Flea and Tick Control Vet
With Spring just around the corner, warmer days are not too far away. With those warmer days comes walks to the park with your dog, more time playing in the backyard, and of course, fleas. Fleas are more than a nuisance, they are responsible for the most common form of skin disease in pets and are the most common ectoparasite of dogs and cats. In the following article, I will discuss the life cycle of the flea, how to prevent and treat flea infestations, and diseases spread by fleas.
Fleas go through 4 stages of development; egg, larvae, pupa, and adult fleas. Flea eggs can persist in the environment for months, waiting for vibrations to trigger them to hatch and continue their life cycle. In an infected house, flea eggs can lay dormant in the cracks of our hardwood floors, carpets, couches, and bedding. Adult fleas will jump onto a host to take a blood meal which is required for maturation. Adult fleas will spend their entire lives on your dog or cat. The immature forms of fleas are persistent in the environment and represent the “source” of your dog or cats flea infestation.
The most common form of allergies in dogs and cats is from flea bites. Specifically, the saliva of the fleas is the source of the allergic reaction. Dogs and cats tend to present with hair loss and scabs on their backside, near their tails. Redness, swelling, and pain can also be present. Often times, “flea dirt” (tiny black specs which looks like pepper) can be found in the fur, which is the actual elimination from the flea. The result of these flea bites is pruritus or itching. Some allergic pets are extremely itchy after being bitten by a flea.
Fleas are more than a nuisance, fleas are carriers of disease. Since fleas take a blood meal to feed, cats and smaller dogs may become anemic (low red blood cell count) from flea bites and resulting blood loss. This may result in lethargy, pale mucous membranes, and pale skin. In particular, kittens are very sensitive to becoming anemic from flea bites, particularly when a large amount of fleas are present.
Fleas can also cause a syndrome in cats, referred to as Eosinophilic Granuloma Disease. This complex causes plaques, granulomas, and oral ulcers, particularly on their lips. It is thought that in these cases, the reaction patterns seen represents an allergic reaction, particularly to flea saliva. Fleas may also carry a bacteria called Haemobartonella or Hemotrophic Mycoplasmosis. Infection with this bacteria can cause anemia, depression, weight loss, and other clinical signs. Fleas also carry tapeworms which can be acquired when your pet grooms themselves, ingesting a flea. Tapeworm segments may be noted in the feces of your pet and tend to look like “white rice”.
Treatment for flea infections and infestations centers around three principles: eliminating the parasites from your pets, eliminating the parasites from the environment, and identifying the source of the infection. To rid your pet of fleas, your Veterinarian can dispense an oral product which can kill all fleas within about an hour. The medication only lasts for 24 hours, so monthly preventatives should also be used to help kill any additional fleas that may hatch and jump back up on your pet. It is important that all pets in the house are treated. Finally, thoroughly cleaning your house including washing your sheets, vacuuming, and mopping can help eliminate many of the flea eggs in your house.
It is extremely important to note that many flea/tick preventatives for dogs are UNSAFE for cats and can only be used on dogs.
Fleas have been around for over 60 million years, so I don’t think they are going anywhere anytime soon. Fortunately, there are many flea/tick preventatives that can help prevent your pet from getting flea infections. For more information on which products are safe and effective for your pet, please schedule an appointment with a member of our Veterinary Hospital who can spend the time to go over flea prevention in more detail. If you think your pet may have fleas, our veterinary team is happy to help by treating the infection, reducing the associated pain, itchiness, and redness and spending the time to go over your specific pet’s needs.
Jeffrey Stupine VMD
World of Animals Veterinary Hospitals