It’s spring time in Georgia! Get ready pet parents, because this means that fleas are here and could be making your lives “ruff!”
There are six species of fleas in the U.S., and they are host-specific to cats, dogs, rats, chickens, and yes, humans. Keep in mind that fleas would much rather stay on their host than on you, so rest assured, a few fleas on Fluffy does not mean you are going to find them on you.
Fleas have four general stages: eggs, larvae, pupae and adults. Eggs are deposited on the host, and fall off into the environment (that means wherever Fluffy goes, so do the eggs). Larvae cannot develop well in direct sunlight, but love the cool, shady spots that Fluffy also goes. Pupae can hang out in a cocoon for up to 30 weeks. Things like mechanical pressure, carbon dioxide, and increased temperature stimulate pupae to hatch. Adults emerge in 14-28 days in our climate, immediately take blood meals from Fluffy, and females can then begin laying eggs in as little at 20 hours. Females can produce 40-50 eggs per day, and adults can survive 2-3 months.
There are some things you can do to stop these little beasts. To combat fleas, you must take three different tactics.
1) The first step is to treat all animals in your home. Taking a blood meal is essential to a female flea’s ability to lay eggs. Without biting ANY of your pets, fleas cannot complete their life cycle. Repeat dosing of flea preventions at regular, specified intervals that are based on which product you choose.
2) Second, you MUST treat your home. Flea eggs and larvae can hide in carpets, bedding, near baseboards and between floorboards. In the warm, humid climate of the southeast it takes as little as 14 days to grow an adult flea. Repeat the treatment of your home in 2-4 weeks to ensure destruction of eggs, larvae, and pupae that are awaiting their turn as adults.
3) Third, you MUST treat the environment. Where do you think Fluffy got these fleas? It could have been from doggy daycare, the stray neighborhood cat, or they may have hopped a ride inside on your pant legs. Remember, fleas like to develop where Fluffy likes to hang out: cool, shady areas. Repeat the treatment of your environment in 2-4 weeks.
There are many consequences of a flea infestation. Many pets suffer from itching or pruritus, but some have flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), an allergic skin reaction to flea bites caused by compounds in flea saliva. Pets who are sensitive may cause self-trauma and scratch, bite or rub skin to the point of hurting themselves. Typically, dogs will have signs of irritation on their hind ends and cats will have it around their heads.
Blood loss, or anemia, from flea bites can affect young animals or heavily infested animals, and in extreme cases can necessitate a blood transfusion or even lead to death. Bacteria such as Mycoplasma, Rickettsia, and Bartonella hensalae, the causative agent of “cat scratch fever” are spread from fleas, as well as tularemia, typhus, salmonellosis, and plague.
Animals who ingest fleas while biting at their skin can contract tapeworms. These worms are yellow or white, about the size of a grain of rice, and are often seen around the anus or on feces. They are more unsightly than able to cause severe disease but still cause irritation to the rectum.
Methods of flea control available include short and long-acting oral tablets or chewables, topical sprays and suspensions, and collars. Many products which repel or kill fleas also work against ticks, so be sure to check your product label to see kind of coverage you can find. Do NOT use powder on live animals for flea prevention, as it can be extremely harmful to their lungs if inhaled. It is very important to note that flea preventions are meant to be given at the specified interval indicated on a chosen product. This is Georgia: fleas do NOT take the winter off.
You must also check that you have selected a product which is safe for Fluffy’s age, weight, species and health status.
1) Short-acting oral tablets like Capstar may be effective at killing fleas in as little as 15 minutes but they do not last more than 24-48 hours. You must follow up with a longer-acting prevention.
2) Monthly oral flea tablets or chews are given every 30 days. These are a great option for dogs and cats who do not have an allergy to flea bites, and in cases where you do not want to risk coming in contact with a medication by touching the dog or cat’s back. Cats who have a poor reaction to the feel or smell of a topical product may benefit from an oral flea prevention. Oral tablets may require the flea to bite the animal to be affected by the medication.
3) Monthly topical flea prevention is applied to the back or neck of dogs and cats every 30 days. Topical products often have repelling action for fleas, ticks, and sometimes mosquitos. This is critical for animals with severe allergy to flea bites.
4) Long-acting flea preventions come as chewable and topical products, and usually contain more medication so they can work for around three months per dose. These products are more convenient with fewer doses to administer throughout the year, and offer more continuous protection for animals who are frequently exposed to fleas. Some animals may be sensitive to the higher concentration of medication in these products, so discuss concerns with your doc if interested in long-acting options.
5) Flea collars are usually long-acting. They work by releasing medication from the collar onto Fluffy’s skin. It is important to note that the collar has to be in contact with skin to work, so a loose collar is a useless collar, and potentially a strangulation risk. Some collars are coated in medication which can be transferred to your skin when applying or touching the collar. It is not likely to hurt you in small exposures, but smells bad. Some collars are made of a special material that slowly releases medication onto the skin over time. Some are waterproof, but most are not meant to be wet for very long as they will lose effectiveness.
6) Sprays, shampoos, and dips are “quick fix” temporary solutions that can be applied topically, but you must follow-up with a longer acting prevention. The drugs in some of these products, specifically insecticides such as permethrins and pyrethrins, can be TOXIC if used on cats, small dogs or puppies, and debilitated animals. These animals are just too small and sensitive to these products, and frequently present to veterinarians with lethargy, inability to move, or even seizure activity after exposure.
Now that you are armed with some knowledge of the enemy, you and Fluffy can enjoy the warm weather and be flea free! Take all necessary preventative steps and be prepared for fleas. It is much easier to keep them away than to deal with the consequences of an infestation. Happy tails, readers!