Fleas are small dark brown insects and in our part of the world they are a problem all year round – not just in summer. Dogs and cats often get infested with fleas through very close contact with other infected animals or contact with fleas
in the environment. The strong back legs of this insect enable it to jump from one animal to another or from the environment onto its victim. The flea’s bite can cause itching for the the animal it bites but for an allergic animal, this itching can be quite severe, causing inflammation and secondary skin infections in the skin and leads to hair-loss. Some dogs and cats are so sensitive that one bite from a flea can cause them to itch all over.
Fleas can sometimes be seen running along the surface of the skin of an animal, particularly if there are a lot of them present. Fleas are dark and about 2-3mm long. The easiest way of determining if they are present is to look for flea dirt for. "Flea dirt" looks like dark specks of pepper scattered on the skin or in the hair just above it. . If you see flea dirt, which is actually flea faeces and is composed of digested blood, collect some from the pet and place on a wet paper towel. If after a few minutes the tiny specks spread out in a brown stain.
Flea dirt is often the only evidence of a flea infestation. If there is flea dirt there are surely fleas present. There are several stages to its life cycle of the flea: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The length of time it takes to complete this cycle can be very short – a matter of days. The adult female flea typically lives for several weeks on the pet and does not leave it. During this time period she will suck the animal’s blood two to three times and lay twenty to thirty eggs each day. She may lay several hundred eggs over her life span. These eggs fall off of the pet into the, bedding, carpet, and wherever else the animal spends time.
These eggs then proceed to develop where they have landed. Since they are very small – less than 1 mm, they can even develop in small cracks in the floor and between crevices in carpeting. The eggs then hatch into larvae. These tiny worm-like larvae live among the carpet fibers, in cracks of the floor, and outside in the environment. They feed on organic matter, skin scales, and even the blood-rich adult flea faeces. The larvae grow, molt twice and then form a pupa, waiting for the right time to hatch into an adult. These pupae are very resilient and impossible to kill. Pupae can survive quite a long time, waiting until environmental conditions and host availability are just right. Then they emerge from their cocoons when they detect heat, vibrations and exhaled carbon dioxide, all of which indicate that a host is nearby. The newly emerged adult flea can jump onto a nearby host immediately.
There are a wide variety of flea products on the market today, but the newer prescription products are finally taking the frustration out of flea control. In some cases it is even possible to gain control by treating only the pet.