Fleas?!? Where did those come from?

Fleas are not as common here as they are in other places, but they do exist.  Fleas like warm, humid conditions which is why places like B.C. and the United States have to treat their pets for fleas on an ongoing regular basis.

Some slightly disturbing facts about fleas:

  • A single flea can turn into a full blown infestation within 21 days
  • A flea can jump an astonishing 7 inches (or more) straight up (that is the equivalent of a human jumping 1000 feet into the air!)
  • One flea can bite 400 times a day
  • A flea can jump 30,000 times in a row
  • A single female flea can lay 2000 eggs!
  • Flea eggs/larvae can remain dormant until conditions are right for them to thrive
  • On average a single flea’s life span is 2-3 months
  • Fleas have been around for approximately 100 million years (yikes!)

Where does your pet pick up fleas?  

In reality – anywhere.  If an animal (any animal; cat, dog, squirrel, etc) has been in your yard that is carrying fleas, your pet can get them just being outside.  Most commonly pets get fleas from either being around another pet that has them or being around a wild animal that is carrying them.  Our patients that have had fleas commonly have gotten them from being at a dog park or doggie daycare or having been out on walks in rural areas where they have encountered a deceased animal.  You personally can also carry a single flea home and cause an infestation in your pet.   Fortunately for us our weather conditions aren’t the most ideal for fleas which is why we don’t commonly treat our pets with a regular preventative.

How can you tell if your pet has fleas?

Fleas are extremely difficult to see for two reasons: they are extremely small and they are constantly on the move by jumping.  If your pet is excessively scratching themselves they may have fleas.  If you spot “flea-dirt” they very likely have fleas.  Flea-dirt is the fecal debris (essentially dried blood) that a flea leaves on your pet.  To the naked eye it looks like specs of dirt.  How do you tell if it is flea-dirt: comb your pet out with a very fine toothed comb (commonly called a flea comb) then take the hairs, place them on a paper towel and sprinkle with a few drops of water.  If a spot turns coppery/reddish, your pet most likely has fleas.  The colour comes from dissolving the flea dirt with the water.

How do you get rid of fleas?

Fortunately veterinary grade products are extremely effective at terminating fleas.  Although various flea shampoos and other products found in pet stores can be helpful, they are not nearly as effective, which can cause an infestation to continue over a very long period of time.   Treatment (usually Revolution) often needs to last 3-4 months due to the way fleas cycle through life, although this can vary from as little as one month to as much as a year (usually only if the pet manages to continuously get re-infected from an outside source).  As an added bonus the product you use on your pet to treat for fleas also helps to treat the environment.  It is still recommended to wash your pet’s bedding weekly and vacuum every couple of days.  When vacuuming pay special attention to dark areas and against walls and furniture where eggs and larvae are more likely to move to lay dormant.

flea life cycle

What to do if you suspect your pet has fleas?

Before treatment we need to confirm your pet does indeed have fleas (there are certainly many other things that can cause your pet to scratch).  If we have done an exam on your pet within the last year and you are able to catch the bug that is on your pet, put it in a sealed container (such as a pill vial) and bring it down to the clinic.  We can confirm what it is and get proper treatment for you.  If we have not seen your pet within the last year or you can’t catch one of the bugs, you will need to call and book an appointment.  Once we do an exam on your pet and confirm what they have, the veterinarian can prescribe appropriate medication.

Why the difference in coming in with your pet and not?  Simply, just like in human medicine, veterinarians can not prescribe medication if we have not seen your pet for over a year or if we can’t confirm what they have (a diagnoses must be made).

Prevention:

If you are planning to travel to higher flea risk locations (such as B.C. and the U.S.) or you live in the country or your pet runs in the country a lot, you can get Revolution ahead of time to use as a preventative.  Talk to your veterinarian at your next appointment if you have questions.  As an additional note: if you have traveled to these areas and gotten heartworm prevention, your pet is also already protected against fleas, or if you have been using Revolution to treat for ticks, again your pet is already protected against fleas.

For more information check out AAHA’s healthypet.com site:

http://www.healthypet.com/PetCare/PetCareArticle.aspx?title=un_Fun_Facts_About_Fleas

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