Fleas 101

Black and white cat with green eyes

You’ve probably heard about them. You may have even had to deal with them. And now you will be educated about how to prevent fleas from becoming your biggest pet owner nightmare.

What are fleas?

Fleas are tiny ectoparasites, meaning they reside on the skin of your pet. Their goal in life is pretty simple; eat, mate, lay eggs, repeat. Fleas feed by biting your pet and drinking their blood. Even though they prefer cats over dogs, fleas are a common nuisance in any pet friendly family home. In heavy infestations, fleas have been known to feed on humans’ blood. Fleas have to capacity to jump ridiculous heights (from the ground to the 1 st floor window sill!) and reproduce like wild fire..

How does my pet become infested with fleas?

Fleas are found in the environment. More specifically, on the wild animal/stray animal populations. Simply taking your dog outside puts him at risk to get fleas. Indoor only cats commonly become infested with fleas despite never setting foot outside. The only thing that is keeping the outdoor flea from coming inside is the threshold of the door. Fleas can hitch hike a ride on your pant legs; Fleas jump from the ground to the 1 st floor window sill and infect your sun-bathing cat. If you live in an apartment, and your neighbor’s pets have fleas, unfortunately your pets will get them too.

Can my pet get sick from having fleas?

Unfortunately, yes. In heavy infestations, your pet can be anemic from fleas feeding on their blood. Fleas carry tapeworms (Dipylidium) and inadvertently infect your pet when they accidently ingest a flea while chewing/grooming themselves. Your pet can then drop tapeworm segments in your home and put you at risk. Fleas also care bacterial infections such as Bartonella that can cause major illness in cats and dogs.

Aren’t fleas seasonal?

Yes and no. Yes, if you live in an artic state the chances of a random hitch hiker gaining entrance into your home is unlikely at best with 3 feet of snow on the ground. HOWEVER, fleas will live on any stray animal. And if this stray animal is lurking about your home, rest assured, the fleas are alive and kicking!

How do I get rid of the fleas in my house/on my pet!?

Eradicating fleas takes a 2-prong approach: treat the house and treat the pets

Tip #1

Treating the house- vacuum the ENTIRE home and move as much furniture to sweep underneath. Flea eggs/larvae are light sensitive and will roll to areas devoid of light. Fleas will travel all through your home even if your pets do not have access to certain areas. By vacuuming the entire home, you are literally removing as much flea eggs/larvae/pupae as possible. Please dump the vacuum waste into the garbage bag and get it out of the house. These little buggers will hatch and crawl out of the vacuum! I do not recommend flea bombs/foggers because they fill up the atmospheric area and not attain adequate concentrations underneath the bed/sofa…and so on. Fleas aren’t air born, they are underneath your furniture! I prefer the hand-held canister that you can direct where you spray. Follow the instructions on the product bottle. These products are not safe for fish and birds so do be careful and remove them from your home while you are treating. Due to the pupae stage being resistant to any treatment, you will need to repeat the house treatment in 2-3 weeks (pupae will hatch and then are able to be eliminated with the house spray.

Tip #2

Treat the pet- EVERY pet in the house will need to be treated. Fleas will be on all pets regardless if they are itchy or not. My go to for flea treatment/prevention in cats is Revolution Plus. For dogs, I like the oral preventive Credelio. These products must be given monthly to treat and prevent fleas. Stay away from generic topical flea treatments/flea baths/flea sprays/flea collars/flea dips. They simply do not work and I have seen some pretty horrible adverse reactions from these products.

How long will it take for the fleas to be gone?

Typically, it takes 2-3 months of pet treatments and house hold treatment to fully eradicate the fleas from your home. However, if you have gotten fleas once, it is likely to happen again. And so, the old saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” makes a lot of sense. Continue to use flea prevention monthly year-round and you should never have to deal with the flea nightmare again!