How to deal with warm weather pests: Fleas!

After several months of cold temperatures, and limited outdoor activities because of harsh weather extremes, everyone including your dog and cat look forward to the warmer weather with great enthusiasm.

Warmer temperatures mean more outdoor activities, but it also brings more pests indoors, by way of a ride on your beloved four-legged friend. Cats and dogs will be oblivious at first to a few insects or fleas, but if left unchecked, or until extreme symptoms appear, the problem could get out of control and its infestation can become an overwhelming task.
One of the more obvious signs of fleas is scratching more than usual. If the scratching becomes constant and doesn't seem to give your pet relief, its probably become an infestation. A dog or cat that chews any spot on their body or begins to scratch so often that they damage their skin and make sores, has more than just a few fleas. As with most all problems, it's easier to prevent an infestation than to get rid of one. The sooner you begin taking control of the situation the sooner the problem will be solved. As a pet owner, the best way to keep your pet healthy, is to always be alert to any changes, physically, emotionally and behaviorally. Any of these signs indicates there is a problem. If you are an observant owner and practice good grooming you will be aware of fleas long before they get out of control.

UNDERSTANDING FLEAS

1. What are fleas? Fleas are very tiny insects with mouths designed to pierce the skin of mammals in order to produce blood to feed themselves. They are external parasites without wings that feed on humans, animals and even bats and birds.
2. How many different species are there? There are almost 2000 species reported worldwide; however, the species most common in the United States are: Cat flea, Dog flea, Human flea, Moorhen flea, Northern rat flea and Oriental rat flea
3. What do fleas look like? Fleas are between 1/16 – 1/8-inch in length with a tube-like mouth for feeding on their host's blood. They have long legs designed for jumping easily from host-to-host, making them capable of jumping horizontally up to 7 inches, and vertically up to 13 inches. Their ability to jump so far relative to their size, makes them one of the best jumpers of all animals.
The bodies of fleas are compressed and very flat, which makes them extremely difficult to damage or penetrate. This flat form also helps them maneuver more easily and quickly through the thick fur of animals. Fleas also have good eyesight which helps them maneuver well.
4. What is the lifecycle of the flea? Fleas are usually laid in batches of about 20 eggs right on the host; taking anywhere from two days to two weeks to hatch. Fleas progress through their 4 stages in a complete life cycle anywhere from two weeks to eight months. Because different eggs hatch at different rates, it's easy to see why it feels as though you can never get rid of them, as there are always some hatching and growing.

5. Can fleas survive without blood to feed? Adult fleas can't survive or lay more eggs without blood to feed on; however, they may live for up to a year with feeding. Larvae feed on blood, dead skin and other organic debris such as hair and even feathers on birds.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

  • The most obvious sign of fleas, is constant scratching all over their body; scratching which does not seem to give your pet relief.
  • Chewing or clawing at areas on their body. You may even see sores appear in spots where repetitive scratching and chewing occur.
  • Advanced stages of an infestation will cause your pet to get up and move constantly from one spot to another in an effort to escape the itching; followed by more scratching.
  • Rash with small bumps that may bleed.
  • Swelling in affected areas, where excessive scratching has occurred.
  • Flea dirt (which is organic debris from dried blood) on your pet’s skin and in areas where they frequently lay.
  • It is important to remember that fleas not only cause pain and discomfort to your pet, but can affect you as well including such symptoms as allergic reactions, sores from constant scratching, and intense itching. If you notice your dog or cat constantly biting or clawing at a part of their body, please do not ignore it; as this is a clear indicator that a serious problem may exist.

SECONDARY PROBLEMS FROM FLEAS
Because these insect feed on blood it is easy for them to transmit diseases. Unchecked infestations can lead to secondary problems such as:

  • Skin infections
  • Tapeworms
  • Some dogs allergic to flea saliva may also develop a condition called flea allergy dermatitis

TREATMENT
There are several ways to help prevent an infestation:

  1. Pet owners who are familiar with bathing their own pet, may prefer using a traditional flea bath at the first sign of flea infestation. One drawback of this method; however, is that some of the chemicals used in over-the-counter flea soaps are not strong enough to kill everything, including the eggs or young larvae that may be hidden under the top layer of your pet's skin.
  2. An effective solution, and one that is much easier to administer than an entire bath, is to use one of the topical flea and tick preventatives available. These types of medications come in small, single-use tubes that can be easily spread along your pet's skin in a matter of minutes. These chemicals are strong enough to kill the fleas, eggs and new larvae, but are safe for your pet. In many instances, a single dose will not only kill the existing infestation, but will kill 98-100% of any new pests within the next 48 hours. If this treatment does not work, and you continue to see signs of the infestation, contact your veterinarian immediately; as they may want to try an additional treatment.
  3. As with most problems, prevention is best and easiest to deal with. Flea infestation can be overwhelming, but can also be easily controlled with good prevention.

The itching of fleas can be painful and severely uncomfortable, and we would like to do our best to help our suffering pets. Do you have any suggestions or tips that you've tried or known to be effective in easing their pain? Please share with us in the comments below.

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