Canberra’s pets enjoyed about ten years of minimal flea problems whilst Canberra endured the drought. In 2010 with the breaking of the drought, fleas came out of hiding and are partying at the expense of our dogs and cats! The last two summers have been worse for fleas than many people ever remember, and this summer is going to be the same, or worse!
What are fleas?
Fleas are small insects whose adult stage lives on cats and dogs. These insects are visible to the naked eye, but are very small and move quickly on an animal’s coat so can be difficult to spot. They feed on blood and excrete “flea dirt” that may be seen as small brown spots in an animal’s hair. When flea dirt is moistened it shows as an orange-red streak.
Life cycle of fleas
Knowing the life cycle of fleas is very important when trying to eliminate them. Although the adult fleas live in the coat of dogs and cats, the majority of the flea life stages live off the pet. Fleas lay eggs that fall from the pet into the environment, usually where the pet likes to rest (ie. bedding, carpet, shady areas in the yard, lounges). An adult female flea can lay up to 50 eggs per day! These eggs then become larvae and then pupae, developing in a cocoon-like structure. A newly developed adult flea can survive in its cocoon for up to 350 days! Fleas are stimulated to emerge from their cocoon and jump onto a pet when they sense movement, exhaled carbon dioxide or warmth. This is why a flea population can seem to suddenly “explode”. As most fleas are present in a house as eggs, larvae or pupae, the adult flea population that we see may only indicate 5% of the total household flea population! The lifecycle speeds up when the weather is warm and humid, increasing the flea population quickly.
What problems do fleas cause?
Fleas cause an itch when they bite the pet’s skin to feed on blood. Some animals can develop an allergic reaction to the saliva of fleas, known as Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD). Sometimes it only takes ONE flea! Some signs of flea infestation or FAD can include regular scratching, excessive grooming in cats, hair loss and scabs. Flea dirt may be the only sign that fleas are present in some pets that regularly groom the adult fleas away. In young kittens or puppies fleas can cause anaemia. Fleas also spread tapeworm.
What can you do?
Regular flea control products such as monthly Frontline, Revolution (dogs and cats) or Comfortis (dogs only) are very effective. There are numerous other products available as well. If fleas are present on any of your pets it is important to treat all dogs and cats in the household.
It is also important to control the life stages of fleas that are off the pet (ie 95%of the flea population) by:
- Regular vacuuming of floors and couches. During the first week of flea treatment vacuuming needs to be done every 2 days. Also vacuum the car if the pet is a car traveller.
- Hot washing all pet bedding, blankets, pillows, throw rugs weekly.
- Regularly removing leaf litter and other debris from the yard.
- Prevent your pet accessing hard to treat places, such as under houses.
- Steam cleaning carpet.
Please talk to our reception staff about flea control products or make an appointment to see one of the veterinarians if your pet has chronic itching, overgrooming or flea resistance issues. We CAN help!