Fleas on Cats and Dogs

flea.jpgThese Year-Round Pests
Can Be Eliminated

Both your cats and dogs can host fleas, and once they do, you and your family are probably going to be bitten as well. Like any other Springfield Veterinary Hospital, we see our share of pets who are suffering from fleas. And fleas not only make your pet miserable, they can transmit tapeworm, too!

At Hometown Veterinary Hospital, we talk about being proactive with flea prevention year round, before it becomes a problem, and recommend using over-the-counter products Parastar Plus for dogs and EasySpot for cats as a topical tick/flea preventative.

We also offer prescription products as well: Nexgard, Bravecto, Capstar and Sentinel for dogs and Revolution for cats. It's important to understand that these specially formulated products work far better than over-the- counter collars or other products.

Flea-bitten pets tend to be excessively itchy, with red areas on the skin, and, often have secondary infections from scratching. Flea bites on human skin look like small red, rounded bumps and are miserably itchy.

Needless to say, the best way to avoid flea problems for both you and your pets is to employ preventative measures before the fleas show up. We start talking about flea prevention in early spring, before it gets too bad.

Dogs and cats living in the country where they are surrounded by wild animals (many of which harbor fleas) are easily infected. But even city-dwelling pets can show up with fleas ---because wildlife (raccoons, possums, skunks and others) can visit your yard and leave flea eggs and larvae behind.  Feral cats are often flea-infested and can fill your yard with flea eggs.

Is it Definitely Fleas?

Use a special flea comb on your pet to isolate adult fleas, or briskly rub the pet’s hindquarter fur as he sits on a white piece of paper. Flea feces – tiny black or blown specks, will fall from his fur. Transfer these specks to a damp paper, and you will see them turn red or rusty, colored by the blood they’ve taken from the dog. If the specks stay dark, they are just "regular" dirt.

Adults fleas are generally about 2.5 mm long. Dark brown to reddish brown, thin and flat, they move easily through your pet’s hair, and you can often see them. And these wingless pests can jump a long distance!

If you see what seems to be fleas, or flea dirt, consider this: Is your pet scratching like mad? Is his skin red, and is some hair missing?  Most common infestation spots are hindquarters on dogs, and head and necks on cats. Test the flea dirt and you'll know. 

If it is  a flea infestation, take action at once: bring the pet to your veterinarian. If you’ve tried, you know fleas are hard to kill by hand. Special shampoos and  cold water bathing can remove some of the fleas and soothe the pet’s skin. Your vet will help you choose a medication to rid the pet of the rest of the fleas. And of course, proper preventative care can keep your pet from hosting fleas in the first place.

Life Cycle of a Flea

The flea starts off as a tiny egg, then goes through several stages until adulthood. It can take anywhere from several weeks to several months for a flea to become an adult, depending on environmental conditions. Eggs are laid immediately after a blood meal, and promptly fall to the ground where they soon hatch into larvae. The tiny, semitransparent larvae find their way to shady spots—indoors that means pet beds, in the carpet, under furniture, in cracks and crannies. There they spin silken cocoons and continue to grow into adults which look for blood meals so the females can begin laying their eggs almost at once.

Fleas do best outdoors spring through fall in climates like the Ozarks, because they thrive in warm humidity. Indoors, though, if the house is above 50% humidity, they can develop all year round. Your best defense in the house is to vacuum often, to remove any eggs and larvae.

Prevent the Spread of Fleas

Help prevent the spread of fleas in your home by washing pet bedding often, and vacuuming your floors frequently. You can spray with insecticides, but if you have small children or are reluctant to use poisons in the home, food grade diatomaceous earth powder is safe to sprinkle on carpets, furniture and pet beds. Let sit for several hours, then vacuum up the powder and the dead adult fleas.  Repeated treatments are necessary, but the diatomaceous earth will eventually end the problem, without the threat of kids ingesting dangerous substances.