Fleas are more than just a nuisance. Fleas pose a significant risk to dogs and other animals, even humans. These tiny external parasites live off of the blood of mammals, and their bites can lead to major heath issues. None of us wants to find fleas on our dogs, other pets or ourselves. As a dog owner, there are some basics you should know about the risks, prevention and treatment of fleas. With proper knowledge, you can help protect your dog from the threat of fleas.
About the Flea:
The flea is a tiny wingless insect with a hard and laterally flat body designed to easily navigate through pet hair, legs designed for jumping great distances, and mouthparts designed to suck blood. This external parasite feeds upon the blood of a host, usually a mammal. There are several species of fleas, but the one that most commonly affects dogs, cats and other house pets in North America is the cat flea, also known as Ctenocephalides felis. While this type of flea can bite humans, it does not infest us, as the human is not an ideal host. This flea prefers cats, dogs, rabbits and similar small mammals.
The Life Cycle of Fleas:
The flea’s life cycle is comprised of four stages:
Egg: An adult female flea can lay up to 40 eggs a day. The eggs are laid on the host, but will dry and fall off that host into the environment (pet bedding, carpet, etc). Eggs typically hatch within about two days.
Larva: When the eggs hats, larvae emerge. These tiny worm-like creatures feed upon flea feces (basically dried animal blood) in the environment. The larva goes through three molts before it becomes able to spin a cocoon and enter the pupal stage. The larval stage typically lasts from 5 to 15 days.
Pupa: Once in the cocoon, the larva begins its transformation into the adult flea. The cocoons are nearly indestructible and attract dirt and debris that camouflage them. Pupa can remain dormant in the environment for many months. Fleas in the pupa stage will not emerge until they sense a host. They are able to do this by sensing factors like warmth, vibration and carbon dioxide
Adult flea: A fully-developed flea only emerges from its cocoon when a host is available. The newly-emerged flea jumps on the host right away and begins the blood meal. A female flea will begin to lay eggs within 24-48 hours of her first blood meal. She defecates blood from her host that will fall off the host along with the eggs, re-starting the life cycle. Adult fleas can live for about 4-6 weeks depending on the environment.