Fleas!

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Even though we see patients with fleas year-round, as spring approaches the fleas become even more prevalent. So, we wanted to share some information to help you understand more about fleas and how to keep them off your pets and out of your house.

Two species of fleas are seen in pets, the cat flea (Scientific name: animalgeneral.com-dog_cat_scratching_ear2Ctenocephalides felis) and the dog flea (Ctenocephalides canis). Strangely enough, the cat flea is actually the most common species of flea we see on pet dogs. Lucky for us, these two species are very similar and respond to the same flea preventive medications.

Fleas are insects, and just like other insects such as butterflies, fleas go through several life stages before they complete their metamorphosis into an adult flea. One female flea can lay up to 50 eggs a day, which then fall off of the pet and end up in your carpet, furniture, bedding, or any other crevice that can provide protection. When the eggs hatch, a larva emerges, which is like the caterpillar stage of the butterfly. Because the larva likes to find a dark hiding place, we usually don’t see this stage of the flea. Like a caterpillar, the larva creates a cocoon for the next life stage, which is called a pupa. While in its cocoon, the pupa can remain protected and dormant for several weeks. The pupae are provoked to transition to adult fleas and emerge from their cocoons when a pet walks by that they can jump onto.

Now that we’ve covered some basic flea biology, we can use that background to answer some common misconceptions we hear:

“My pet doesn’t go outside, so he can’t have fleas.”
If your pet goes outside to use the bathroom, that is enough time to pick up fleas that wildlife may have left in your yard. Also, other pets and people can track in fleas or flea eggs that have the potential to infest your house and pets.

“My dog brought home fleas from the boarding kennel.”
Sometimes we will get reports from owners that when they brought their pet home from boarding, they started seeing fleas on their pet. Although it is always possible for pets to bring home fleas, usually this situation means that dormant pupae were hiding out in the house and were awakened when the pet came home. If your pets became overdue for their monthly flea preventive while they were boarding, make sure they receive it as soon as you get home.

“It’s winter. My pet doesn’t need flea preventative now.”
Since pupae can lie dormant for an extended period of time, your pet can still be exposed to fleas during colder months if there are pupae hiding in your house.

“We already treated my pets for fleas last month. We still have fleas, so it didn’t work.”
The eggs, larvae, and pupae that can hide out in your house can persist for months. It can take several consecutive months of treating ALL the animals in the house in order to eliminate fleas from your house. The current recommendation is to treat all the pets in an infested house for at least 3 consecutive months. Also some flea medications can cause fleas to become hyper-excited before they die, so it seems like there are suddenly more fleas because they are now hyper-active and not hiding.

So, what is the best way to prevent fleas from infesting your pets and your house? The best way to control fleas is to treat every pet every month with flea preventives from a veterinarian. We have multiple choices available including topical liquids you place on your pets back and oral flavored medications. Not every medication is perfect for every pet. If you have questions, please ask us and we will decide together what is best for you, your pet, and your pocketbook.

Keep a lookout for our next blog about another creepy-crawly parasite – Ticks!

By: Dr. Miller
Lakewood Animal Hospital