Summer time brings pesky parasites

Summertime temperatures are often a welcome relief for both people and pets, with cases of cabin fever. Unfortunately, the warm up also brings out those persistent perennial parasites… Fleas!

With an ability to jump 12-18 inches from a standstill, the 1/8″ long common cat flea is one of the hardiest pests that our dogs and cats will encounter. An appetite for blood, an uncanny ability to reproduce, and a short life cycle make this parasite difficult to control or eradicate. What’s worse, the fleas can carry diseases that can affect our pets and us! How can we help protect our dogs and cats from this annual menace?

Several thousand species of fleas exist, but the cat flea is the most common throughout the United States and Canada. Feeding on the blood of dogs and cats, occasionally these fleas may even choose to dine on us! With a preference for warm weather and higher humidity, fleas are most often encountered during the spring and summer months. It may come as no surprise to many that the increasing global temperatures are lengthening the flea season for many pets across the United States. In addition our warm homes in winter create a livable environment so fleas can quickly become a year-round problem!

Once adult fleas attack your pet, you can expect to have flea eggs in the environment within about 36 hours. These small oblong eggs will fall off of the pet into the carpet, bedding, or yard and actually hatch into larval forms of the flea within 1-10 days. The larval forms will spend time munching on organic debris, such as dead skin cells and flea dirt. The larvae then form cocoons from materials it finds in the environment. The adult fleas can actually hatch out of the cocoon within 1 second when stimulated by light, movement, or heat. Given optimal conditions of humidity and temperature, this flea life cycle can be completed in as little as 12 days!

Besides their ability to reproduce quickly, fleas also can reproduce in almost unimaginable numbers. A single female flea has the ability to lay about 2000 eggs during her short 100 day lifetime and a group of 25 female fleas can swell to thousands in just 30 short days! To make matters worse, adult fleas comprise just 5% of the total flea population in the environment; more than 95% are present as eggs, larvae, or the hardy cocoon.

Although itchy pets are the hallmark of a flea infestation, fleas also bring several other concerns to pets and their owners. Severe infestations of fleas can actually cause young kittens or puppies and older pets to become anemic from blood loss. Blood parasites, as well as intestinal parasites, such as tapeworms, are commonly spread through fleas. More serious infectious diseases of humans, such as bubonic plague and cat scratch disease are also connected with these tiny pests.

Fortunately, recent advances in flea control technology have given the pet owner a wide range of products that are not only effective, but very gentle as well. Utilizing differences between mammal and insect physiology, leading veterinary pharmaceutical companies have developed long lasting insecticides for our pets.

Although many flea control products can be found in over the counter outlets, pet owners are urged to see their family veterinarian before choosing a product. Some of the pesticides that can be found in grocery stores, TV ads and mass merchants should not be used on certain pets, such as cats.

The flea control products that are recommended by veterinarians have additional benefits above control of the adult fleas. These products will actually help to break the life cycle of the flea by killing the adult flea before they have time to reproduce. Most flea products sold at veterinarians will actually kill the adult fleas within 24 hours of application and this speed of kill helps prevent the females from laying eggs.

Your veterinarian can help you decide what product is going to be best for you based on several factors: what type of pets you have, what part of the country you live in, and what other parasites your pets are exposed to routinely. As an added bonus, your veterinarian is available to you if you have concerns about the performance of the flea products.

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