Fleas and Your Pet

Fleas may be small but they can have a large impact on the quality of your pet’s life. A flea infestation can cause symptoms as mild as a minor skin irritation and as severe as life threatening anemia. They can carry the organisms that cause Feline Infectious Anemia and cat scratch fever (which causes illness in people) as well as being vectors for tapeworms. Pets that are allergic to flea bites can develop severe flea allergy dermatitis with intense itchiness.

The vast majority of flea infestations in dogs, cat and rabbits are caused by Ctenocephalides felis also know as the cat flea. The peak flea season in Ontario is from August until October.

The flea life cycle has 4 stages:

Egg – Eggs comprise about 1/3 of the flea population in an infested home. Female fleas lay about 40 eggs each day which fall off of the host and hatch into larvae in the environment. The ideal conditions for incubation of the eggs are high humidity and a temperature of 18 – 27C.

Larva – About 57% of the fleas in a home are in the larval form. The larvae graze on flea dirt (flea excrement) which has fallen off of the host into the environment. This is the stage of flea that picks up tapeworm eggs. After 3 molts the larvae spin a cocoon and pupate. The time from hatching to pupating can be as short as 9 days. Larvae are killed at temperatures above 35C so they survive best indoors or in shaded areas.

Pupa – Only about 8% of developing fleas make it to the pupal stage but once in a cocoon they are almost indestructible. The pupae are especially well protected in carpets. The flea develops into an adult while in the cocoon. The pupae can remain dormant for up to a year until it detects a nearby host by vibrations, carbon dioxide levels, sound and light patterns.

Adult – When a host is detected the unfed adult flea emerges from the cocoon. The unfed flea can live for months without a blood meal but aggressively tries to locate a host. Once it finds a host it will never intentionally leave the host. Once an adult flea feeds its metabolism changes and it will die in a few weeks if it does not continue to feed. The female flea will start to lay eggs within 24 – 48 hours after its first blood meal and lays continuously until she dies. The average life span of the adult flea is 4 – 6 weeks.

Flea control can be challenging as it is the adult flea that causes symptoms in our pets but most of the flea population is off the pet and around the home. The best control is with products that target various stages of the life cycle. Fortunately several safe, efficacious and long lasting products are now available. These include:

Lufeneron (Program and Sentinel (fleas and heartworm)) – Available as a once a month chewable tablet(dogs) or oral liquid(cats). There is also a 6 month injection for cats. It breaks the flea life cycle by causing the fleas to produce sterile eggs. It does not kill adult fleas so it can take 4 – 7 months to eliminate a flea infestation and is best used with a flea adulticide in the first few weeks of treatment.

Imidacloprid (Advantage (fleas only), K9 Advantix (fleas and ticks), Advantage Multi (fleas, mites, heartworm)) – Available as a monthly topical spot-on that causes flea knockdown within 8 hours and provides 100% killing of adult fleas for at least 2 weeks.

Selamectin (Revolution (fleas, mites, heartworm, ticks)) – Available as a monthly topical that is absorbed into the body to affect the female when it has a blood meal. It kills the adult fleas slowly but females stop egg production immediately on exposure making it useful for prevention and in the presence of a flea problem.

Nitenpyram (Capstar) – Provides extremely rapid and complete killing of adult fleas in dogs and cats greater than 4 weeks old. It is designed to be used along with an insect growth regulator. It is available in tablet form.

If you have any questions about fleas or flea control for you pet please contact the Golf Glen Veterinary Clinic at 905-727-3003.

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