Fleas are an awful little parasite that can make you itch just thinking about them (as I am now typing this post). For our dogs, cats and other small pets, fleas can be a serious health concern and just one flea can cause your pet days or even weeks of itching, scratching and biting in an attempt to find relief. If you have ever had to deal with a flea outbreak, you already know how terrible it can be for your pet, but it can also be hard on you mentally. Your pet is suffering, you fell like you’ve tried everything and sometimes it feels like there’s just no end in sight.
There are a few things to understand about fleas, before we discuss how to get rid of them. We will discuss treatment and prevention in another post, but for now, we wanted to provide some information about what you are up against and why fleas are such a nuisance.
Fleas need a host to survive and die within a few days without a proper host; the bad news for our dogs and cats is that their warm, protective coats make them a perfect host with a near endless supply of blood to consume.
The life cycle of fleas is actually quite fascinating (and disturbing) and it’s no wonder they have existed for millions of years using both mammals and birds as hosts. The life cycle consists of four parts: egg, larva, pupa and adult.
Adult fleas lay their eggs on their host and the eggs fall to the ground, typically in the area where the pet likes to sit or sleep and in the fields or streets where they like to run or walk. This is important to know, because people who don’t own pets can also get fleas by bringing home the eggs.
Once in our homes, fleas will hatch within twelve days when temperatures start ranging between 65 and 85 degrees and humidity between 75 and 85 percent. This nearly two-week time period and broad temperature range makes treatment a challenge, because it’s hard to know where they are in the cycle and you need to treat consistently.
Larvae like dark places and eat any organic material available to them, such as dry blood, dry skin and even flea dirt (a polite term for flea feces), but will also eat dead bugs and crumbs. Popular hiding spots include: between cushions, under carpets and bedding, in floor cracks and near food bowls and under trash cans.
After eating their fill, larvae will create a cocoon and undergo their transformation into their adult form. While in their pupa stage, fleas can lay dormant for several months and up to a year, waiting for the right conditions to leave their cocoons. Adults can emerge in as little as four days and are triggered by the warmth, vibrations and increased carbon dioxide levels of the host animal.
Once adult fleas leave their cocoons, they are free to jump from host to host, feeding on your pet’s blood and laying thousands of eggs during their two to three months average life span. For those of us with pets, it’s important to understand the fleas life cycle in order to treat them effectively.
If your pet has fleas or you are experiencing a flea outbreak in your home, visit your veterinarian or local pet supply store for products and advice to help combat the problems. There are many products on the market to help and there are both chemical based and natural options, just be sure to look for products that kill both the fleas and flea eggs. We will explore each of these options in future posts, but options include: topicals, sprays, shampoos, pills, treats, traps and powders, there are even special collars. Do your homework, ask lots of questions and as hard as it may sound, be patient; remember, treating fleas is a marathon, not a sprint.