About Those Pesky Fleas

Did you know that there are actually many different species of fleas? Classified under the order “Siphonaptera,” the cat flea is the most common flea in the United States. The cat flea infests dogs and cats, as well as other hosts. This external parasite is wingless, and has a tube-like mouth adapted to siphoning blood from its host. No one wants fleas in their home; fleas make our dogs and cats itchy and uncomfortable, and can also cause a host of other health problems. Fleas are a common cause of allergic reactions in pets, can transmit diseases, and the cat flea is also the intermediate host for tapeworm, which is transmitted to your pet after ingesting an infected flea. Why do fleas seem so difficult to eradicate? Understanding the flea life cycle will help you gain control over those pesky fleas.

The flea life cycle has four different stages: the flea egg, larva, pupa and adult flea. The adult flea lives on your dog or cat, feeding upon your pet’s blood, and leaving behind “flea dirt” which is the digested blood excreted from the flea. The female flea lays eggs upon your pet; the flea eggs then dry and fall off your pet and onto your floors, carpeting and pet bedding. The time it takes for the flea eggs to hatch into the next stage, flea larvae, varies depending upon conditions in the environment, but can take a couple of days to a few weeks. The flea larvae feed upon the digested blood left by the adult flea, as well as other organic debris such as pet dander. This larval stage lasts for approximately 5 to 15 days. The flea larva then spins a cocoon, where it remains in the pupal stage until the adult flea emerges. The pupal stage lasts anywhere from a few days to many months.

Because only the adult flea actually lives on your dog or cat, you can see why simply treating the fleas on your pet is not enough to eradicate a flea infestation. You will need to treat the flea eggs, larvae and pupae that are living in your pet’s environment to control a flea problem. If you don’t treat fleas in the environment, you will continue to see new fleas as they complete their life cycle, hatch into adult fleas and hop right back onto your pet. Compounding the problem, the pupal stage in particular is very resistant to treatment, which is why a single treatment to your home will not completely eradicate fleas in your environment. You should retreat your environment in 3-4 weeks so that the fleas newly-emerging from their protective cocoons are also eradicated.

Just as you should treat all pets in the home with a flea preventative, you will want to ensure that every part of your home is treated as fleas will continue to reproduce in areas of the home that you have not treated. Remember, if you actually see an adult flea on your pet, you can be sure there are many more fleas, flea eggs, larvae and pupae in your environment, even if you are a fastidious housekeeper. It is best to treat and control fleas on your pet and in your home before they become a serious problem that is even more difficult to control.

About author

Abby Rosenberg

Abby Rosenberg is a PetMeds employee and long-time cat lover. She was a volunteer for several years at a local no-kill cats only rescue shelter. This has prepared her for her most challenging role to date: secretary, photographer, social coordinator and treat dispenser for Daisy, and Daisy’s sidekick Harley. Daisy is a dilute calico Devon Rex cat, and Harley is a “cow-cat” who was adopted from the shelter where Abby volunteered. You can also find Abby on Google+

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