Fleas are the most common parasite that pet owners face. They are external parasites that feed on the blood of their hosts.
Fleas can be found inside and outside the home, and once hatched will find a host as quickly as possible. Fleas are very adaptable in changing conditions, and can survive as adults in the environment for up to 60 days without a blood meal.
There are over 70 species of fleas in Australia, but the most common is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis).
Despite what its name suggests, the cat flea is not host specific. This means it will live and feed on dogs, cats and other animals.
The physical characteristics of fleas include:
Wingless, small oval shaped bodies
Usually brown in colour
Glossy, narrow and plated body surface makes it easy to move through hair and feathers
A small head with tube-like mouth parts for sucking blood, two eyes and two short antennae
Six legs, with two strong hind legs developed for leaping
FACT: The hairs and bristle on the body plates are called spines. These lie flat against the body of the flea. If anything tries to pull the flea off the coat, these spines extend and stick to the hair like Velcro.
The flea life cycle and reproduction stages:
Fleas have four main life stages:
The adult female flea can lay between 30-50 eggs per day. These eggs will drop to the ground within 8 hours and as soon as two days later, flea larvae will hatch and hide in dark places on the ground, in carpets or upholstery. After about a week of feeding on adult flea droppings, crumbs, flakes of skin etc., the larvae spin cocoons to become pupae. It is this ability of fleas to remain hidden, undetected and difficult to eradicate in the pet’s environment for long periods of time that makes monthly, year-round flea control essential. Once fleas have had a chance to reproduce on a pet and build up large numbers of eggs, larvae and pupae in an environment, it can take months to get rid of an infestation. The pupae can remain in the cocoon stage for very long periods of time. The cycle continues when the pupae develop into adult fleas and emerge from their cocoons when they sense that a dog or cat is near. The cycle – which can take as little as 12 days or as long as 180 days – can then begin again.
FACT: In just 30 days, 25 adult female fleas can multiply to 250,000 fleas
When you are seeing fleas on your pet, they account for only 5% of the infestation. For each flea, there will be many more eggs, larvae and pupae hidden in the pets’ environment, as illustrated by this pyramid.
Flea Pyramid. Image courtesy of Bayer Australia.
FACT: The fleas seen on your pet today came from the eggs laid three to eight weeks ago
The impact of fleas on pets
The adult flea can bite and feed on pets for over 130 days, which can potentially lead to anaemia (loss of red blood cells), especially in young puppies.
Flea bites are painful and cause extreme discomfort to many pets
Flea bites can cause itchy red bumps, and potentially Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD) - a hypersensitive state induced by the saliva of the flea, causing intense itching and skin inflammation. Hair loss, and darker pigmentation of the skin over the rump, base of tail and back of the hind legs are characteristic of FAD.
Intense itching and nibbling causes damage to the skin, which could lead to secondary skin infections.
Fleas can carry tapeworm larvae which can be transmitted to your pet when it swallows a flea when nibbling on its skin. Regular flea control will also help prevent tapeworm infection in pets.
Flea Allergy Dermatitis. Images courtesy of Bayer Australia.
Flea prevention and treatment
Treat pets every 30 days, all year round with the appropriate dose of a trusted flea product, such as NEXGARD (a monthly, beef-flavoured chewable that also prevents ticks which is handy in our area) or ADVANTAGE, or FRONTLINE PLUS.
Treat all pets in the household monthly, all year-round
Regularly check pets for fleas with a flea comb
Treat for tapeworm if you see fleas as they can transmit this parasite to the pet when swallowed
Clean the pet’s sleeping areas regularly. Wash pet bedding, blankets etc. in water greater than 60° C for 10 minutes or discard if unwashable.
Keep a clean outdoor area
Vacuum carpets regularly. Daily vacuuming is the most effective way to reduce immature flea populations in the house. Vacuuming removes 40-80% of flea eggs and up to 90% of pre-emerged fleas. Focus on areas near and under beds, furniture and skirting boards. In severe infestations, getting your carpets steam cleaned is even more efficient in removing soil, debris and eggs.
Place rugs, cushions and doormats in direct sunlight every few days. Sun exposure is highly effective at killing eggs and larvae.
If your pet shows any signs of Flea Allergy dermatitis, call us for a consultation.
Treat home infestations. Flea bomb the interior of the house, being careful about fish tanks or contact a professional pest controller.