The Truth About Fleas and Your Pets

German shepherd puppy laying in grass chews on its paw.

Summer can be a frustrating time for pet owners as once again their pets and home are hit by a pesky flea invasion. One minute your cat or dog is scratching itself, the next your house has the tiny pests hopping all over the place. Once fleas have infested your home, trying to get rid of them can be an unpleasant, tricky process. Additionally, if left without treatment, fleas can become a major health concern for your pets. Thanks to advancements in recent years, there are flea products on the market that make the treatment of flea infestation easier and more effective that ever. There are a myriad of products available for treating your pets, but it's hard to know what exactly is right for your situation. The best solution is to prevent infestation in the first place, or to at least catch and treat the problem in its early stages before it grows into a full-blown crisis.

Progression of an Infestation

The flea most commonly found on cats and dogs is known as the "cat flea." Once an adult flea makes its permanent home on your pet, a flea infestation can develop really fast. Within only two days of finding a host and feeding on its blood, the female flea will begin to produce eggs at a rate of 50 per day. Many of the eggs will fall off your pet into its surrounding home environment, along with flea dirt, which provides food for the hatching larvae. Larvae move away from light, penetrating deep into carpets and furnishing. This is why flea infestations can be so difficult to get rid of. Even after bombing the house the eggs may still be present, leaving your home at risk of reinfestation. The pre-emerged adult flea will only develop in its cocoon as it receives signals of a host, such as heat and vibration, and when it emerges it can attach to its host within seconds. If no host is present the flea can lie in its cocoon for up to two years. One adult flea by itself can leave hundreds of eggs, larvae, and pre-emerged adults in the house. The whole cycle can take place in 15 days with the right conditions, and centrally heated homes with carpeting are the perfect environment for the year-round development and infestation of fleas.

Total, effective flea control means that you must kill all adult fleas on your pet, prevent eggs from hatching on them or in the surrounding environment, and exterminate the fleas in your home. You must continue with the process consistently for several weeks, sometimes repeating steps in order to prevent a reinfestation. Simply put, no thorough flea treatment excludes the treatment of the home. You can get rid of all the fleas on your cat or dog, but leaving the indoor environment untreated will allow eggs to hatch and the fleas will make a come back.

Health Concerns

While cats and dogs can thrive with fleas on them, fleas can cause them great discomfort and pose a great threat to their health. The longer it's left untreated, the higher chance your pet will have of developing further illness or allergy. Particularly for younger animals, fleas are a problem. Adult fleas feeding on their blood can result in anemia, weakening the kitten or puppy's health. The cat flea also carries the larval stage of the tapeworm. Your pets may become infested by tapeworms by accidentally eating fleas while grooming themselves.

Some dogs and cats develop an allergy to the flea's saliva from the bites, known as flea allergy dermatitis. The skin becomes irritated and inflamed, and excess scratching will result, possibly causing your pet to lose some of its hair. Your pet's skin surface will appear red and scabby. In cases of allergy, you should bring your pet to the veterinarian to receive a shot which will ease the pain and itchiness of the flea bites.

Fleas are not only painful for the pets, but they can be a nuisance. Imagine being bitten all day long. Even if an allergic reaction doesn't develop, the itching itself can wear down your pet, make it lethargic, reduce its appetite, and keep it from sleeping and resting properly. Humans are affected by the fleas too. While they cannot live on us, they are annoying, unsavory pests. Once they have made themselves at home in our environment we may find them jumping around our ankles, leaving sharply painful and itchy, small red bites.

Spotting the Problem Early

The earlier you spot a flea invasion and begin to treat it the better. You can fix it more easily and reduce the risk of a full-blown home infestation. If your cat or dog goes outside frequently during the warmer months of the year, this can increase the chances of fleas jumping onto them. As this is something that likely happens each year, keep your eye out carefully for the symptoms. Notice if your pet is scratching itself more than usual. Watch out for insect bites around your own ankles. Look through your pet's hair carefully for fleas and dirt, down to the skin level. It can be harder to spot fleas on a long-haired cat or dog.

In the beginning stages it will be harder to identify that your pet has fleas. It especially can be harder to spot fleas and flea dirt in darker pet hair. Groom them with a fine-toothed comb or flea comb. Place your pet over a sheet of white paper, or a white towel, and comb them carefully. Look to see if there is flea dirt around on the surface below your pet. "Flea dirt" is an obvious sign of a flea infestation. Flea dirt is actually the flea's excrement of your pet's undigested blood. It is small, black, and comma-shaped.

Once you have noticed the presence of fleas you should begin to immediately and thoroughly treat your pet and your indoor surroundings. Infestations can get even worse when it begins to get colder outside, because the fleas can no longer thrive outdoors and your animals are spending more time indoors. Sometimes we do not notice our pets have fleas until the fleas start hopping around in our home as the season turns to autumn. By this point you might have a serious flea infestation on your hands.