about a month to an entire year.
  • Females can lay up to 50 eggs a day.  Normally, adult females live up to three weeks.  That’s up to 1000 eggs.
  • Tapeworms are contracted by fleas. In the larval stage it consume tapeworm eggs and there, the eggs hatch and begin to develop in the flea.  Dogs and cats can easily contract tapeworms by grooming themselves when the adult fleas are biting.
  • Not only are tapeworms a concern but also allergy dermatitis, bartonella (Cat Scratch Fever) and in severe cases anemia.
  • Fleas need to have their first blood meal to lay eggs, which happens just two days after a feeding.
  • Immature flea stages remain dormant until the conditions are just right.  Hiding in damp, dark places, they are stimulated to the next stage by temperature, light, humidity and vibration in your temperate home.  Not too hot; not too cold.

So that last point means that when you turn on your heaters, you’ll shortly see emergence of fleas if there are any eggs, larvae or pupae hanging out in your house.  Carpets, baseboards, cracks in floors, under dog and cat beds are great places for the immature fleas to hang out and wait for the heat and the vibration of the heaters to kick on.  And then, BAM!

Say your dog had a female flea feeding on it, just hanging out in its fur, and then laid eggs two days later sometime in July.  Within about two hours the majority of those eggs will fall off your dog and onto your carpet.  They usually will hatch in about two weeks.  Then you have the larval stage that will embed itself deep in your carpet or floorboards in the damper, dark areas.  They will go to the pupae stage in approximately 10 days, at which point those little guys are in their resilient cocoon stage and can happily hang in their little cocoons for up to a year.  So now it’s September and it gets a little cold outside.  The windows are open those first cool nights and then it gets to the point where you have to turn on the heat.  And then the pupae emerge as adults.  Fleas!

If you think your pet has fleas but haven’t really seen adults, you can also do the wet paper towel test.

Have your dog or cat sit on a tiled or hardwood floor, give him a nice rub/scratch on his backside close to the floor.  Take a wet paper towel and lightly drag it across the floor, flip it over and look for any dark dirt.  Then, smear them with you finger and see if they turn red.  Flea feces will turn red since it contains blood.

In order for flea prevention to work properly, you really do need it to apply it all year round because applying each month ensures each cycle of the flea is killed.  If you only treat once for any visible fleas, you still have to worry about the eggs that are inevitably in your home and will become adults.  This is the main reason we see a rise in the fall; because once it gets cold, people think they can stop applying prevention.

Read some more un-Fun Facts about Fleas.

There are a lot of different kinds of prevention out there, including holistic approaches, but I’ve not personally known any natural products to work.  It doesn’t mean they don’t, I’ve just not had any luck.  Maybe you have and if you have, please share!  There are also concerns about reactions to the pesticides and the chemicals used.  Please talk to your vet about any concerns you have and prevention in general.

It can be a bit pricey but extermination once you have them is also very pricey and terribly annoying!  I’ve been there!  It was such a pain in the neck to de-flea my apartment.  And my poor dog was so allergic to the bites that she was incredibly miserable.  Also, please do not fool yourself into thinking that your indoor cats won’t get them!  A few weeks ago at the animal hospital where I work, a gentlemen came in with his two indoor cats that had fleas.  Seriously.

Blood sucking parasites just in time for Halloween.

What could be scarier?


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