What is a flea anyway? A flea is a flat, tiny (about 2mm long), wingless, dark or reddish brown, blood sucking insect. They move from place to place and from animal to animal by jumping. A flea can jump up to 20 cm vertically and 41 cm horizontally. Who needs wings with this kind of bounce? If you find a flea on your pet, it is likely that this pesky creature is not alone and that she and her gang have plans for the future. These little blood sucking vampires are getting ready to wreak havoc and make your pet miserable or worse.
Here's what's happening deep within your pet's fuzzy coat once he has encountered fleas. After each meal of your pet's blood, the female flea lays 4 to 8 eggs. She can lay 25 eggs a day and up to 800 in her miserable life. The eggs are round, light brown and sticky, they cling to the hair shaft on your pet. Once hatched the small larvae go to work eating organic debris left on your pet by other fleas. The larvae are extremely hearty and do not die easily. The larvae spin cocoons, which can remain dormant for several months or until conditions arise which are favourable for their survival as adult, blood sucking fleas. Once they emerge from their dormant state, they go to work on your pet again and the cycle continues.
Besides flea bites and actually finding fleas on your pet, you can tell if your pet is infested with fleas by checking for flea eggs and flea dirt. Flea eggs, as described above, will stick to the hair shafts on your pet and can be detected by combing with a flea comb. In addition, fleas leave behind flea dirt (fecal matter) on your pet. Flea dirt looks like a red/brown dirt deep withing your pet's fur. You can be certain that it is flea dirt by removing it with a comb and putting it on a white cloth and dampening it. Once dampened, and smudged, the dirt will look red in colour, like blood, which is what it is.
When a flea begins to feast on your family pet, it releases saliva to stop blood from coagulating. This saliva contains chemicals that cause an irritant reaction and extreme itching ensues. Flea bites are identified by small, red, slightly-raised bumps with a single puncture point at the center. They are often in clusters or lines, and THEY ARE ITCHY. They can remain itchy and inflamed for up to several weeks causing your pet to scratch himself raw. Aside from the physical discomfort and the emotional distress of being itchy all the time, fleas can harm your pet physically. Some animals are allergic to the saliva left behind by the flea. This can cause flea bite dermatitis which is an itchy, painful rash. Hair loss and skin infections result. Like any itch, the more the pet scratches, the more infected things become. In short order, your pet is a mess. Oozing, painful hot spots cover his body and ravage his mind..
Skin problems are only part of the story. Count "Flea"cula and his band of mini vampires are capable of so much more. A heavy flea infestation can cause parasitic anemia. This is especially dangerous in young animals and animals whose immune systems are already compromised. Anemia can cause heart murmurs, lethargy, depression, weight loss. Severe flea infestations in puppies and kittens can cause anemia to the point of death!
What else can happen? Well, how about tapeworm? The tapeworm cycle begins with the flea larvae eating fecal matter that contains tapeworm eggs. The eggs hatch inside the flea and become cysticercoids. Your pet may then swallow a flea that contains these cysticercoids while chewing or biting at his skin. Once swallowed, the flea follows the digestive tract and passes into the animal's intestine where the flea is broken down and the cysticercoids develop into an adult tapeworm. The tapeworm attaches itself to the lining of the intestine and feeds off the nutrients.As the tapeworm matures the tail segments fall away. Each of these is mobile and contains the eggs of the tapeworm. The egg packets are passed in the feces of the dog. The eggs are then ingested by the flea larvae and the cycle renews itself....People can also become infected with tapeworm if they accidentally ingest an infected flea.YUCK!
Your pet deserves protection from this mini menace. Fleas can torture your pet physically and emotionally, what's more, they can be deadly. Check your pets regularly for fleas, flea eggs and flea dirt. If you suspect your pet has fleas, consult a veterinarian immediately. In short, FLEAS SUCK!
~Article submitted by Newf Friends volunteer Anne McNamara