Summer may be coming to an end but unfortunately fleas and ticks are still very much alive and active in many areas. Fleas thrive in warm and humid environments and while they may be seasonal in some areas they can also be a year round problem in many parts of the United States. In addition, once fleas establish themselves on your pet and in your house they can continue to live year round. These parasites can be very irritating to your pets resulting in discomfort, skin infections and even disease spread. Fortunately, many medications are available from your veterinarian that can help safely and easily treat, control and prevent fleas and ticks.
The adult flea spends almost all of its time on your pet. Once a female flea has established itself on a host (i.e. your pet) it will start producing eggs within 24 hours. A single female will produce as many as 50 eggs in one day! The eggs fall off your pet onto the floors, furniture, beds or anywhere indoors or outdoors your pet goes. These eggs then hatch into worm like larva that burrow into your carpets, under furniture or into the soil where they then spin a cocoon. The cocooned flea pupae can lie dormant for weeks to months before emerging into an adult flea ready to infest or re-infest your pet. Depending on the conditions of the environment the flea life cycle can go 12 days to 6 months.
Fleas may be difficult to see on your pet until your pet becomes severely uncomfortable. Fleas often result in itching and biting by your pet especially around the tail, back legs and lower abdomen. Many animals will develop redness of the skin, hair loss and in some cases severe skin infections. The flea saliva from the bites of fleas can cause severe skin reactions in some pets and is referred to as flea allergy dermatitis. In addition, certain species of tapeworms can infect animals that ingest the fleas while biting at themselves.
Fortunately, there are many safe and effective flea and tick preventatives available to help control these parasites. Some of these preventatives are applied topically to your pet while others can be given orally. The age of your pet and species (i.e. cat or dog) is important when choosing a preventative. Many products are approved for dogs but can be toxic to cats and even result in death if used improperly. Consulting with your veterinarian can be very helpful to figure out the best treatment for your pet and how to safely administer that product.
In addition, your veterinarian can help with treating any skin infections your pet may develop from fleas or other issues like tapeworms. Only a small part of the flea life cycle is spent on your pet therefore preventatives alone are not always enough. The eggs, larvae and pupae if left untreated will eventually become adult fleas and re-infest your pet. Frequent vacuuming of floors and furniture and cleaning your pet’s sleeping area can help reduce the flea population in the house. Continued usage of preventatives as recommended by the manufacturer is also very important to prevent re-infestation.
Using preventatives regularly before your pets develop fleas is still the best method. Once fleas are in your home it can take several months to get rid of them. Your veterinarian is an excellent source for both preventatives and information on prevention of fleas. Many of these products help prevent against ticks also but it is always a good idea to check your pets for ticks when they come inside and remove any found as soon as possible.
Reference: AVMA Pet Care
Dr. Rudd is an Associate Veterinarian at the Crofton Veterinary Center in Crofton, Maryland. She graduated from Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2000.
She is also a full time mother to 9 year old son Joseph and 7 year old daughter Bryn and has been married to her wonderful husband Joe for almost 14 years!