End your flea infestation.

Siphonaptera: Pulicidae
Ctenocephalides felis felis

The cat flea is the most common species of both dogs and cats.
What do fleas look like?

Adult (side)

1.5 – 3.2 mm
dark brown

Adult (top)

1.5 – 3.2 mm
dark brown

Eggs

0.5 x 0.3 mm
off-white

Larva

2 – 5 mm
white with red gut

Cocoons

5 x 2 mm
camouflaged

Pupa in Cocoon

1.5 – 3.2 mm
off-white

Pre-emerged Adult

1.5 – 3.2 mm
pale brown

Flea Dirt (feces)

0.07 – 0.84 mm
reddish-black

Fleas are more than a nuisance.
Disease transmission
Cat fleas can be vectors for tapeworms, plague, cat flu, murine typhus, feline leukemia, cat scratch fever and flea-borne spotted fever. Pets and owners can both be affected by some of these illnesses.
Flea allergy dermatitis
Some animals are highly allergic to flea saliva. FAD results in severely irritated skin and painful lesions. Pets excessively groom, causing self-trauma, leading to hair loss, skin infections and foul odor.
Flea allergy dermatitis
Some animals are highly allergic to flea saliva. FAD results in severely irritated skin and painful lesions. Pets excessively groom themselves and cause self-trauma, leading to hair loss, skin infections and foul odor.
Iron deficiency anemia
Fleas imbibe large quantities of blood. Heavily-infested animals may grow anemic. Symptoms include lethargy, weight loss and diminished appetite. Left untreated, severe infestations can cause mortality.
Iron deficiency anemia
Fleas imbibe large quantities of blood. Heavily-infested animals may grow anemic. Symptoms include lethargy, weight loss and diminished appetite. Left untreated, severe infestations can cause mortality.
Diminished health
Heavily-infested animals become vulnerable to diseases they could normally fight off, such as cat flu. Furthermore, cats increase the time they spend grooming and ingest more hair, causing frequent hairballs.
Lost time & money
Time and money are spent on flea treatments, veterinary consultation, and professional control. These costs add up. Not adhering to flea control regimes will lead to re-infestations and more lost resources.
Fleas will bite people
It’s not uncommon for fleas to emerge from their cocoons and bite people before finding and colonizing their preferred host of a dog or cat. Red, itchy flea bites typically occur around the ankles.
Psychological stress
Fleas can be perceived to be a sign of poor hygiene or general neglect of pets. These social stigmas may cause anxiety and urgency for control. Adding to this, ending an infestation can be difficult and frustrating.
Pet & owner relationship
It is easy to get irritated in the midst of a flea infestation, especially when a re-infestation occurs. When emotions run hot, pets often get blamed as the cause and the human-animal bond gets strained.
Erratic pet behavior
Pets, especially cats, may be reluctant to enter areas of a flea-infested home. By avoiding the carpeting where fleas are emerging, pets are more likely to jump on tables, counters and other undesirable areas.
Nip these problems in the bud.

How to check for fleas

Diagnosing a flea infestation involves finding adult fleas or their feces. Infestations are usually obvious, as adult fleas rarely leave their host.

Method 1: Flea Comb
Cat fleas are permanent ectoparasites. Once a host is acquired, fleas rarely leave. Brushing cats or dogs with a fine-toothed flea comb will gather and remove fleas from their fur. Even without combing, adult fleas are usually visible on pets upon close inspection, especially where hair is thin on the abdomen.
Method 2: Wet Paper Towel
Fleas produce large quantities of feces, which is essentially undigested host blood. This so-called ‘flea dirt’ gets excreted onto pets. It can be shaken off, or removed with a flea comb. The dried black specks of excreta will reconstitute when placed on a moist paper towel. When rubbed, a rusty red stain will be left behind.
Method 2: Wet Paper Towel
Fleas produce large quantities of feces, which is essentially undigested host blood. This so-called ‘flea dirt’ gets excreted onto pets. It can be shaken off, or removed with a flea comb. The dried black specks of excreta will reconstitute when placed on a moist paper towel. When rubbed, a rusty red stain will be left behind.
Method 3: Vacuum & Gauze
Flea eggs, larvae, pupae and feces reside in carpeting where pets frequently rest. These immature stages can be collected with a vacuum cleaner. Adults can also be collected off of pets using this method. A piece of gauze placed within the vacuum’s nozzle will prevent the debris from entering the collection chamber.
Method 4: Flea Traps
After fully maturing, adult fleas emerge from carpets to find a host. Fleas traps, using light for attraction, can collect the adult fleas before they acquire a host. A positive identification can then be made from the trapped specimens.
Method 5: Pet Flea Spray
Using a flea comb is the recommended way to collect adult fleas from pets. However, an insecticidal flea spray for dogs or cats can also be used. After treatment, the fleas die and will fall from the host or can be combed out. The parasites can then be observed and a diagnosis can be made.
Method 6: White Socks
The ‘white sock technique’ involves wearing knee-high white socks and walking around on carpets. Movement and warmth attracts newly-emerged adult fleas in the carpeting, causing them to jump onto the socks. The fleas can then be easily observed on the white fabric.
  • Excessive pet grooming may indicate fleas.
  • Allergic pets groom often, making fleas hard to find.
  • Detection is less likely on recently bathed pets.
  • Finding fleas in the environment, or bites on humans, are poor detection methods.
Find a flea and you’ve found 100

Flea Life Cycle

Cat fleas are holometabolic insects. They transition through four distinct phases—egg, larva, pupa, and adult. How quickly fleas develop depends upon temperature and humidity. In homes, the life cycle completes in 17 to 26 days. In ideal conditions, it can complete in 12 days.

The average female lays 25 eggs a day, and lives for seven days. Within a month she’ll have thousands of descendants, though most won’t survive to reach adulthood.

Population Dynamics

Finding fleas on a pet is only seeing the ‘tip of the iceberg’. For every adult flea, there are around 100 unseen in immature stages. Infestations consist of 50-57% eggs, 34-35% larvae, 8-10% pupae, and 1-5% adults.

Adult fleas live on animals and rarely leave. Pre-adult stages live in the environment. Eggs are laid on the host but soon fall off. Most end up in carpeted rooms where pets frequently rest. In homes, 83% of larvae live deep within carpets. There, the unseen fleas develop into adults.

Why flea control fails
Unrealistic expectations
Flea treatments don’t kill fleas instantly or permanently. It may take several hours, sometimes days, for fleas to die. Even after adult fleas are killed on pets, immature stages continue developing in carpets. Once they fully mature, adults will emerge and jump on pets. This often continues for 8 weeks, but can last 6 months.
Problematic pupae
Flea pupae and pre-emerged adults are resistant to premise sprays. They reside at the base of carpets where sprays can’t penetrate. Within their cocoon, fleas are safe. They won’t emerge until triggered by stimuli from a nearby host. This dormant pre-emerged state can last for up to 5 months.
Problematic pupae
Flea pupae and pre-emerged adults are resistant to premise sprays. They reside at the base of carpets where sprays can’t penetrate. Within their cocoon, fleas are safe. They won’t emerge until triggered by stimuli from a nearby host. This dormant pre-emerged state can last for up to 5 months.
No integrated approach
Adult fleas live on pets. Immature stages develop in the host’s environment. Pets and the environment both need to be treated. An integrated approach includes pet owner education, vigilant use of adulticides and insect growth regulators, and regularly doing mechanical control (e.g. vacuuming).
Neglecting hot spots
Immature fleas aren’t evenly distributed throughout a house. Development can only occur in areas where eggs and flea feces have both dropped off hosts. Thus, flea larvae are concentrated in carpeted rooms where pets frequently rest. These locations are hot spots to target with carpet treatments and vacuuming.
Stopping treatment early
Flea treatments must be administered for the specified duration, even when it looks like the infestation has ended. For months, previously unseen fleas will continue to emerge and look for a host to infest. If a female finds an untreated animal, she’ll take a blood meal, mate and lay eggs within a day.
Only treating if fleas are visible
Some owners only treat pets when fleas are present. The fleas die with the 1st treatment and it’s assumed the infestation is over. However, those fleas were actively reproducing. Large numbers of eggs, larvae, and pupae will be growing in the environment. Without continued treatment, re-infestation is assured.
Forgoing treatment in winter
The changing of the seasons will not end a current flea infestation. Fleas are most prevalent in the summertime. Their development slows down in the cooler months, but it never ceases entirely. Fleas cannot survive in freezing temperatures outdoors. Unluckily, most of the population lives indoors.
Allowing a lapse in treatment
Adhering to the schedule labeled on flea control products is crucial. Topical treatments typically need to be re-applied every 30 days. Failure to administer treatment on time will give emerging fleas a chance to jump on a pet and reproduce. Even a minor lapse in treatment can make the product appear ineffective.
Improper treatment dosage
Flea medications are specifically formulated for dogs and cats of certain sizes. The full dose of the correct product needs to be administered. Sometimes pet owners will attempt to save money by splitting treatments between multiple pets. Owner concerns of pet toxicity can also lead to under-dosing.
Administering treatments incorrectly
Misinformed pet owners will sometimes ignore directions. Examples: 1) Flea drops must be applied to the skin of the animal, not the fur. 2) Efficacy is lost if flea drops are administered when the pet is wet (e.g. after shampooing). 3) Oral medications are often directed to be given with food to increase absorption.
Not treating all pets
Fleas are capable of infesting cats, dogs, and even ferrets. When fleas are found, all animals in the home must be treated. Owners will sometimes forgo treating pets which show no signs of having fleas. Left untreated, that animal will eventually get infested and become the primary host. The infestation will continue.
Excessive bathing or swimming
Repeated immersion in water will cause flea drops to lose their efficacy, even those labeled as water resistant. This is especially true for products which diffuse across skin. Failure occurs when pets are frequently bathed or allowed to swim. Immersion in water more than once weekly is not recommended.
Re-infestation from external sources
Flea infestations often originate outdoors. Flea eggs are deposited in yards when infested wildlife pass through (e.g. opossums, raccoons, foxes, coyotes and feral cats). The fleas develop in moist, shaded areas and eventually infest pets. Re-infestation can also occur from infested cars and secondary houses.
Insecticide resistance? Unlikely
Pet owners often claim insecticide resistance as the reason for flea control failure. While resistance is possible, there is no evidence of this happening with the modern ingredients used today. In all likelihood, the failure was a result of poor adherence to flea control procedures.
Using unproven methods
Today, many pet owners are opting for natural control solutions. These types of methods should be embraced if they’re effective. However, many of these remedies have no record of success. Natural solutions promoted as “safe” may actually be more hazardous to pets than synthetic products (e.g citrus oil).
Use a method that works.

References

photo by:
Nephron

photo by:
Laura Dahl

photo by:
Tracy Olson

photo by:
Michael Voelker

photo by:
bottled_void

photo by:
Tom Murray

photo by:
Lynette

photo by:
Denni Schnapp

photo by:
Kalumet

photo by:
Auguste Le Roux

photo by:
Auguste Le Roux

photo by:
Dr Zak

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