Fleas are a frustrating pest not only for your pet and those around you, but for you and your family as well. That’s why flea prevention is an important part of maintaining a healthy life for your pet.
So, how do pets get fleas to begin with? Without a prevention schedule, fleas that have been dormant will emerge when triggered by ideal circumstances. They can remain in a pre-emerged state for as long as 5 months! That means they can be hiding undisturbed and ready to become active in carpets, baseboards, and air vents. While active adult fleas do not tend to go from host to host, flea eggs and larvae do get transferred from pet to pet, from pet to vehicle, yard, or home to home, and even from wildlife roaming through various areas.
Even after adult fleas become active again, it can take several weeks before they are noticeable. They hide in dark areas and deep inside of your pets’ coat until you notice one crawling around, biting you, or seeing increased itching and irritation from your pet. By this time, your fleas are already thriving and where there is one, there are hundreds more coming.
Another thing you may notice, especially in highly infested pets is flea dirt. What’s flea dirt? Fleas survive off of their hosts blood. They drink the blood and poop it out in a dried form which looks like tiny black pepper flakes. When bathed, you would be horrified to see your pets coat turning bright red as you rehydrate the dried blood. Severe cases of flea infestations can lead to anemia (low iron) in your pet.
What can happen if your pet has fleas and you do nothing?
There are a myriad of health issues associated with flea infestations:
- Anemia – as mentioned before, long-term infestations can cause an iron deficiency in pets due to blood loss from flea feeding. This can lead to lethargic or tired behavior, lack of exercise, loss of appetite, discoloration of the gums, and more.
- Flea Allergy Dermatitis – Some pets have an allergy to the saliva of fleas and it will show up with excessive itching which can show in hair loss, bumps and/or welts, redness, and even raw skin
- Hot Spots – Excessive itching to the point of making the skin raw can lead to hot spots which are moist areas which can lead to bacterial growth and even yeast infections which can be difficult to treat topically without the assistance of a vet and/or medication. These require antibacterial baths at the very least, hydrocortisone spray, and sometimes an antibiotic prescribed by a vet
- Tape Worms – Fleas can carry the larvae of tapeworms so if your pet swallows a flea while itching or during self-grooming, they can get tape worms. Tape worms attach themselves to the gut of your pet and, while they don’t usually cause major issues and they are easily treated, the do cause discomfort. They pass through fecal matter, so you may see them in your pets’ poop or wiggling around on your pets backside. They are in segment forms and look like little grains of rice. You can treat tape worms with an over the counter medication purchased almost anywhere.
- Bartonella Infection – Fleas can carry a parasite that leads to Bartonella Infection. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and even seizures! It is a very serious infection and should be addressed by a veterinarian immediately.
The best course of action to avoid all of these ailments is to keep your furry family member on a flea prevention regimen. There are several to choose from to suit your and your pets needs and budget and schedule. There are ingested pill forms of prevention, collars, and topical preventatives. Many require no trip to the vet and can be purchased online or in a pet store. It is important to make sure you get a preventative specific to the type of animal you have and their current weight range. NEVER use dog flea medication on cats!
Written by Darby Palmer
Darby, owner and lead groomer for Hot Shot Dog Grooming, has been grooming for over 10 years and has worked with all kinds of pets from dogs and cats to ferrets and guinea pigs! She specializes in working with anxious and formerly abused animals to rehabilitate them. It’s her passion to work with these animals to gradually show them that people, life, and grooming are good and help them remember what love feels like one session at a time.