There are nearly 2,000 species and subspecies of fleas, but the one commonly found on dogs and cats is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis). You have probably seen these little dark brown or black critters that are 1 to 3 millimeters long.
A flea is tiny, but three pairs of legs allow him to jump up to two feet in a single bound. Plus, he can jump 10,000 times in a row which is the length of three football fields! It is no problem for a flea to leap onto your dog as he passes tall grass, a bush, or another dog that is harboring the little pest.
The life cycle of a flea can be as short as 14 days or as long as 21 months. Eggs hatch and grow to adulthood quickly if environmental conditions are right. If circumstances are not suitable, eggs can stay on your pet or fall onto carpeting, bedding, furniture, or outdoors where they hatch into larvae. These tiny worm-like creatures form a cocoon and bide their time for weeks or months until environmental conditions are favorable.
Once hatched, a female can begin laying eggs within two days of her first blood meal. She can produce up to 2,000 eggs that will mature into more breeding adults. One female flea on your dog or cat can multiply to 100,000 fleas in 30 days!
Once settled on a dog, fleas feed once or twice every day or two. They tend to just hang out on your friend between meals. You will probably see a flea hopping here and there on your dog if some have chosen your pet as a host. There are other signs that fleas have decided to call your pet home.
A pet that repeatedly scratches and chews at himself is sending a signal to check for fleas. You can confirm the presence of fleas on your dog by standing him on white paper and brushing his coat opposite to the way it grows.
Tiny black specks that fall on the paper are probably flea dirt or flea feces. Place a wet paper towel on the specks. Flea feces contain some of the blood ingested by the little beasties, and the dirt will turn red. No color change indicates plain dirt. Your friend my need a bath.
When a flea bites, it injects a tiny bit of saliva that acts as an irritant to your pet. Saliva from just one or two bites can trigger a severe allergic reaction in some dogs that requires immediate veterinary attention. Many dogs and cats with itching and scratching and or flea allergy dermatitis have greatly benefited from the addition of NuVet Plus® to their diet.
Fleas on your pet means fleas in your home. As a first line of defense, vacuum regularly, paying special attention to rugs, corners, under furniture, and under cushions on furniture. Vacuuming picks fleas up but does not kill them. They can live on in the vacuum bag, so place it in a sealed plastic bag before tossing it. Launder pet bedding at least once each week. You have just begun the battle.
Americans spend about $9 billion a year on products to control fleas that infest their pets, homes, and yards. If your pet has fleas, you will probably join this crew. Your veterinarian is your best advisor and can prescribe a product best suited for your pet. Some products tackle adult fleas only while some kill adults and/or their eggs.
Products that prevent eggs from hatching break the life cycle of the flea. These are not a good choice for animals allergic to flea saliva since the adult fleas are not effected and are still able to bite the pet.
You will want to treat your home and yard. In severe cases, infestation of fleas may necessitate the use of insecticide sprays or foggers that require temporary evacuation of the house. Treating the yard may be done with insecticide sprays or the use of nematodes which are nontoxic microscopic worms that feed on flea larvae.
Hopefully, regular application of veterinary prescribed flea prevention products will safeguard you from facing a flea infestation on your pet and in your home. Take immediate action if you find fleas on your pet. Contact your vet and follow his advice. It's you against the fleas. Good luck and happy flea control!
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With a Ph.D. in Biological sciences from the University of Texas in Austin and a masters in Zoology from Southern Illinois University, Dr. Sue is devoted to the care and massaging of pets. Read her articles here.