All About Fleas Pesky and Gross, Fleas Can Mean Big Trouble for Pets

All About Fleas
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Flea & Tick
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Fleas can mean more than itching, flea bites can cause sores on the skin and can transmit diseases.

As pests go, fleas are a fairly large nuisance: the insect bites cause discomfort and irritation, and fleas are a challenge to remove from your home, cat, or dog. And, like most biting insects, fleas can be a vector of diseases, passing along problems from one host to the next. While fleas cannot fly, they are capable of jumping up to two feet in height -- which is all the more remarkable given the tiny size of their bodies. Fleas also reproduce at an alarming clip and are capable of laying as many as 600 eggs within a lifetime. That is why preventatives like Vectra 3D are so important. Learn all about fleas and some effective methods of flea prevention for dogs and cats here.

What Are Fleas?

Fleas are parasitic insects that are known for ingesting the blood of pets, and to a lesser extent, humans. Bites feel extremely itchy, and for some cats and dogs, this itchiness moves beyond irritation to a serious allergy-like reaction from the salvia in the flea bite, which can cause an allergic response. And, since fleas can bite multiple hosts, they can easily pass along diseases from one animal to the next.

As well as contracting diseases, pets can become anemic due to the fleas ingesting a lot of blood during feedings. Due to the volume of their offspring, once a flea is inside your home or on your pet, itโ€™s very difficult to eradicate their presence. Most commonly, you or your pet will get cat fleas -- or Ctenocephalides felis. There are also dog fleas (Ctenocephalides canis), and people fleas (Pulex irritans), but these are less common.

How Do You or Your Pet Get Fleas?

Dogs and cats get fleas predominantly from going outside, but keep in mind that fleas can also hitch a ride inside on your pant legs or shoes. So itโ€™s possible that you could have brought them into your home from a hotel or from a walk-in an outside area with fleas. Because they can be so easy to catch -- especially for outside pets -- flea prevention options like medication or flea collars are the best strategy for any pet owner.

Eliminating Fleas

Once you have fleas -- whether they are biting you, living in your yard, or biting your pet -- youโ€™re going to want to get rid of them. Because of the fleaโ€™s life cycle, starting as an egg, and progressing to larvae through to adulthood, itโ€™s particularly challenging to remove them, and youโ€™ll need to have a few different methods of attack. One medication may kill the flea eggs, but yet another one may be needed to kill the larval or adult fleas. Medications are available through a prescription from the vet or as well through over-the-counter options. If the fleas are a presence in your home, youโ€™ll need to clean all fabric-based items, like carpets, curtains, and furniture, and may also need to apply pesticides in the form of foggers or powders.

The important thing to remember with fleas is that itโ€™s far easier to prevent your cat or dog from getting fleas than it is to remove the fleas once your pet and home have them.

What is Flea Dirt?

Flea dirt is another way to tell if your pet has fleas. If you start noticing small black clumps all over their fur, it could mean that your beloved cat or dog is dealing with a flea infestation. When you notice this unsavory phenomenon, it means it's time to start upping your flea and tick prevention game with meds like Comfortis or Advantage for cats. Hereโ€™s everything you need to know about flea dirt and what it means for your pet. 

Flea Dirt Explained

Simply put, flea dirt is flea feces, which appears on your pet in small, dark clumps. It is mostly made up of the blood the flea has sucked out of your pet, and it is a clear sign that your pet has fleas!

Hereโ€™s a flea fact for you: Most flea dirt comes from female fleas, who over their lifetime will digest close to 15 times the body weight of your petโ€™s blood if you donโ€™t use some sort of treatment.

Where to Find Flea Dirt

Flea dirt is usually easiest to see on the stomach of your pet. This is where their fur is the lightest color and the least thick. Flea dirt can also be found on your petโ€™s bedding so make sure to check there.

If you have doubts about whether or not what youโ€™re seeing is flea dirt or just normal dirt, thereโ€™s an easy test. Grab one of the small black clumps with a wet paper towel. If that black clump really is flea dirt, it will turn a reddish color once it gets wet. 

How to Get Rid of Flea Dirt

In the short term, you can wash and shampoo your dog to clean off the flea dirt. However, the flea dirt will just return as long as your dog has fleas.

The only way to get rid of flea dirt completely is to get rid of all fleas in your home, yard, and on your pet. There are many treatment options available, ranging from spot-on solutions, like PetArmorAdvantage II for Dogs, or Frontline for cats, to oral pills, like Capstar Flea Killer. Use one to keep your dog flea dirt-free!

More on Fleas

What do Fleas Look Like?
How to Kill Fleas in the Yard
What Temperature Do Fleas Flourish In?
How to Get Rid of Fleas in 8 Steps Infographic
My Dog Has Fleas, What Should I Do?

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis, or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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