Does Your Pet Have Fleas? How to Find Out & What to Do Next
It’s a word you never want to hear, but sometimes fleas are a pest you have to deal with, especially when you have pets. Unfortunately, fleas love a climate like ours. They’re most active in 80° to 90°F with 70% humidity. They can be frustrating to get rid of, but knowing the signs and strategies can go a long way toward eliminating them quickly and preventing them in the future.
What Are Fleas, and What Makes Them So Bad?
Fleas are flat, dark-brown parasites. They live off the blood of mammals. The more blood they’ve ingested, the lighter in color they are. They’re pretty small: 1/16th to 1/8th of an inch.
The cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis) is the most common type of flea. They especially like to feed on:
– Domestic rabbits
When fleas find a host, they burrow into the fur to stay hidden and feed.
A female flea lays an average of 27 eggs per day for up to 100 days on a host animal. Every time the animal shakes, her eggs fall off. They hatch one to six days later and turn into larvae, which burrow into grass, leaves, carpet fiber—whatever they can find. They spin cocoons and emerge as adults. An adult flea needs a host to feed on, but it can survive months without one!
Why Are Fleas a Problem?
Fleas are a nuisance first because of how easily they spread. Fleas eggs fall off animals every time they shake, and adult fleas can easily jump as far as 13 inches on and off hosts!
Once your pet (or you) has fleas, the symptoms are annoying: itching and inflammation wherever they bite. But they can be more than just annoying. Many animals are allergic to flea saliva. Flea allergy dermatitis causes itchiness, scaly skin, hair loss, irritation, and secondary skin infections across the body, not just where fleas bite.
Fleas can consume up to 15 times their body weight in blood every day, which can sometimes cause anemia in their hosts. And adult fleas can carry tapeworm eggs. If your pet eats a flea with tapeworm eggs, they can get tapeworms. Fortunately, tapeworms are generally easy to treat and not usually harmful, but they’re a secondary issue to deal with on top of a flea infestation!
Physical and Behavioral Signs of Fleas
The signs of fleas can sometimes resemble other skin issues your dog or cat might experience, but they’re still important to keep an eye on. If you notice one or more signs on this list, take your pet to the veterinarian to get them checked out.
Physical Signs of Fleas
– Red, bumpy skin on base of tail, belly, and groin because of excessive scratching
– Symptoms of flea allergy dermatitis (if your pet is allergic to flea saliva) – Red patches even in areas where the fleas aren’t biting
– Hair loss (alopecia) because of licking and biting
– Black spots on skin
– Redness & blood in ears because of scratching
– Pale gums related to anemia (in severe cases) – This happens when your cat or dog’s body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells to replace the blood lost to fleas.
– Fleas jumping on and off your dog or cat (in severe cases)
– (In humans) Tiny red dots that are very itchy
Another important physical sign is flea dirt, which is actually flea feces. Flea dirt looks like brown specks, and it can easily be mistaken for regular dirt. You can tell the difference by wetting it with water. If the speck turns dark reddish-brown, it’s flea dirt. That reddish color is the blood the flea digested.
If you have a light-colored animal, you may be able to see flea dirt on them. Otherwise, check the places they hang out:
– Their bed(s)
– The area around where they eat
– Other favorite locations like couch cushions
You could also wear white socks around the house to see if you pick up any flea dirt.
Behavioral Signs of Fleas
– Scratching, licking, and chewing certain areas of the body
– Shaking the head
– Restless behavior because of itchiness or pain
How to Find and Get Rid of Fleas
To find fleas themselves, you’ll have to be fast because fleas are fast! You’ll need a couple of simple tools for finding and eliminating fleas on your dog or cat:
– A flea comb (a special comb with very close-set teeth)
– White paper or paper towels
– A bowl of water with dish soap in it
Have your pet stand over the white paper or paper towels. This will catch any potential flea dirt that falls as you use the flea comb to comb through their fur. You’ll be able to easily see the dirt on the white material and test whether it’s true flea feces.
Start by running your comb over certain areas of your pet’s body. Fleas’ favorite hiding places are where they can stay warm and protected. Look for them in your pet’s:
– Base of the tail
If your comb runs across a flea, it should catch it in its teeth. Deposit the flea in your bowl of soapy water, where it will drown.
Flea shampoos are commonly sold as a way of getting rid of fleas, but they’re only really effective in severe cases and for about a day.
Getting Rid of Fleas in Your Home
Removing live fleas from your cat or dog is an important step, but if your pet had fleas, it’s likely your house has them too. Start by vacuuming, especially in cracks and other tight spaces. Vacuuming picks up fleas, eggs, larvae, and flea cocoons.
Wash your bedding and that of your pet, and dry it all on high heat.
Most importantly, call a pest specialist for advice and an estimate of the severity of your flea infestation.
Ready for some good news? Fleas are relatively easy to keep off your pet. Veterinarians recommend regular flea prevention, which is often paired with tick preventative, making it even more convenient!
At Cinco Ranch Veterinary Hospital, we carry Revolution® Plus for cats. For dogs, we have NexGard® (flea and tick), Bravecto® (flea and tick), and Trifexis (heartworm and flea). (Learn more about heartworm in cats here and more about heartworm in dogs here.) We also carry Capstar, which is a once-a-day medication for cats and dogs. We usually only use this for animals that come in for flea baths. We recommend that your pet stay on preventative medication year-round to prevent flea infestations.
Fleas are tough to deal with, but they’re not impossible. Keep an eye out for these signs of fleas to prevent an infestation in your home, and keep your pet up-to-date on medication. You can give us a call if you’re having trouble removing fleas from your pet, you’ve done all the above and your dog or cat is still scratching, or for any other reason. We’re always happy to help!
The Team @ Cinco Ranch Veterinary Hospital
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