Understanding Fleas & Ticks What You Should Know About these Dangerous Pests

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Understanding Fleas & Ticks
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Fleas and ticks threaten the health of both you and your pet. To understand the risks and how to battle them, read more here.

Fleas and ticks may pose a very real threat to the health and comfort of your pet. In addition to extreme discomfort, fleas and ticks can also cause serious health problems in pets and people. Don't compromise your pet's health--understanding fleas and ticks is the first step in preventing an infestation or infection.

FLEAS

Few creatures can inflict more misery, ounce for ounce, than fleas. These tiny, almost-invisible pests can make life miserable and disrupt your household with a vicious cycle of biting and scratching. Fleas may also cause flea allergy dermatitis in some pets and maybe carriers of dangerous diseases.

TICKS

Often too tiny to be seen, ticks attach to pets and feed on blood until they are engorged. They thrive in high humidity and moderate temperatures but can be found all over the country. Ticks may carry and transmit diseases, including Lyme disease, that can cause serious health problems for pets and people.

Where Fleas Hide

While most adult fleas are visible there are plenty of places for them to hide that you may not be aware of. Fleas hide in your carpet, bedding, around baseboards, cracks in floors, and in hard-to-reach areas. A flea can live for about a month without even feeding your pet. Instead, it will feed on dirt, debris, and body waste. Fleas will live outside in areas that have a lot of weeds, grass, or piled debris. Fleas can also be commonly found in sidewalk cracks. When fleas infest your pet they will hide around your pet's ears, between paws, in armpits, skin folds, and at the base of their tail.

Warning Signs

Here are some typical warning signs that may indicate that your pet has fleas:

  • Scratching or rubbing excessively against objects to gain relief from itchiness.
  • Bacterial infections can be developed from flea bites and may need to be treated with antibiotics.
  • Excessive licking to soothe irritated areas where your pet has been bit.
  • Tapeworms can be contracted from ingesting just one single flea.
  • Flea dirt may be visible on your pet or in their bedding, this is the dried blood excreted from the adult flea.
  • Flea allergy dermatitis can be developed in the event that your pet has an allergic reaction to the flea's saliva. You may notice scabs or bumps on your petโ€™s back or neck.

What Are Fleas?

Fleas are supremely well designed to survive. For pet owners and pets, fleas are an aggravation thatโ€™s easy to acquire, and tricky to eradicate. That is why monthly preventatives like Vectra 3D are so important. Small and wingless, fleas are parasites that survive by ingesting the blood of warm-blooded hosts like cats, dogs, and humans.

A fleaโ€™s entire body is designed to maximize eaterโ€”the head is surrounded by sharp spikes, and mouths are adept at piercing through a hostโ€™s skin and sucking out blood. Although fleas are quite smallโ€”generally less than 1/8 of an inch in sizeโ€”life is miserable for your cat or dog as a host to fleas.

Signs of Fleas

Given the tiny size of fleas, it can be a challenge to know if your pet has them. If you spot your cat or dog scratching and suspect fleas, use a very fine-toothed comb through your petโ€™s fur, checking for small brown shapes moving about. Look especially closely for signs of fleas by the ears and tail of your cat or dog.

In addition to looking for live fleas, keep an eye out for whatโ€™s called โ€œflea dirtโ€โ€”the fecal matter that fleas deposit upon hosts. Flea dirt looks like tiny black specks on your petโ€™s skin and fur. When moistened on a tissue, flea dirt will turn the towel red, since it is primarily composed of ingested blood.

Fleas create an uncomfortable, itchy situation for your pets. In some cases, fleas can also lead to more dangerous problems and diseases.

How Did My Pet Get Fleas?

Fleas give birth abundantly, so much so that a single flea can begin an epidemic in your house. Fleas are capable of jumping nearly a foot in the air vertically, making it easy for dogs, outdoor cats, and you to carry fleas home. Because they are so easy to track inside, even indoor cats are susceptible to fleas. Fleas are most comfortable in warm temperatures with high humidity, so catching fleas is particularly easy in the summertime.

Meet Your Enemyโ€”The Life Cycle of Fleas

Of the 2,500 species of fleas, your pet is most likely to be impacted by Ctenocephalides felis, or the cat flea. Fleas have four life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Understanding the progression of the stages can help you through the process of getting rid of fleas.

  1. Eggs: Female fleas can lay up to 20 eggs at a time, typically depositing the eggs upon a host or on a warm spot. Eggs can easily roll off the host; the area where pets sleep is particularly likely to be a breeding ground for eggs.
  1. Larva: After the eggs hatch, a process that can take between a couple of days and a week, fleas enter the larva stage. As larva, fleas ingest organic matter, such as dead skin and the feces of adult fleas.
  1. Pupa: In the pupa phase, fleas weave a silken cocoon. In its cocoon, a pupa can sense if a food source is available and will remain dormant until it senses a potential warm-blooded host nearby. Fleas can remain in this dormant pupa stage for several months. 
  1. Adults: Adulthood is the final stage of a fleaโ€™s life, and once this stage is reached, a flea will need to eat within a few weeks. After this first feeding, fleas can survive for a few months without a meal. Life for an adult flea is focused upon feeding and reproducing. Adult females typically lay eggs upon their host โ€“ many of these eggs will roll off your petโ€™s body. The area where pets sleep is particularly prone to be covered with eggs. A fleaโ€™s lifespan varies from a few weeks to several months depending on the hospitality of its environment. 

Having just one flea enter your house can be enough to start an epidemic. An adult female can give birth to as many as 500 eggs within her relatively short lifetime.

Getting Rid of Fleas

Removing fleas from your pet and home is difficult, mainly because of the fleaโ€™s life cycle. Eradicating adult fleas is relatively easy, but removing all of the eggs is essential to preventing the birth of a new generation. Tackling this project will require you to thoroughly clean and treat your pet and your home, and potentially use insecticide on the landscaping of your home as well.

How to Prevent Flea & Ticks

Applying a once monthly topical or oral flea treatment will not only kill your pet's fleas, it will prevent a possible re-infestation from occurring. Always try to keep all areas of your house and yard that you or your pets use clean. As your pet walks, fleas are able to hop on or off and eggs can fall off into your flooring. Vacuuming on a regular basis is important as fleas will hide in your carpet while waiting for a pet to feed off of.

Try to change your petโ€™s bedding as frequently as possible as this is a hospitable environment for fleas to live and feed off your pet while they are at rest. If it is a machine washable bed, wash it in the hottest water allowable by the manufacturer.

More on Fleas and Ticks


25 Startling Flea and Tick Facts
Flea and Tick Medication Comparison Chart
Get Rid of Fleas in 8 Steps Infographic

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