It’s springtime! The birds are singing, the flowers are blooming…The fleas are multiplying! Over the next few weeks we are going to focus on a common problem this time of the year- fleas!
The Flea Life Cycle
When an adult flea hops onto your pet, they immediately take a blood meal and start doing what they do best- laying eggs! One female flea can lay up to 50 eggs a day! These eggs fall off your pet as they go about their daily lives, ending up in their beds (or yours) and around the house. In a short amount of time, they will turn into a larval stage, then a pupal stage before becoming adults. This process takes, on average, about 3 weeks and is variable based on the temperature and humidity in the environment. Adult fleas are smart little devils; they lay in wait until they detect movement via shadows to jump back onto your pet and the cycle begins again. Because they lay so many eggs so quickly, the adults you see on your pet are just the tip of the iceberg; about 95% of the flea population in the environment is made up of the egg, larval, and pupal stages.
Flea Allergy Dermatitis
Most dogs and cats can have a few fleas on them with only the occasional scratching around the collar. However, there are a subset of pets that are allergic to the saliva of the flea, making them particularly sensitive. These animals have what is called “flea allergy dermatitis” and can experience intense itching and will often get secondary infections on their skin from scratching or chewing. Even one bite from a flea can cause a severe reaction! Generally (but not always) dogs with flea allergy dermatitis will have hair loss and red lesions around their tail head, while cats often have bumps and hair loss around their neck. These pets need to be evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible, as the secondary infection can exacerbate the itchiness, causing worsening lesions that can take weeks to clear up.
Fleas as Vectors
In addition to being bad all by themselves, fleas can act as “vectors,” or carriers of disease. The most obvious parasite that fleas can carry is Diplideum caninum, which is a type of tapeworm. If your pet has tapeworms, you will generally notice segments of the worm (which look like grains of white rice) in their feces or around their bedding. Luckily this tapeworm doesn’t cause disease in humans, but they still need to be treated.
Fleas can also carry bartonella, the bacteria that causes the disease known as “cat scratch fever.” In addition to causing disease in humans including local swelling and a fever, bartonella can also cause anemia and occasionally more serious disease (and even death) in cats. It’s important to note that immunocompromised people (for example, the very young, very old, or those undergoing chemotherapy) can have more serious disease from bartonella. For these people, having good parasite prevention is even more vital.
Fleas may seem like a minor bother, but they have the potential to cause major problems! At McCurdy Animal Hospital, we recommend year-round flea prevention to stop the problem before it starts. We will be detailing our recommendations for flea and tick prevention over the next few weeks but as always, if you have problems with an itchy pet, or questions or concerns about flea prevention in your home, please give us a call at 256-881-2482.