Attributes of Fleas
Fleas are the most relevant and frequent external parasites on our domestic pets — dogs and cats. These insects are bitters, very small (0.4 – 0.8 in long), without wings, and feed on the blood of mammals. They have a reddish brown color, and their body is laterally compressed.
There are over 2000 different species of fleas around the world, though the ones that most affect pets in our area are cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis), and dog fleas (Ctenocephalides canis).
Life Cycle and Habitat of Fleas
It is important to know that fleas go through 4 different basic stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. If our animal has fleas, most probably we have already eggs, larvae, and pupae spread out around the house, in the places our pet visits most often. If we want to eliminate fleas completely, we need to attack the adults living on the pet as well as the rest of forms hidden in our environment. Otherwise, adult fleas will form, and re-infect the animal again, so the infestation will not be over.
- Adult females that parasitize animals lay about 25 eggs after feeding for the first time on their blood. Most of these eggs pile up where our pet sleeps or spends most time.
- Larvae tend to settle in deep and dark places — between the fibres of rugs and carpets, inside mattresses and armchairs, in cracks of the flooring … — concentrating on the places most frequented by our pet.
- Mature larvae form pupae inside a silk cocoon. Pupae are very resistant to extreme conditions, and effective insecticides are hard to find. They can stay alive even for months, making the control of the population quite difficult.
Given the particularities of fleas, the most frequent cause of reinfestation of an animal is the animal’s environment itself, rather than contact with other affected animals. We can say that if our pet has fleas, it is very likely that a larger or smaller population of them has settled at home.
Problems Caused by Fleas
Fleas are a real and continuous threat to our pets. The consequences of having fleas range from the typical itch caused by the bite of a flea — due to the irritating substances in its saliva — to more important ailments such as allergy to flea bites, or anemia.
However, fleas do not only cause ailments directly. Also, they can be the means for other parasites, or bacteria, to infest our pets. An example of this would be the transmission of the common dog tapeworm (Dipylidium caninum) — which affects dogs, cats, and even humans.
Prevention and Treatment Against Fleas
There are several prevention methods, which are not mutually exclusive.
Non Chemical Methods of Prevention and Control
Some examples of non chemical methods to control flea populations are:
- Cleaning and disinfecting our pets’ beds, and their favorite places at home. It is recommended to vacuum often, as well as wash rugs, carpets, and beddings with detergent, among other things
- Preventing the contact of our pets with others that might be infected, specially during the warmer seasons. Fleas do not only affect dogs and cats; other animals also can transmit them: mice, rats, rabbits, foxes, birds, horses, hens, etc.
- Cleaning the garden, and other outdoors areas where there might be fleas due to the presence of other animals, regularly
- Brushing our pet often
Elimination of Fleas With Chemicals
At present there is a wide variety of products on the market designed for the control of plagues. Many of these products are applied directly on the animal, while others are used for the environment. Some examples are:
- Spot-on, or pipettes
- Pet sprays
- Oral treatments
- Environmental aerosols
Many of these substances can be used to prevent as well as treat animals with fleas.
Depending on the product we intend to use, we have to apply it once every month, every 3 months, every 6 months. It is usually advisable to use more than one method at the same time — depending on the animal, where they live, whether they live with other animals …
Be aware that products for dogs cannot be used on cats, and those for cats should not be used on dogs.
Prevention Is Necessary All Year
We tend to think that when winter comes, the problem with fleas vanishes. While it is true that there are nearly no adult fleas during the coldest months, we should not forget pupae, which can survive the cold, and begin again the cycle.
In short, fleas are insects that affect our pets very often, and are increasingly present during the whole year. In order to preserve our pets’ quality of life it is essential not to abandon preventive treatments at any time.
We recommend seeking the advice of a trusted veterinarian to plan a good control strategy, according to the lifestyle of the pet.