All You Need To Know About Dog Fleas

Flea is a very itchy word, don’t you agree? To date, there are about 2,000 known species and sub-species of fleas. These pesky pests may attack practically any household, earning the ire of pet owners.

Fleas are irritating, annoying, troublesome, inconvenient and even hazardous to the health of our pets. If you think about it, the only people who can benefit from the existence of fleas are those working in pet care industries that make money by manufacturing products designed to kill these pests.

What Are Fleas?

If dogs are man’s best friends, fleas are dog’s worst enemies. It is common knowledge that fleas are the most annoying insects to plague our beloved pets. These tiny wingless insects are more than just a nuisance since they can be responsible for our dog’s discomfort and illness, including ours. Flea bites are not only itchy but also risky in terms of serious health problems.

Fleas belong to the order Siphonaptera, owing the name from its siphon-like mouthparts (siphon is a Greek word, which means “tube”). They are external parasitic insects, meaning they will need a host to feed on and they will stay on their host for as long as it takes. In short, these parasites are basically bloodsuckers. Nevertheless, they can survive without feeding for several days up to a couple of months depending on the dampness of the environment.

They may be wingless but they are far from helpless. They use their legs to reach their host. They are able to jump vertically up to seven inches, and leap horizontally for more than 12 inches to search for food or the next host. Take note, though, that not all fleas jump, owing its variation on their preferred host.

An adult flea will normally feed on the blood of the host, with about 90 percent of them preferring mammals and the remaining 10 percent on birds. Its larva will feed on dead mites and feces of adult fleas since it contains undigested blood.

Dog flea (Ctenocephalides canis)
Dog flea (Ctenocephalides canis). Photo by Luis Fernández García via Creative Commons

Why Are Fleas Irritating?

Fleas spell itchiness. They leave behind itchy bites both on pets and people. Some people can easily get irritated skin leading to infection. As with our pets, the constant itching and scratching can break the skin and form scabs that may increase the risk of infection or contamination. Flea bites may result to dermatitis, a skin reaction aggravated by flea saliva.

One reason behind the irritating nature of fleas is the fact that its infestation is tough to handle. Imagine this: each female flea can lay as many as 1,000 eggs soon after feeding on the infested host. Not only that, the eggs are laid not only on the host but also on your floor, ground, carpet, rugs and everywhere your pet walks around.

Fleas have the ability to adjust to their new environment fast. If you happen to live in an apartment, condominium or townhouse, chances are you will be sharing these pests with your neighbors.

Effects of Fleas on Dogs

Fleas on dogs belong to the species Ctenocephalides canis, while those of cats are Ctenocephalides felis. Whatever the kind of flea you’re dealing with, they are pathogen carriers and therefore can easily spread diseases. Whereas flea bites can give your pet skin dermatitis, that’s probably the least of your concerns. On a larger scale, flea infestation can leave your dogs at risk of internal problems.

puppy dog vet visit

Did you know that tapeworms inside the body of your pets are by-products of flea infestation? Once your pet is heavily infested, there is a great probability that it will ingest the flea. According to studies, the tapeworm is already inside the flea before it was ingested by your pet, and eventually grows inside your pet.  Normally, tapeworms do not cause major health issues in dogs and can now be easily treated.  Nonetheless, tapeworm infestation if left untreated can cause stunted growth, internal blockages and anemia.

Another effect of fleas on dogs is flea bite anemia. This is a serious concern that can cost the life of your pet.  This occurs when fleas feed so much on dogs, depleting their red blood cell counts. Early detection and timely treatment are necessary in order to reverse the effects of anemia. If this happens to your pet, it would be best to go see the vet immediately.

Effects of Fleas on Dog Owners

Dog fleas affect the dog owner in such a way that it causes trouble in the aspect of controlling the infestation. Occasionally, we may get flea bites from pets, but there are no known health effects on humans aside from skin itch.

If you live with pets that carry fleas, you can be a flea carrier. As a result, you may transfer fleas to other pets and locations. You may also become a carrier of flea eggs onto clothes of the people you meet, as well as on rugs of places that you visit.

Effect of climate on flea infestation

How long you need to battle with fleas will depend largely on the climate where you live. Fleas thrive fast in humid environments. In fact, during summer season, flea infestations are considered epidemic.

They can always be found in wild animals in the outside environment, and because of this, fleas can also be found in the woods, trees and bushes within the vicinity. Now when your pet comes in contact with the flea it will find your pet as a feasible host and food.

In colder areas where temperatures are freezing cold, fleas have a 50 percent chance of survival.  They can get killed by the cold or the mature fleas will just lay inactive while waiting for the warm season to come. Somehow they have found ways to survive the cold. They literally attach to their hosts and once the hosts are kept warm inside the house or barn, they will be just fine.

How to Remove Fleas

The question now is this: how do we get rid of fleas? In this matter, you will probably need the help of the experts. Contact your veterinarian or a pest control service to help clean off flea infestation in your dogs.

There may be times when fleas quickly come back and grow again, even after attempting to remove them. You have to be patient and ask your local exterminator to repeat the treatment. Usually they use special treatment products such as aerosol sprays, which have been approved by veterinarians to be safe to use around your pets.

In addition, vaccines for flea prevention can be injected to your pets to repel the insects.

Conclusion

As always, prevention is better than cure.  It would help a lot if you keep your surroundings clean at all times. Frequently wash your pets, and keep their living quarters dry and clean. You may want to use soaps and shampoos specifically indicated as flea repellent to avoid fleas from attaching to your pet.

Helpful Links and Resources

  1. http://www.petmd.com/dog/parasites/how-dangerous-are-fleas
  2. http://dogs.about.com/od/caninediseases/p/All-About-Fleas-On-Dogs.htm
  3. http://bugguide.net/node/view/7040
  4. https://www.reference.com/home-garden/long-can-fleas-live-host-c0d2c4a58a16cc35
  5. https://www.amentsoc.org/insects/fact-files/orders/siphonaptera.html
  6. http://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/infectious-parasitic/c_multi_cestodiasis?page=show

[Dog flea illustration by Wellcome Images via Creative Commons]

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Dog Lover
Madona is the writer at Barkily.