By Diane A. Dodin, D.V.M.
Spring is in the air and the warmer weather brings fleas and ticks. Normally, flea season starts around April or May and will last through October. The flea season is dependent on the warmer weather, which begins when temperatures reach 60 degrees. Once we have our first frost, flea season has come to an end.
Fleas are small reddish-brown insects approximately 2-5 mm in length. They are able to travel from host to host by jumping. Fleas can jump 100 times their own body length. They feed on the blood of mammals such as dogs, cats, rabbits, raccoons, rodents and humans. The most common type of flea is the cat flea, which can be found on dogs and cats. There are four stages of a flea's life cycle—eggs, larva, pupae and adult. Normally, it will take a flea 12-14 days to develop from an egg to an adult, but if dormant it can take up to six months or more to complete the life cycle. The adults are the ones seen on your pet. Your pet can get fleas from other animals with fleas, the outdoors, or if an apartment building or house had been previously infested and not treated. Fleas can cause other problems besides the itchy pet. Some animals are allergic to flea bites, flea allergy dermatitis, and break out in a rash from one single bite. Fleas can carry an intestinal parasite, the tapeworm. When an animal ingests an infected flea the animal can become infected with tapeworms. A good indication that your pet may have tapeworms would be to find small white cucumber seed-size segments around the home or on the pet's backside. Another problem with your pet getting fleas is your home becoming infested. If your home becomes infested with fleas, treating the animal won't solve your problem. The entire home must be treated as well.
The tick is another insect that can be a problem, especially in wooded areas. Ticks, just like fleas, feed on the blood of mammals. After a feeding, the tick will fall off the host. Ticks will bury their head into the skin of the host while they feed. Their life span is measured in years rather than days or weeks. Ticks can carry many different diseases that can be passed onto pets and people. Some diseases that ticks can pass are Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesiosis, feline haemobartonellosis, feline hepatozoonosis and cytauxzoonosis. These diseases may be more prevalent in certain areas of the United States and in different species of ticks.
There are a few ways to check for fleas and ticks. Checking your pet's skin from head to tail for any attached ticks or fleas is always a great start. If a tick is attached it needs to be removed carefully, making sure the mouth piece is removed. A flea comb can be used to find fleas and/or flea dirt. Flea dirt is the feces of the flea. It looks like regular dirt. To determine if your pet has fleas, place the material on a white paper towel and place a drop of water on the flea dirt. Drag the material on the paper towel with your finger. If you see an orange or reddish streak, you have flea dirt, which is digested blood.
The key to avoiding problems with ticks and fleas is prevention. There are numerous treatments on the market today, from daily oral tablets, Capstar, or monthly topical applications, Frontline and Revolution to name a few. There are also flea and tick shampoos and collars. Collars may cause irritation to the skin and are not as effective as some of the topical or oral treatments out there. There are many other brand names. It is best to find the one that works best for your pet.
If you do encounter fleas in the home, there are different surface and bombs that can treat the home, as well as chemical treatment for your lawn. Vacuuming the entire house and throwing away the bag afterwards can aid in the removal of fleas.
Hopefully, you and your pet will be able to enjoy the spring and summer time without having to deal with a flea or tick infestation.