Fleas are one of the most common external parasites of dogs and cats worldwide. They are more than just a nuisance; heavy flea burdens can be deadly, especially in smaller, younger, or weaker animals. Fleas are also responsible for dermatitis caused by an allergic reaction to the presence of fleas and flea bites known as flea allergy dermatitis, or FAD, which has been reported to account for over 50% of all dermatological cases reported to veterinarians. Other conditions brought on by fleas include anemia from blood loss, feline infectious anemia (a life-threatening blood parasite carried by fleas), cat scratch fever/bartonellosis (while this does not cause illness in cats, it can be passed to humans and cause a number of health problems), and most commonly, tapeworm infections.
Flea populations in Michigan peak in mid-summer, however, fleas can survive on wildlife and indoors year round. If you find a single flea or flea dirt (digested blood in fecal material passed by fleas) on your pet, this means that you likely have fleas in your house. It is important to know also that fleas do not usually make an animal itchy unless they have a flea bite allergy. Fleas can especially be hard to detect on pets with thick coats or darker fur. Just because you can’t see them, does not necessarily mean they are not there.
The life cycle of a flea goes through several stages including egg, larvae, pupae, and adult. Adult fleas are the only stage found on your pet. The other life stages are in the environment and in highest concentrations where your pet sleeps, but are also found in carpeting, cracks of hardwood and tile floors, and furniture. Therefore, it is important to treat not only your pet, but every other animal in the home, and the environment as well.
There are current products on the market which are very effective in treating and preventing flea infestations, a few of which are listed below:
Flea collars are not recommended as they are not an effective means of flea prevention. If you have a young puppy or kitten that is too young to receive any of the above products, please contact your veterinarian to discuss appropriate control of fleas. It is safe to use a gentle, tear-free shampoo and flea comb on young animals to remove adult fleas, just be sure to dry them quickly and keep them warm.
To treat for a current flea infestation, your pet should be treated for at least three consecutive months. Continuing flea treatment during the hot months of the year and three months into the cold weather should eliminate fleas from the home environment and your pet. If your pet or your home is affected by a heavy infestation, it may be beneficial to contact an exterminator or use a home treatment product.