Fleas are a troublesome problem to deal with. Optimum temperatures for the flea’s life cycle are 65 °F to 85 °F and optimum humidity is 70-85%. This means during these hot summer days we notice an increase in phone calls from clients with flea questions. 

What Are Fleas?

A flea is a tiny parasite that feeds on the blood of their hosts. There are many species, but our pets usually play host to the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis), whose dark brown or black body is usually one to three millimeters in length. Fleas are hearty and nimble. When searching for a host, they can jump 10,000 times in a row (the length of three football fields). Three pairs of legs make for excellent leaping capabilities (up to two feet), and a laterally flattened body allows for quick movement in a pet’s fur. Their life cycle ranges anywhere from 16 days to 21 months, depending on environmental conditions.

Flea

Signs your pet may have fleas:

  • Small, red or brown colored debris known as “flea dirt” (which is the feces)
  • Excessive scratching, licking or biting at skin
  • Hairloss and/or dull haircoat
  • Scabs or hot spots
  • Allergic Dermatits- red, inflamed skin
  • Pale Gums
  • Tapeworms

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Diagnosis:

Confirming that fleas are present may be difficult. Sometimes just treating for suspected infestation is necessary. Flea combs are small, fine toothed combs that help to pull fleas from under the hair coat to the surface. The comb can also separate out the dark flecks of debris. These flecks can be confirmed as “flea dirt” by placing them on a wet paper towel. Actual flea dirt will turn the paper towel red. The best place to find fleas are on the abdomen, lower back and tail base, and the head. With heavy infestations, fleas can thrive anywhere on the body.

Complications:

  • Allergic Dermatitis- Pets can have a heightened sensitivity to the saliva of fleas; just one bite of a flea can cause an allergic reaction. This condition is known as flea allergy dermatitis and causes intense itching and discomfort for your pet. Signs include generalized hair loss, reddened skin, scabs and hot spots. Flea allergy dermatitis often leads to skin infections.
  • Anemia- Fleas can consume up to 15 times their own body weight in blood. This causes a significant amount of blood loss over time, which is called anemia. This is especially problematic in puppies or kittens, where an inadequate number of red blood cells can be life-threatening. Signs of parasitic anemia include pale gums, cold body temperature and lethargy.
  • Tapeworms- Flea larvae ingest tapeworm eggs; the eggs mature inside the flea. Pets ingest fleas while grooming, allowing the tapeworms to enter the pet’s intestinal system.

Treatment:

The patient should be treated for fleas, but which product you use depends on the age, medical history, lifestyle, and degree of infestation. There are topical flea treatments (such as Frontline® and Vectra 3D®), flea collars (Seresto®), and more recently oral medication (Bravecto®). Treat all pets in the household, whether they show signs of fleas or not, for at least 3 months. The environment also needs to be treated to avoid re-infesting the patient. Area sprays and flea bombs can be used, but following up with daily vacuuming and prompt disposal of the vacuum contents for several weeks is imperative. Consult your veterinarian to see which products are best for you and your pet, especially if they have a medical condition. Prescription products are generally more effective and safer than over-the-counter products. As a general rule, avoid using over the counter flea treatments without consulting your veterinarian. Certain products in combination can be toxic, and some dog products must not be used on cats. Using the wrong chemical or too much of one can lead to severe illness, seizures, and even death.

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Prevention:

  • Treat your pet with preventive flea treatments regularly.
  • Treat your yard with area foggers or sprays.
  • Avoid contact with wild animals or stray dogs or cats.

If you suspect your pet may have fleas, call our Bemidji office at 751-2753 or our Roseau office at 463-3170 today. Our trained staff can help you decide which treatment is best for your pet.