Why Are Fleas A Problem?
Why are fleas a problem? Do you have a flea problem? We look at the health threats posed by fleas to people and to pets.
What Is The Problem With Fleas?
Fleas pose many health threats to you, your family and your pets. They are incredibly adept at hopping between host animals and will suck blood to over fifteen times their body weight. When a pet owner is experiencing flea infestations, you can be prey to flea eggs, flea larvae and flea bites; all of which can cause severe allergic reactions and greater health hazards.
There are over 2,500 flea species across the globe, but here in the UK, we experience a total of three. Most commonly, we are affected by Ctenocephalides felis (cat fleas) but also experience the dog flea and the human flea, all capable of infesting our homes. A single flea can suck blood for just under three hours, and female fleas are the worst for causing severe flea problems and a flea infestation.
How do fleas spread so quickly?
Flea numbers in your home can quickly multiply and spread, creating an infestation before you realise they are in your home. The majority of fleas you see on your pets fur, clothing or bedding will be a small percentage of the total population, as the rest will be flea larvae in hiding. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to a month for adult fleas to develop from the larvae, but this doesn’t matter as the female flea will regularly lay eggs during the breeding season.
A female flea will lay between 40 and 50 eggs every day for 50 days in peak seasons. The flea larvae will be almost impossible to spot and won’t come out of hiding until they are ready and the warmth conditions and carbon dioxide levels are correct. Until then, they burrow into bedding, clothing, carpets, furniture, and even your pet’s bedding. If you have spotted a flea in your home, you should take great precautions in cleaning and vacuuming all bedding and carpets, as eggs and larvae will be present.
You will typically only see around 10% of the total number of fleas in your surrounding environment, with the rest being hidden in various fabrics and holes. The flea larvae, eggs or pupae make up around 95% of the flea population at any one time, which is why killing the adult fleas you see isn’t going to stop the infestation.
Common Health Issues In Pets Caused By Fleas
Any pet owner will know the risks of fleas biting and infesting your pet’s fur and pet bedding. They can cause discomfort to our dogs and cats, intense itching and skin issues, but there are more health problems associated with fleas when they attack our pets. While you can supply flea treatment, it is essential to keep an eye out for the following health issues:
Anaemia is caused by significant blood loss and low levels of iron. Fleas feed on enough blood daily for fifteen times their own body weight, leaving your pet experiencing tiredness, perhaps nauseous and with pale gums.
If you notice any of these symptoms, you must treat the pet immediately and take further action against the flea infestation.
Feline Infectious Anaemia
This affects the cat’s red blood cells as the M.Haemofelis bacterium attacks the cells and can lead to severe anaemia.
This can result in pale gums, tiredness, general drowsiness of the cat and, in worse cases, death. Your cat must be medically treated immediately if you notice any of these symptoms.
Flea Allergy Dermatitis
Some pets can be allergic to flea saliva, which means they can suffer from skin irritation and hair loss when the flea bites their skin.
Scabs and welts can appear on the body and cause significant discomfort and distress for the pet as they continue to scratch and itch. Skin damage can be caused if they continue to scratch with no aid. If you notice any of these, your pet has a condition called flea allergy dermatitis and will need medical treatment.
Fleas can be infected with tapeworms, parasitic insects that can cause harm when ingested by the pet.
If your dog or cat eats an infected flea, the tapeworm could develop into an adult from the larvae and cause intestinal issues. Abdominal pain, diarrhoea and itching around the pet’s anus are all symptoms of a tapeworm.
Cat Scratch Fever
Fleas can also leave infected droppings, which can cause cat scratch fever in the instance where the droppings come into contact with the skin.
This can be passed onto humans, causing itching, eye inflammation, skin disease, heart disease and gum diseases, so you must seek professional help the second you notice these signs and symptoms.
If you would like to prevent these health conditions, there are control strategies to prevent fleas in your home.
Identifying a flea Problem
While it may be difficult to identify the flea infestation and problem in your home, it’s not impossible. You should be routinely checking your pet’s fur with a fine-toothed comb, checking for bite marks or small dots that could be fleas. The fleas will enter your home from outside when you walk your pet, as there could be infested dirt and grass, or they can enter on your clothing and bags. They will cling onto the underbelly of your pet and then transfer to the carpet and other furniture before you realise what is happening.
However, sometimes you can spot a flea hopping. They are wingless insects that will measure about 1/6 of an inch long. Fleas jump to get around and sometimes cover a foot in a single leap. The colour can range, but most commonly, you will see them as a brownish-black with six legs. The larvae are whiter in colour and will be about half the size, but you will only find them nestled in bedding, clothing and other warm areas. Where one flea is present, there are always more.
The life cycle of a flea is worth understanding, as you will not have eliminated the entire population by killing adult fleas. The vast majority are in hiding as larvae and are not yet developed.
Once you have identified the flea problem in your home, you need to start putting suitable control measures in place to stop the population from growing further. There are a few flea preventatives you can put into place starting today.
The important first step is cleaning, vacuuming, and changing all bedding and pet bedding.
When you vacuum, you will be sucking up and removing around 30% of the burrowed larvae and any flea eggs and remaining adult fleas in that area. This should be a deep clean underneath furniture, along walls, and you may want to strip cushions furniture covers and clean your curtains in extreme situations.
You must then get rid of the vacuum cleaner bags as there could be living fleas within. This method kills adult fleas and larvae together.
If you have used a comb to identify fleas in the pet’s fur, you can extract some with a pair of tweezers, but the best thing you can do to protect pets is provide a warm bath. The soap used will act as an insecticide and control the infestation in the fur.
When combined with soap and water, the fine teeth on the comb will extract most fleas from the skin, and your pet will feel relieved afterwards. You can also invest in Insect Growth Regulators (IGRs) as they are available as sprays, pills or even food additives. IGRs prevent adult fleas from developing eggs and larvae, significantly halting the flea population in your home. Other flea products, such as flea collars, are available to purchase.
While you are treating your pet for alive, adult fleas, you should treat the rest of your home simultaneously.
This ensures all dormant or growing flea larvae are killed and stops a new infestation from spreading. You should also focus on the pet’s environment, as this could be a hotspot.
You can purchase products and treatments with low toxicity to your home environment but can be applied to carpets, bedding and rugs to stop larvae from developing.
There may be dried blood in the bedding and clothing that these pests are feeding on, so it’s essential you deep clean and treat the entire home.
Despite your best efforts, you will need to have a follow-up treatment to this initial stage.
The insecticides may not kill all pupae or flea larvae in the home, so you should have a new treatment in about a week to ensure most are covered. If this fails and you’re still noticing fleas in your bedding and pet’s fur, you should contact a professional pest control company that can send out a qualified exterminator to deal with the problem.
Many chemicals and treatments used by an exterminator cannot be purchased over the counter and are much stronger and more efficient. By hiring an exterminator, this prevents re-infestation.
If you need assistance to prevent fleas in your home, please reach out to our professional team today.