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It's one of every pet parent's worst nightmares. Their pet gets restless, starts scratching and gnawing at themselves more frequently, and their skin looks red and irritated. Then the pet parent sees a tiny insect jumping from their fur. The pet has fleas.
Fleas are more than just an annoyance. In a matter of a month, a dozen fleas can become thousands. Along with leaving the pet itchy, frustrated, and exhausted, these insects can infest the home and start attacking other pets and humans. Fleas can also carry diseases that may significantly harm a pet's (and a pet parent's) overall health.
Once the fleas have made their home on a pet, they can be difficult to eliminate. Fleas are uniquely adapted to live and mature indoors but there are flea treatments for dogs and cats, preventives, and solutions for getting rid of these pests for good.
Fleas have four life stages – egg, larva, pupa, and flea. Their development depends significantly on temperature and humidity. As such, their life cycle can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months, and a dog or cat’s body provides them with the perfect conditions in which to thrive.
A flea's life begins as an egg. Adult female fleas lay eggs after a blood meal from their host – a dog or cat. The insects lay approximately 50 eggs a day. Many fall from the pet’s body in places where they spend most of their time, such as their bed and the couch.
Larvae emerge from the eggs anywhere from two days to two weeks later. In cold, dry conditions, those eggs can lay dormant even longer. In ideal conditions, this stage lasts between one to three weeks. Then they create a cocoon (pupae stage), where they remain for several days. These cocoons can lay dormant for years, sometimes buried deep in carpet fibers and safe from everyday cleaning chemicals until conditions are right, and then they emerge as adult fleas.
Adult fleas need to eat within a few hours of hatching. Once they do, females will begin laying eggs within day. They live on their host, feeding and laying eggs for weeks or even months before they die. The cycle continues, leaving the affected dog or cat in the home, and pet parents frustrated and miserable.
With female fleas laying eggs daily, getting rid of fleas can feel like an impossible task. Even a handful of fleas can lead to thousands in various stages of the flea life cycle. Pet parents can take care of the adult fleas on their pet, but eggs – which are only slightly larger than a grain of sand – are still hatching, and new fleas are emerging from their cocoons. They might think they've eliminated the problem, only to find more a few days to a few weeks later. Between the flea life cycle and only treating one part of the problem, the issue persists.
Eliminating fleas might feel impossible, but it's not. It does take some time and consistent effort, but pet parents can get rid of them for good. The entire process can take up to a few months based on the flea host lifecycle. They can start with their pet. Medicated shampoo or topical flea medicines for dogs and cats help get rid of the adult fleas and any eggs stuck in the animal’s fur. Chewable medication that can kill adult fleas and alleviate uncomfortable symptoms.
Treating a pet with fleas is only one part of the process. Pet parents will also need to treat the home and check other pets – indoor and outdoor – for signs of fleas. If they find any, those pets should get treatment, too. They should wash all pet bedding in hot soapy water to destroy fleas in all stages of life that may be present on the material. They may need to do this several times over a few weeks.
Upholstery on furniture as well as any carpeting should be treated. Flooring, including hardwood and tile, should be vacuumed and debris discarded immediately. In severe cases, a professional exterminator may be required. Again, the process does take time. Patience and persistence are essential.
Once pet parents eliminate the flea infestation, the next step is preventing a new one. One of the best ways to do just that is by applying a monthly cat or dog-specific flea and tick treatment or using a flea and tick collar. These treatments repel pests, keeping them from pets in the first place.
Another thing a pet parent can do is to treat their yard, especially if their pet goes outside. They should mow the grass regularly and keep bushes and hedges neat. Regular professional pest treatments, such as sprays, can also help deter fleas and ticks from taking up residence.
Finally, pet parents can help to avoid more issues by checking their pets regularly for fleas. Even with regular prevention, a flea or two can get past and cause problems. Pet parents should use a fine-toothed flea comb to inspect their pets. A little precaution can go a long way in keeping all pets (and humans) in the home safe and healthy.
Fleas are a significant problem. They make pets itchy, irritated, and exhausted. By extension, they make pet parents annoyed and miserable, too. Without quick treatment, the insects can take up residence in the home and start infesting other pets, making the situation even worse.
Fortunately, there is something that pet parents can do. A combination of immediate and preventive treatment can help eliminate fleas (and ticks) and keep the insects from coming back. Capstar, in particular, can kill fleas immediately, while Effipro for dogs and Effipro for cats helps to prevent future infestations. If a pet parent is still wondering how to keep their feline companions safe and healthy, download the Fuzzy app or become a member to connect with Fuzzy's veterinary support.