Peak season for fleas in most of Canada is mid-summer, or sooner, about May through June. Vancouver, however, rarely gets cold enough in the winter to kill fleas, which thrive in humid temperatures. Therefore, every season is flea season in Vancouver, and it’s imperative to prevent an infestation. One way you can arm yourself against fleas is by learning more about these pesky parasites.
Flea Life Cycle
The flea takes about two weeks to grow through its four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The eggs are designed to roll off the cat or dog in order to develop in its environment.
Just imagine that if your dog has fleas, every time your dog shakes, flea eggs are dropping all over your home like a salt shaker sprinkling salt! The eggs are so tiny that you just can’t see it happen!
The flea larvae hatch from the eggs in tiny crevices of hardwood flooring, baseboards, and carpets of the home. They look like white tiny worms and are completely blind, but can sense light and avoid it. The larvae feed off the dried blood in adult flea feces, shed by an infested pet.
The larvae then make cocoons in the pupa stage, and remain dormant until ready for the adult flea to hatch. That means they can be dormant for several months until the right environmental conditions, such as correct temperature, and humidity arise. In Vancouver, this usually means they won’t be dormant for very long.
Fleas are typically 1-3mm long, dark brown or reddish-brown, with no wings.
The adult female flea can lay approximately 15-20 eggs per day, which is about 500-2000 in their lifetime. The most common species of flea that affects household pets is the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis, one of 2000 known species.
The best way to start prevention is with your pet’s health. Year-round prevention of fleas is the best way to avoid an infestation from arising. The best way to kill fleas is to break the cycle. There are many oral and topical treatment and preventative options you can get from your veterinarian. There are also environmental sprays that kill adult fleas, which you can use after vacuuming. It’s best to empty the vacuum directly afterward so the pupae don’t hatch into adults in the machine and crawl back out into the house.
Remember, if one flea is found on your pet, it is safe to assume that all pets in the household have come in contact. Therefore it is very important that all pets are protected against fleas at all times!
Little Known Facts
Any animal that has fleas should be dewormed. The parasitic tapeworm is directly linked to fleas and humans can contract it from animals.
Even though fleas do not have wings, they can jump up to 20cm vertically and 40cm horizontally, which is approximately 200 times the body length. This makes them (relative to body size) one of the best jumpers in the world.
Signs of Fleas
- Scratching, chewing, or biting especially around the tail base
- Black pepper-like debris on the skin (flea dirt)
- “Hot spots” of focal areas of raw skin from self-trauma
- Live fleas crawling on your pet
Pets infested by fleas may show signs of skin problems including itchiness, discomfort, and hair loss. Some pets can be allergic to flea bites and will show an exaggerated degree of itchiness and discomfort from being affected by fleas. The condition is called flea bite allergy, or flea bite hypersensitivity. Some others may seem completely unaffected even though fleas could be present if they are not on flea prevention.
If you see any of these potential signs of fleas or skin problems, contact your family vet or your veterinary dermatologist right away for an evaluation of your pet.
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Dr. Andrea Lam, DVM, DACVD is a Board certified veterinary dermatologist. Dr. Lam loves learning and educating, and has trained several dermatology interns as well as dermatology residents. Her research interests include novel management strategies for the treatment of canine atopic dermatitis and applications for stem cell therapy.