Every good pet owner knows that fleas mean trouble. These little pests can cause big problems for you and your pets if you don’t take the proper steps to prevent them. So what exactly are fleas? Why are they a problem, how can you prevent an infestation and most importantly, how can you get rid of them once they’re on your pet and in your home? Gainesville Dogs can help! We are proud to offer a range of services to prevent, control and eliminate fleas. Just give us a call and our expert staff will jump right over to relieve the itching!
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What are Fleas?
Fleas are small insects, usually about an eighth of an inch long, that have no wings. Instead of being able to fly they have legs which allow them to jump incredible distances. Their bodies are flattened side to side and usually dark brown to black, often resembling black sesame seeds. Fleas are ectoparasites – they live on the outside of their hosts – and feed on the blood of their host with specialized mouthparts. There are many different species of fleas around the world and most of them live on one specific kind of animal. One species, commonly called the cat flea, is almost always the one our cats and dogs at home can get.
Why are Fleas a Problem for My Pet?
When a flea bites your pet to drink it’s blood, it can leave a small raised bump that is itchy and uncomfortable for your cat or dog. This is why they cause animals to scratch so much. In addition to being itchy and annoying, fleas can cause other severe medical problems. Fleas can carry dangerous, disease causing bacteria or even the larva of other kinds of parasites. Did you know that your dog or cat can get tapeworms from fleas? Your pet could also develop flea allergy dermatitis, where their skin can become much more inflamed, itchy and painful from flea bites and they can even start to lose their hair. In very extreme flea infestations, an animal can even develop flea anemia, when there are so many fleas drinking its blood that it starts to become sick from not having enough blood. Though flea anemia is mostly seen in very small puppies and kittens. Yikes! There is so much more to fleas that just a little itching, they can be a serious problem for your pets and you.
How do I know if my pet has fleas?
Often the first sign of fleas that we notice is increased scratching by our pets. Fleas like to hide in warm, dark places like armpits around ears and in the animal’s groin area, so you might see your pet’s attention focused on these areas in particular. You might also notice “flea dirt”, which is a polite term for their waste products, in your pet’s fur and on their bedding. Flea dirt is very dark red to black and appears as small, dirt-like specs and flakes. It almost looks like black dandruff.
If you suspect that your dog or cat has fleas there are a few things you can check. Brush their coat to help you check for flea dirt or live fleas. Look at your pet’s bedding or in places they like to sleep for flea dirt and small, pin prick sized drops of blood. You can also check your pet’s fur for live fleas, look around their ears, in their armpits and in their groin area. Fleas are dark brown to black, and shaped like a sesame seed and will most likely be crawling along your pets skin. They may jump away very quickly as you start looking for them. If you pick a flea from your pet, squeeze it between your fingernails until you feel it pop to guarantee that you’ve killed it.
How do I get rid of fleas?
While we hope you never have to deal with a flea infestation in your home, here are some tips to get rid of fleas if you find yourself dealing with them.
- Clean up everything you can right away. Wash all of your pet’s bedding, any soft toys and any blankets, towels, rugs or other linens that your pet sleeps on regularly with hot water. Vacuum any rugs, couches and other soft surfaces that are unable to be laundered.
- Bathe your pet. Depending on if you have a Cat or a dog, and their individual personality, this might be easier said than done, but it is very important. A bath in Dawn blue dish detergent is gentle and safe for your cat or dog and will kill any adult fleas they are carrying. Use warm water, get them nice and sudsy and let the soap sit for a few minutes before rinsing. Fleas often hang out on the face and round the ears, so don’t forget to wash there too, just be careful to keep soap out of eyes! After the bath, you will probably see dead fleas in the bottom of the sink of tub. As you are drying your pet, you’ll probably see more coming up to the surface as well. They should be dead, but make sure to pop them between your fingernails if you are not sure. A good brushing and potentially the use of a fine-toothed flea comb can help you remove any other dead fleas from their coat.
- Treat and repeat. While the adult fleas live on your pet, eggs fall off of them and get into the soft surfaces in your home, which means they can re-infect a clean pet even if you get rid of all of the adults. We recommend treating your rugs, couches and other soft surfaces with boric acid (Borax). Borax is a white powder that is often added to laundry detergent. It is generally safe for use around pets and children but will kill fleas by scratching their exoskeletons and causing them to dry out. Vacuum daily and sprinkle borax on surfaces right after.
- Chemical treatment. If you have a bad infestation, your vet can provide a chewable medication called CapStar that will kill any adult fleas living on your pet for about 24 hours but is not a preventative for further infestation. This can be very helpful to get a jump start on removing fleas from your home, but is not enough on its own.
Flea removal is a lot of work and takes time. Worried about tackling it on your own? Gainesville Dogs is here to help! We are able to bathe, brush, groom and remove fleas from pets and help you make a detailed, personalized flea control and removal plan.
How do I Prevent fleas?
The best way to treat fleas is to prevent them in the first place. There are many options to treat fleas and other parasites in both cats and dogs. Some of these options, like some topical flea treatments and flea collars can be purchased at the pet store without needing to see a veterinarian. There are also many products that can protect your pet from fleas, ticks and other parasites (especially heart worms) that you can only get through your veterinarian, many of which are convenient all-in-one chewable or topical applications.
Our recommendation is to talk to your vet about what the best flea prevention strategy is for you and your pets based on your location and their risk of coming in contact with parasites. Every pet should be on flea and tick prevention, even if they spend most or all for their time indoors.