Here at the clinic we’re starting to see a significant number of our patients coming in with fleas. This season, the prevalence of fleas is a bit higher than normal. Being in a community located next to two great parks increases the chance of transmission between animals. With summer winding down and fall weather approaching, now is the time to be on the lookout for itchy pets with little black wandering hitchhikers on their bodies (particularly near the head, genitals, armpits and paws), as fleas love the warm moist weather. Dr. Foster makes it a habit to check every patient for fleas as a preemptive strike to flea infestation in the home.
Now, let’s look at the life cycle of the flea (Ctenocephalides felis):
1. Just like the life cycle of most parasites, flea life cycles are circular. This means that our starting point is actually the end point at the same time. In order for your animal to get fleas, fleas already existing on another animal must lay eggs after blood-feeding. These eggs fall off the flea-infested dog or cat and stay in the environment for about ten days. Because flea eggs fall off the host once they are laid, the most highly infested areas in your home would be where your animal lays down and sleeps. These areas should be treated with extra care if you find fleas on your animal.
2. Flea larvae emerge from the eggs and feed off of organic matter such as the dead blood that is found in adult flea feces. This is because adult fleas have a very inefficient digestive system that processes blood very poorly because their hosts (i.e. dogs and cats) are basically an unlimited supply of food. These larvae will exist in this stage for 5-12 days. During this time, they spin a silk cocoon. This silk coating will transition the larvae into their next stage of life.
3. Larva will turn into pupa, which is not visible to the naked eye because their silk coating is sticky, which gets coated in natural environmental debris that disguises them from recognition. Now this is where the importance of flea season comes into play. Ideal conditions for hatching is when the environment is warm and moist. In this case, the pupa will develop and then hatch in 8-9 days (read: this is in the fall!). In unideal conditions, the pre-emerged adults can lay dormant into their cocoons for months on end until the right conditions come to pass. So don’t think that your pet is safe from fleas if they got away scotch free in the summer. The dormant pre-emerged fleas can wait all winter long to get a tasty bite!
4. When a flea is finally ready to hatch, it must find a host (potentially your pet!) to attach and feed to. Once it has it’s first blood meal, it is ready to mate to produce eggs about 24 hours later. A single flea can live for up to 133 days, can lay 27 eggs per day, and your animal can be a host for up to 200 fleas at one time.
If your pet gets fleas, you were a victim of this relentless cycle. But you can be the one to stop it! Speak to your veterinarian about the best treatment method if you suspect your animal has fleas, or better yet, take the preventative route and get them on a monthly medication that prevents fleas from making that first, oh so tasty bite.
For an illustrated life cycle, please see: http://www.bayerparasitesolutions.ca/en/fleas.html