Fleas

When pet owners are asked what they dread most about the summer months, the topic that invariably comes up most is fleas!

Fleas on dogs and cats! These small dark brown insects prefer temperatures of 65-80 degrees and humidity levels of 75-85 percent — so for some areas of the country they are more than just a “summer” problem.

Dogs and cats often get infested with fleas through contact with other animals or contact with fleas in the environment. The strong back legs of this insect enable it to jump from host to host or from the environment onto the host. (Fleas do not have wings, so they cannot fly!) The flea’s bite can cause itching for the host but for a sensitive or flea-allergic animal, this itching can be quite severe and leads to hair-loss, inflammation and secondary skin infections. Some pets, hypersensitive to the flea’s saliva, will itch all over from the bite of even a single flea!

The flea information presented here will focus on treatment for and prevention of fleas, which, let’s face it, is just as important to the pet as it is to the pet’s caretakers!

How do you know if fleas are causing all that itching – formally known as pruritus? Generally, unlike the burrowing, microscopic Demodex or Scabies Mites, fleas can be seen scurrying along the surface of the skin. Dark copper colored and about the size of the head of a pin, fleas dislike light so looking for them within furry areas and on the pet’s belly and inner thighs will provide your best chances of spotting them.

Look for “flea dirt”, too. “Flea dirt” looks like dark specks of pepper scattered on the skin surface. If you see flea dirt, which is actually flea feces and is composed of digested blood, pick some off the pet and place on a wet paper towel. If after a few minutes the tiny specks spread out like a small blood stain, it’s definitely flea dirt and your pet has fleas!

Understanding the Flea Life Cycle

In order to understand how and why treatment options work, we must first understand the flea’s life cycle since the various modern treatment and prevention products work on different parts of this life cycle. There are several stages to its life cycle: egg, larva or caterpillar, pupa or cocoon, and adult. The length of time it takes to complete this cycle varies depending upon the environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, and the availability of a nourishing host.

The flea’s host is a warm-blooded animal such as a dog or cat (or even humans!) However, the various flea stages are quite resistant to freezing temperatures. The adult female flea typically lives for several weeks on the pet. During this time period she will suck the animal’s blood two to three times and lay twenty to thirty eggs each day. She may lay several hundred eggs over her life span. These eggs fall off of the pet into the yard, bedding, carpet, and wherever else the animal spends time.

These eggs then proceed to develop where they have landed. Since they are about 1/12 the size of the adult, they can even develop in small cracks in the floor and between crevices in carpeting. The egg then hatches into larvae. These tiny worm-like larvae live among the carpet fibers, in cracks of the floor, and outside in the environment. They feed on organic matter, skin scales, and even the blood-rich adult flea feces.

The larvae grow, molt twice and then form a cocoon and pupate, waiting for the right time to hatch into an adult. These pupae are very resilient and are protected by their cocoon. They can survive quite a long time, waiting until environmental conditions and host availability are just right. Then they emerge from their cocoons when they detect heat, vibrations and exhaled carbon dioxide, all of which indicate that a host is nearby. The newly emerged adult flea can jump onto a nearby host immediately.

Under optimal conditions, the flea can complete its entire life cycle in just fourteen days. Just think of the tens of thousands of the little rascals that could result when conditions are optimal!

Knowing this life cycle allows us to understand why it has always been important to treat both the host animal and the indoor and outdoor environment in order to fully control flea numbers. Simply sprinkling some flea powder on your pet will not work; simply vacuuming the home vigorously will not work, simply placing a flea collar or using a flea topical on your pet will not work.

Worming

As a caring pet owner, you’ll know that worms come with the territory, so worming your pet is important. But why should you worm your pet regularly when they seem healthy?
Well, even without showing obvious symptoms, a pet without an appropriate worming treatment plan could be suffering from a worm infection. Furthermore, worms carried by cats and dogs can pose a health risk, not just to the pet in question, but to other animals, and to humans.

Signs aren’t always obvious.

Cats & dogs can appear healthy even when they have worm infections. Detecting infection can be tricky as worm eggs are too small to be easily visible in your pet’s faeces. It is therefore extremely important to speak to your vet about the most appropriate treatment plan for your pet.
In these website pages, you will find information on worms that your dog or cat are at risk from, as well as the potential implications for your family. Specific signs will be described for each worm, but remember that not all worm infections will be obvious in your pet, and some signs may be more general such as:

-‘scooting’ – some worms shed segments that could stick to your pet’s bottom and become itchy, so they may drag their bottom along the ground with their back legs. Doing this also means that your pet will be rubbing their infected bottom on your carpet which is unhygienic
-weight loss
-vomiting
-diarrhoea
-a dull, lifeless coat
-change in appetite (may be increased or decreased depending on the worms present)
-lack of energy
-a pot bellied appearance (most commonly seen in puppies and kittens)
-breathing difficulties
-any general changes in behaviour

Paws for thought
It is important that you speak to your vet for advice if you see any of the above signs in your pet, as many of these can also be caused by other illnesses. Your vet will be able to investigate the problem and provide appropriate advice and treatment.

How could my pet get worms?
Worms can be anywhere, outside or inside, as tiny eggs that are just waiting to be picked up and eaten by your pet. Worms are hard for your pet to avoid and pets can acquire worm infections from the following sources:

-contact with soil, grass and sand, such as in the park, garden or children’s play areas
-scavenging/hunting
-eating raw meat
-fleas
-eating faeces
-puppies and kittens are very commonly infected from their mother
-mosquito bites when travelling abroad