Creature Feature
Getting to know the flea

By Dr. Dan Meakin

To help improve your flea fighting skills, lets look at the flea and its life cycle.

Fleas are parasites that feed off their host’s blood. When a flea bites its victim’s skin it injects a minute amount of flea antigen.

Pets vary in their reactions to flea antigen. In some pets the bite from one flea can trigger a severe skin rash. This can quickly escalate into fur loss and infection as the pet bites and scratches at its irritated skin.

Less sensitive animals can live with lots of fleas and the owner is not even aware of it. This is not to say fleas should ever be lived with.

In addition to causing skin disease, in large numbers, fleas can consume enough blood to make your pet anemic. I have seen several animals die from this severe blood loss caused by fleas.

As if this weren’t enough, fleas also transmit tapeworms if swallowed by your itching dog or cat. These tapeworms are apparent when you notice small white maggot like worms on your pets stool or around their rectum.

If your pet has fleas, it will usually scratch, chew, and lick around its lower back and tail. Fleas are easiest seen along the underbelly where the fur is sparse. A flea comb makes finding fleas even easier on thick-coated dogs and cats. Because some pets are extremely sensitive to flea antigen, finding only one flea probably means your pet is experiencing flea allergy.

In order to help your pet both the allergy and the fleas must be treated.

Your veterinarian is best qualified to treat your pets flea allergies and sometimes-secondary skin infections.

Despite being one of a dog or cats worst enemy, fleas have an interesting life cycle from a scientific standpoint. In fact, their flat shape, sucking mouthparts, powerful leaping ability, and prolific reproductive capabilities make them extremely adapted for what they do. In general fleas mate and lay eggs on the skin of your pets. The eggs will then fall off the skin of the pet and land in the carpet.

In 2-14 days, they hatch into larva that feed on feces (dried blood) of adult fleas. After 4-8 days, larva develops into pupae that can either become dormant or hatch into adults in a few days.

After ingesting a blood meal, one female flea can lay 1,000 eggs in her short life span. As you can see in a very short time we can be out numbered. Our only defense is to attack the eggs and larva before they develop into adults. There are currently only three products that effectively do this. Your veterinarian can help you decide how to battle these parasites with the most advanced weapons.

Fleas can live both inside and outside, but prefer homes with carpet. Carpet is like fur – dark, moist (high humidity), and able to hold minute particles of dirt down deep in its fibers. In Clermont county, flea season lasts from late spring (May) through the first frost (October). However, if fleas become well entrenched in your carpets during the summer, their reproductive activities will continue indoors uninterrupted through the winter. In other words if you haven’t started fighting fleas you may be behind the eight ball.

I predict a bad summer for them and have already seen some severe infestations. If your pet has no fleas start your prevention right now because the neighbor’s pets do and they are interested in some new blood.

If your pets already have them do not under-estimate their capability to cause disease and serious problems. So contact your veterinarian for a first rate flea control program that best suits your situation.

Dr. Dan Meakin is the owner of All Creatures Animal Hospital, 1894 Ohio Pike in Amelia. Call (513) 797-PETS.