Fleas and Flea Allergic Dermatitis

What Are Fleas?

Adult fleas are reddish-brown insects with compressed or flattened bodies, from side to side. While visible to the naked eye, they are small and can be difficult to detect. Although wingless, they can jump a long way. This enables them to jump easily from ground level onto your pet.

Fleas feed on blood, and female fleas consume about 15 times their body weight each day. Incompletely digested blood is excreted from the flea and dries to form what is commonly referred to as “flea dirt”. This is seen as little black flecks in your pets coat. This serves as food for developing flea larvae and is one way veterinarians and pet owners can identify an infestation.

Whats is the flea life-cycle?

The adult flea can lay up to 50 eggs per day. The eggs laid then fall off your animal in other areas of the house such as the bed, living room, sofa and car. In the following few weeks the eggs develop into larvae which feed on flea faeces which is laid by the adult fleas and on skin scale. The larvae are very tough little creatures and can live in the environment for long periods of time (up to two years). The larvae also love the dark and will burrow into any dark area available including the carpet, soft furnishings and the floor boards. The larvae then develop into pupae which hatch into adult fleas when the conditions are warm, humid or in response to vibrations. The life cycle is now complete and the adult flea is ready to hop onto your pet for its first blood meal.

Why worry about fleas?

Not only can fleas make your pet miserable, but depending on his age and overall physical condition, fleas can pose a serious threat to his health.

  • Fleas can cause severe discomfort for pets, including scratching, chewing, biting and restlessness.

  • Fleas are the source of flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), a very common skin condition especially in the cat. (see below)

  • Severe flea infestations can cause anemia, especially in young pets.

  • Ingested fleas also can transmit tapeworm to pets when ingested during grooming.

Fleas also raise human public health concerns. Humans too are often bitten by fleas and can also cause similar health issues in humans

Fleas can be a major problem for pets and their owners. Even if they never leave the house, pets can be exposed. Preventing flea infestations is the best protection against them.

Why are fleas so hard to control?

Once in your home, a female flea can produce up to 50 eggs per day, so even a few fleas can quickly turn into an infestation. Flea pupae, are more impervious to flea control products. Adult fleas erupt out of their pupal stage and jump onto your pet. This is why it’s important to treat fleas as quickly as possible and to make sure your pet is protected, even before flea infestation has occurred.

What you can do to control flea infestations

Even with flea protection for your pet, you still want to be sure your household is rid of fleas in the egg, larva or pupa stages when you treated your pet. It is easy to understand now why both your pet and the environment must be treated to successfully eliminate fleas. There are a variety of veterinary products available for treating your pet and the staff at the veterinary clinic are more than happy to advise you on which one is most suitable. Sprays to treat the environment are also sold over the counter at the clinic.

The veterinary products available at the clinic are safe and effective and should be used routinely. These products are included in our Pet Health Plans.

In summary preventing infestation is much easier than eliminating an infestation, if you discover fleas in your home:

  • Eliminate fleas on your dog

  • Eliminate fleas in your home

  • Prevent future infestations.

What is flea allergic dermatitis (FAD)?

FAD is a common skin complaint, which is more often seen in cats. It is caused by an allergic reaction to flea saliva which is injected into the skin when the flea bites. This reaction can be caused by a single bite.

What are the symptoms?

  • Itching

  • Hair loss

  • Scabs (miliary dermatitis)

  • Excessive grooming

Control and treatment of FAD?

  • Good flea control i.e monthly flea treatment using veterinary products (do not use dog products on your cat).

  • Removing fleas and flea dirt from the environment – regular vacuuming, washing of bedding/soft furnishings, use of household flea sprays.

  • Corticosteroid injections.

  • Antihistamine treatment

  • Cyclosporine treatment may be considered in very severe and non-responsive cases. This treatment is very expensive and can be difficult to administer.

It is very important to remember that your pet has an allergy which will require a long-term management and may require on-going treatments. It is for this reason that regular flea treatment and environmental control is kept up to date.