Fleas are one of the most common external parasites found on dogs and cats. Fleas can thrive in our Maritime climate and can go from just a minor issue to a full-blown infestation in a short time.
Fleas are small and live in the fur of dogs and cats. Adult fleas can start laying eggs 24 to 48 hours after their first blood meal and can lay over 40 eggs per day. These eggs do not stay attached to your pet, they are white and fall off into the environment as your pet moves around. A pet infected with fleas will have dark “coffee granule” looking debris throughout their fur. This digested debris is blood the flea has excreted, known as flea dirt. An easy way to make sure what you are seeing is flea dirt is to add a drop of water to some of the black debris on a piece of white paper towel, and if it turns red then you know it’s flea feces. If a pet sleeps on your bed or gets on the furniture, the eggs and waste will be there too. In perfect conditions, these eggs can hatch in as little as 1 to 6 days. Fleas will take a blood meal usually less than an hour from jumping onto their host!
As a flea feeds, it’s saliva will come in contact with the pet. Some animals can have a sensitivity to the salvia, this condition is called Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD), and it can cause severe itching and scratching. As a result, this can lead to hair loss, inflammation, and secondary skin infections. It can take only one flea to trigger an allergic response in your pet.
Prevention is key! Just because you do not see the fleas, does not mean they are not there. It is essential to use products that either work on contact to avoid flea bites, or has an extremely fast kill time. A pet infested with fleas should be treated for a minimum of 3 months to ensure all the eggs in the pet’s environment have had a chance to hatch, and are not going to reinfect the pet. Pets with FAD should be on a preventive product year round. Treating the pet’s environment is also crucial. Washing all pet bedding, cleaning, and daily vacuuming floors and furniture is important. Make sure to remove the vacuum bag from the home, because fleas can jump back out!
Fleas are not just an annoying bug that causes your pet to scratch; they can also transmit disease. Fleas can infect your pet with tapeworm (Dipylidium), cause anemia in puppies and kittens, carry the bacteria that causes cat scratch fever, and Mycoplasma haemofelis which is a blood parasite.
Please contact your veterinarian if you would like more information on fleas and to find out what products are right for your pet.
Written by Amanda Crowell, RVT