Winter this year was pretty mild, and now, spring is upon us. Most pet owners know what that means – it is almost flea season. Yes, we can all expect fleas to arrive earlier this year and it is indeed sensible to prepare ourselves for this enemy. Current flea infestation products are actually very effective, and yet, despite this, fleas continue to pose a threat to our pets. What could be the reason? There are more than 1900 flea species around the world but only one type, the Ctenocephalides felis, is of concern for pet owners – and it continues to infest pet animals like cats, dogs, hamsters and rabbits. To ensure that you protect your pets from these parasites, you must learn all you can about this tiny menace.
Damage caused by fleas
If you think fleas are merely a nuisance, think again. Fleas can end up being a lethal burden to pets. Flea infestations are actually known to kill young calves and can additionally create the following negative effects:
- FAD – Flea allergic dermatitis – This causes intense itchiness which can lead to trauma, anxiety and hair loss. Scratching can also predispose the pets to secondary skin infections which could need steroids or antibiotics for treating.
- Anemia – Anemia is a serious illness and is typically caused by fleas in younger animals, puppies and kittens. It leads to lethal blood loss which can cause weakness, dizziness, inability to breath etc.
- Feline infectious anemia – Fleas can cause reduced red blood cells in cats, causing anemia.
- Bartonellosis – This is also called cat scratch fever. It can be transmitted to humans through a scratch or a bite.
- Tapeworm – Fleas could be carriers of Tapeworm leading to severe weight loss in the infected animal.
Take fleas seriously – they can be lethal to your pets
The majority of pet owners are not aware that fleas can kill their pet. Many know that fleas can slowly but steadily suck the blood out of their animal, but rarely stop to think that such loss could lead to death. Elderly and weaker younger animals are at greatest risk. They are often unable to groom themselves to get rid of fleas and sometimes also debilitated by other illnesses. So the last thing your elderly pet needs is a lethal flea infestation. Nearly 90% of pet owners who visit their vet as a last resort are adamant that they have no fleas and are naturally alarmed to find them in their vet’s flea comb.
Here are some common misconceptions that pet owners have about fleas:
1. I just trimmed Fido’s fur. Can he still have fleas?
Fleas are extremely tiny and can hide anywhere on your pet’s body, including inside the ears, in the paws, under the tail etc. They also look like debris and therefore go unnoticed. They multiply rapidly and within a short period of time one is left to deal with hundreds of fleas. Flea eggs can also scatter all around your home. So even if you get rid of fleas on your pet’s body, new larvae are getting ready to ravage it again.
2. We do not have carpet but hardwood floors. Can we have fleas?
Fleas can hide in cracks and crevices in your hardwood floors. They can also get inside sockets, switches, headboards and in the bed’s box spring. They are too tiny to be seen easily by the human eye.
3. I use flea shampoo. How did my pet get fleas?
Flea shampoos are effective but only to an extent. Getting rid of fleas needs an integrated pest management approach. You must clean your pet’s surroundings and also use vet approved products to get rid of fleas on its body. Shampoos alone might not work in case of very large infestations. If you have multiple pets, you must ensure treating all of them for fleas. Products called IGRs or insect growth regulators come in form of spot treatment and are more effective than sprays, powders and shampoos.
4. It is winter. Can I have fleas when it is cold?
Vets recommend adopting flea control practices while the weather is still cold. This way, you have fewer numbers to deal with when the warm weather comes. So winter is actually the best time to attack fleas and protect your pet from the upcoming flea season. It is a mistake to stop using flea products thinking it is winter and that your pet is safe. The fleas will only get an upper hand once the weather turns, so please continue using flea products even though it is cold outside.
An essential part of getting ready for flea season is to understand the flea life cycle. At any given time, 1/3rd of the flea infestation is the egg stage. Many flea products do not get rid of this stage. They fall off the pet’s body and hatch when the weather turns warmer.
The next stage is larvae. Nearly 57% of flea infestations are in this stage. Many approved products are unable to get rid of this stage. Larvae feed on organic matter like feces, dead skin, dandruff etc. In this stage, fleas can also pick up tapeworm infections during grazing. Flea larvae die off at high temperatures. Therefore, they search for cool places to hide in the summer.
The pupae stage is the most overlooked and few known flea products can harm the fleas at this stage.
The adult flea stage feeds extensively. Fed female fleas start laying eggs within 12 to 24 hours of their first blood meal. They are known to lay 100s of eggs until the time they die. The total flea lifecycle is 4-6 weeks depending on how well your pet can groom itself.
What can you do about fleas?
- Consult your vet about the right flea control products. Use products as per label instructions.
- Spot-on applications are very effective. They contain Insect Growth regulators or IGRs which work against eggs, larvae and other flea stages. Most last for up to a month. Your pet can be safely bathed or can swim without affecting the efficacy of the product.
- Control fleas indoors by vacuuming thoroughly. Wash and steam clean all bedding, pet items etc.
- Control fleas in the yard by removing debris.
- Treat dog kennels, lawns, perimeter and fences with granular flea products which are very effective in killing fleas.
The warmer months are here! So get ready to deal with fleas with the above precautions in mind.