Itchy? Maybe not, but your cat or dog might be. If you have pets that spend any time outside, it’s likely that you’re no stranger to a scratching dog or cat. You can blame fleas, or more specifically their bites and saliva, to which your pet is hypersensitive. Fleas are fascinating (and highly irritating!) creatures. They are ectoparasites – parasites that live outside their hosts’ bodies – exploiting their hosts both by using them for nutrition and to stay well protected from the harsh outside environment beyond their host’s hair or fur.
There are more than 2,500 flea species worldwide, with more than 300 species occurring in the United States.
What is the Lifecycle of the Flea and Why Does it Matter?
Adult female fleas feeding on an animal can start laying eggs within hours, laying up to 50 eggs per day. Eggs develop in the environment, preferring cool dark places (such as under fallen leaves, which is why it’s common to see an increase of flea infestations in the fall months), and indoors along baseboards, crevices of floors and furniture, and in carpets. Larvae then develop into pupae, typically preferring the same places as the larval stages. Finally, adults emerge from the pupal stage and start looking for a host to feed on.
This whole process can take as little as a few weeks in optimal conditions. However, the larval and pupal stages can also lie dormant for months, and hatch only once they sense the environmental factors are ideal (vibrations from movement, heat, and carbon dioxide can all trigger hatching). Sounds kind of like that scene from Alien where Kane (John Hurt) stumbles into the alien egg chamber and the eggs start to hatch, right? Thankfully fleas don’t go through a “facehugger” stage! Anyway, similar to the Queen Alien in the Alien franchise, it’s possible for a single egg-laying female flea to quickly lead to a serious infestation. It only takes one single female flea for the environment (which can be outdoors OR indoors) to quickly become contaminated with eggs, larvae, and pupae.
How Do I Know if My Pet Has Fleas?
Sometimes you’ll actually be able to see the fleas moving along the skin under the coat of fur, or even jumping from your pet as you rub their belly. You can also look for “flea dirt” (warning – it’s as gross it sounds), which is digested and excreted blood. Yikes. The two most common places to see flea dirt is around the tail area and behind the ears.
However, sometimes a flea infestation isn’t a simple diagnosis, especially early on. Some pets are very sensitive to flea bites and will demonstrate intense itching with only a single bite. In these cases, it can be difficult to detect the fleas. The classic signs of a pet with fleas are intense itching, licking, or chewing especially around the base of their tail. Usually, the itch associated with fleas is more extreme than other causes of itchiness, allergies for example.
How Bad are Fleas, Really?
So, obviously fleas are gross. But are they dangerous? They can be. Many flea-infested animals will only exhibit mild discomfort and intermittent itching. But in sensitive pets, even a single flea bite may cause the animal to become extremely itchy, and the reaction of intense scratching can lead to secondary skin problems such as bacterial infections and trauma to the skin.
In addition to bacterial infections, flea infestations can lead to a number of adverse health effects, including:
- Anemia due to blood loss in young puppies, kittens, and severely flea-infested animals.
- The most common form of tapeworms, Dipylidium caninum, is transmitted by fleas.
- Fleas can also carry the bacteria Bartonella, which causes Cat Scratch Disease. Typical transmission is from the scratch of an infected cat, but there is some thought that infected fleas can transmit directly to humans through a bite.
- Plague, caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, can also be transmitted by fleas. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) humans usually get plague after being bitten by a rodent flea that is carrying the plague bacterium or by handling an animal infected with plague.
Needless to say, there can be some pretty serious health implications due to fleas.
What is The Best Way to Get Rid of and Prevent Fleas?
Fleas are an absolute blight on any pet owner’s life. They bite you, bite your family, make your pet’s life a misery, and can lead to adverse health effects. However, conventional flea treatments can have all sorts of scary ingredients in them and can cause severe allergic reactions in both animals and humans. Fortunately, long-gone are the days of harsh chemical flea dips and sprays; there is a plethora of much gentler options for excellent flea control.
Here are some good ways to beat fleas without harsh chemicals:
Groom your pet daily – Regularly grooming your pet will allow you to notice a flea problem before it takes hold and will give you the chance to take immediate steps to eradicate the pests. Grooming also interrupts the life cycle of the flea and can really help get on top of a flea problem. Flea combs can be found at most pet stores and supermarkets and can be used in conjunction with a larger, softer brush for general grooming. When tackling a flea problem, have a bowl of warm water with a few drops of neem oil in it readily accessible. As you comb out the fleas, dip the comb in the water and oil – this will kill any fleas you have combed out – and wipe the comb with a piece of paper towel before continuing. Once you have a handle on the flea problem, you can simply brush your pet with an ordinary brush rather than the flea comb – most animals tend to prefer this anyway and it still acts as a deterrent to fleas with the bonus of keeping your beloved companion’s skin and fur healthy.
Use a pet shampoo with neem – Our Anti-Allergen Pet Shampoo contains organic neem tree extract, which promotes a healthy coat and skin. Neem oils and extracts are anti-inflammatory, gentle, and non-drying to skin and fur. Our Anti-Allergen Pet Shampoo is an environmentally-friendly cleanser with a 100% biodegradable, plant and mineral-based formula. It also neutralizes allergens from pet dander, fleas, and dust mites on contact, so it’s great for pets and for owners with allergies. Oh, and it smells amazing!
Environmental control - Along with grooming, environmental control is crucial to manage and prevent flea infestations. This includes very frequent vacuuming and cleaning of floors and baseboards in the home. Additionally, using a boron-based product, such as our Dustmite and Flea Control on carpets, upholstery, and pet bedding, will help to eliminate fleas and prevent future infestations. Boron is a natural element that is essential for healthy plant growth and aids in the assimilation of calcium in the human body. Borates have a long history of use in insect control and are effective against fleas, as well as other pests like termites, cockroaches, and ants. The Dustmite and Flea Control powder dissolves completely in water and can be used as a spray or in a carpet steamer to help keep those fleas (and dust mites!) away naturally. You can also use our pre-mixed dust mite and flea control spray.
Wash your pet’s bedding regularly - Make sure you wash your pet’s bedding at least once a week during flea season. Always use a gentle, hypoallergenic laundry detergent to wash your pet’s bed. Also remember to vacuum, sweep, and spray the area around your pet’s bed with a pre-mixed flea control spray while the actual bed is being washed.At The Ecology Works, all of our products are made with the well-being of people, pets, and the planet in mind. Learn more about the science behind our products as well as more pet-friendly tips. If you have any questions, please feel free to Contact Us or message us on Facebook. No question is too small! We’re here to help.