Latin Name Siphonaptera
Description Fleas are small, wingless insects that rely on blood to survive. They are usually dark in coloration, and possess the ability to jump large distances. They have three pairs of legs, the hind pair considerably larger than the other two pairs. Fleas are thin-bodied and longer than they are wide. They are have hard exoskeletons and are covered in many small hairs and short spines. Fleas lay tiny white egg that can be spotted with a magnifying glass. The larvae are also very small, resembling worms or maggots and are also covered in tiny hairs, though they are very difficult to spot. Fleas can be found mostly on the host animal, where they can look like small dark specks of dirt until they move.
Fleas are some of the most common and virulent pests of domesticated pets. They can cause a great deal of discomfort in pets and their human owners from bites and allergic reactions, and can cause extensive health issues in pets. Fleas can also carry tapeworm infestations if ingested. Fleas are responsible for the transmission of the bubonic plague, which resulted in one of the largest plagues in Europe: The Black Death. Fleas and ticks are easily preventable in pets.
What to Know Fleas have 4 different stages to their life cycle and the adult flea must feed on blood before they can reproduce. While the cat flea usually subsists on the domestic cat, they can also live quite well on other carnivores and some omnivores. These pests cannot live off of a diet of human blood, but they can bite and cause allergic reactions in humans. Unfortunately, if the female flea can feed on a human host for at least 12 hours they can lay viable eggs, which can aid the spread of these pests to other households with females. Though their name is the “cat” flea, these fleas also are the main nuisance flea for dogs.
The flea has evolved to take advantage of every aspect of their domestic host’s life style. Once the female flea lays eggs on its host, the dry eggs fall to the place the animal rests and spends most of its time. The larvae feed on many different organic substances, but primarily on the dried blood that has been deposited in the host animal’s coat by the adult flea’s feces. Once the flea enters it’s pupal stage, it will not hatch until it is near a host animal. This means that the flea flourishes in the type of home environment where the dog or cat’s bedding is not often disturbed. The newly hatched flea will emerge in a matter of seconds and then begin feeding immediately.
Signs of Infestation If your pet is exhibiting signs of irritation or you see small, dark brown specks on the floor around your pets’ bedding, your pet may have fleas. A good test is to comb your pet’s hair and examine the hairs that fall out on a white sheet of paper. If you see small, moving black or brown insects, it is a good sign that your pet may be infested with fleas. If your dog or cat is of a small size, enough of a flea burden can cause them to become mildly dehydrated. So if your pet is exhibiting signs of skin irritation and has increased their fluid intake, it is also a good sign that your pet might have fleas.
Treatment and Prevention The most important way to control fleas is through prevention. Simply because it is cold outside does not mean that your pet is safe from infestation. Since many pet animals are at least partially indoor animals, this means that cat fleas have a year-round protected environment to continue their life-cycle. It is best to seek flea and tick prevention from a veterinarian and to treat your entire home if you find or suspect fleas.
Think your pet might have fleas? Contact a pest control provider immediately to avoid the spread of fleas in the rest of your home.