All About Fleas

fleasFleas are small insects that belong to Boreidae family. They have been around for a million years. They are flightless insects, which suck the blood of animals and humans. They are approximately 1/16 to 1/8 inch in length and are agile. They can live on any warm-blooded animal, including cats, dogs, rats and humans. They are often mistaken for bed bugs, ticks or lice. However, fleas are reddish brown in color and they do not have wings.

There are hundreds of flea species in this world. We can classify them in three basic groups – mobile fleas, sedentary fleas and stick tight fleas. Mobile fleas change their hosts frequently and they spend more time in nests or on the host. Sedentary fleas, as the name itself implies stay in one place. Stick tight fleas dig into the skin of any animal and hold them tight.

Fleas normally live on pets, carpets, sofas, mammals, farm goods and household goods. The female flea lays eggs in any of these places and the eggs turn into larvae. The larvae develop into pupae and make their settlement inside any shelter. When they feel any warm moves, they come out of their cocoon and jump on to the body of the host (either animal or human). They start their life there and suck blood. The interesting fact about fleas is that they can jump to a height of four feet.

Though fleas feed mainly on blood, they can live without sucking a drop of blood for hundred days. However, a female flea needs blood to lay eggs. It can lay eggs within 36 to 48 hours after sucking the first drop of blood. It can lay 2,000 eggs in its lifetime. 

There are typically five types of fleas in the world – ctenocephalides felis (cat fleas), cteneocephalides canis (dog fleas), xenopsylla chopsis (rat flea), pulex irritans (human flea) and echidnophaga gallinacea (hen flea).

Cat flea is the most common specie of flea that requires fresh blood to reproduce. The female cat flea lays eggs on the host and the eggs hatch into larvae. The larvae feed on dried blood, which is filtered out of the hair coat of the host. Cat fleas cause little harm to the host. The saliva of this flea can cause some allergic reactions. They can also transmit other parasites and infections to cats. The life cycle of cat flea is normally 30 to 75 days.

Dog fleas are rarely found in North America, but are common in Europe. Dog fleas are much similar to cat fleas and the difference can be detected only under high magnification. Dog fleas can also be found on foxes, wolves and coyotes.

Rat flea is the most important agent of plague and murine typhus. It is commonly found on domestic rats. It also feeds on dogs, cats, chickens and humans, if rats become scarce.

Hen flea feeds on several birds and very few mammals. It spends most of its time on the host’s nest.

Human flea feeds on human and is capable of transmitting pathogens. It also infests dogs, cats and other mammals. It is prevalent predominantly in farm areas. Flea bites can be itchy and painful.

Flea infestations generally occur during the warm and moist months of the year. Flea can get into any area, as it can jump up to four feet high. Fleas on rats can carry bacteria, which causes plague. It can even cause murine typhus and tungiasis. As it sucks blood with its mouth, it can cause severe infection as well as irritation on the skin. However, keeping the home and farm areas clean can reduce the infestation of fleas.

Flea Removal Tips

Fleas are pests that can be found mostly on dogs and cats. They can be a major nuisance and once they infest in large numbers, it becomes very difficult to eradicate them. You may have to spend a lot of money to take them to a vet and remove the fleas. There are a few methods and fleas removal tips which can be carried out at home at a lesser cost. It may take a bit of your time, but is worth the effort.

Retail stores today sell a variety of flea removal products. It is important to choose one that is effective and not too harsh on your pets. As you purchase a flea removal product, ensure it has the ingredient called adulticide and Insect Growth Regulator or IGR. With the help of a flea removal comb, it is possible to comb through their coat to eradicate all the fleas. This exercise may have to be repeated for a few days to ensure all fleas are taken care of.

While the process of removing the fleas is quite simple, eliminating their eggs completely is a tougher job. Their eggs can be all over the place. Wherever your pet goes, those areas could be infested with eggs. Unless every nook and corner is cleaned and sanitized, the fleas are going to get back to your pets again over a period of time.

A good idea is to vacuum the areas in your home. Continuous vacuuming for a week will ensure elimination of eggs. If you are in the habit of taking your pet for a ride in your vehicle, ensure you vacuum your car too. Be sure to wash toys, blankets, sheets and pillows in hot water. If your pets live outdoors, be sure to clean and sanitize the dog house too.

After elimination of fleas, the next important step is to take preventive measures. Giving your dog flea drops on a regular basis, at least once a month. It is in the interest of your pets to keep flea collars away. Flea collars are known to cause a variety of illnesses.

Keep noticing for signs of fleas in your dog such as excessive scratching. Catching them early is the best way to completely eradicate them. We notice that summers are the time when fleas come in large numbers. They come indoors tagged on to your pets. These pests can be eradicated using certain non toxic methods too.

Keep high traffic areas spic and span by constant vacuuming. Ensure you clean the vacuum cleaner every time you use it. One of the excellent methods of eliminating fleas is by mixing four parts of borax with one part salt and sprinkling this on your carpet. Eggs and fleas are dehydrated as the mixture goes in between the fibers. This prevents the eggs from hatching.

Vets give certain injection or spray treatment which keeps fleas away from them. You can take your cats and dogs to your vet and get them injected with the Program injection every month. Alternately you can also treat them with fleas elimination sprays once a month.

One remedy for flea removal is keeping trays of rock salts under the couch or other places where a lot of fleas are found.

Dangers of Fleas

Fleas are external parasites that do not have wings but are provided by nature with specially adapted mouth parts to consume blood from pets and humans. Animals and humans are affected by the damage caused due to fleas. They fall on the ground from a pet’s skin. They climb up and attack the feet, ankle or the whole leg of the human being. The bitten portion of the skin turns hard, red and swollen and produces an itching sensation.

The affected person should not scratch the bitten area because it gets swollen and leads to bleeding. If you are bitten by the flea and it is still gripping your skin, you can segregate it with a pair of tweezers or scrapping it away.  It is wise to burn them alive. Generally, an adult flea bites humans as the last resort when the flea population is high. The parasites are licked away by pets and we cannot actually see them but witness the specific skin disease after the bite. The insects develop inside cracks in the joining of boards of hard wood floors.

Animals start scratching or biting their skin to overcome irritation. They lick the wounded portion with their tongues and groom excessively.  The skin gets discolored to orange-brown shade due to the stains produced by the saliva of the flea. As this insect starts sucking blood under the skin of the animal, its saliva stops blood coagulation. This causes irritation, a symptom called Pruritus.  Animals get surrounded by the parasites. Their bites cause Flea Allergic Dermatitis in the animal. The dog that suffers from FAD a damage caused due to fleas gets clinical signs over the inner thigh, abdomen and near the spine and hind legs.

Many diseases are spread by insect biting when certain organisms they consume from the environment are passed to the victim’s body. They spread bacteria, protozoans and virus which are micro-organisms. These are the chief source of disease called the pathogen and the flea that transfers the pathogen is the vector. Thus the direct damage due to fleas is the effect of saliva on the skin but the indirect effect is more severe due to the spread of diseases.
The flea larvae feed on eggs of tapeworm passes on tapeworm parasite to the dog which it had bitten. Near the base of the dog’s tail, wriggle the tapeworm segments. If fleas infected by tapeworm inject the infection into humans, the humans suffer from parasitic anemia. A heavy swarm of fleas biting the animal can result in heavy blood loss.

Of all the 1,900 species, the cat flea is the one that pesters the pets including the rabbits. It is not selective about the prey but proves lethal in dairy calves through infestation.  
Fleas are vectors of Plague. Rat flea consumes the bacterium called Yersinia Pestis from disease affected rats and transfers them to humans through its bite. Plague is also known as the Black Death and was the destroyer of 30% of Europe’s population in the fourteenth century. Plague shows symptoms on humans in two ways.

The bubonic plague causes high fever with headache and muscular pain, shivering and irritating buboes which are swollen lymph nodes in the arm pits and groin of the person. The pneumonic plague spreads quickly inside the body through the lymphatic system. The lungs are affected causing the infectious pneumonia.

The damage caused by fleas to animals and humans are innumerable. One way of preventing these insects from entering home is to wash the legs of the pets after their stroll outdoors. The floors have to be cleaned with anti-bacterial soap frequently.    

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