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I think, therefore I harm

Fleas! Burk!

Fleas are small parasitic insects that feed from blood. They measure from one to four millimeters long. They have a laterally flattened body and their color is dark brown to almost black, or reddish brown, depending on species. Fleas are wingless, however they can jump up to 20 cm (8 inches) high and up to 40 cm (16 inches) horizontally.

Flea!Fleas spread the entire world, though they are prevalent in temperate areas. Fleas do not like very hot and dry places, or cold locations, and are therefore more common from spring to fall, with a peak in early to mid-fall. In Canada and northern United States, the peak season is from late August to early October.

Fleas feed from blood from mammals and birds. They are more common among dogs and cats, but all your mammals and birds could get infested. This article concentrates on dogs and cats, however.

Their very thin body helps them move quickly through fur. Their legs are specially designed to grab animal hair. For this reason, fleas cannot infest humans, because we are mostly hairless, and the little hair we have is not adequate for their legs. Fleas can still bite us and feed from us, but mostly while we sleep. Lice are another insect from the same family which evolved to be able to grip human hair, but are not able to infest pets.

Bites from fleas are not unlike those from mosquitoes, leaving on humans a round, swollen, raised, red spot. From my own experience, these bites itch more than those of mosquitoes, but disappear quicker, usually within a few days.

Fleas don't like water and tend crawl to the head to avoid it during a bath

Fleas don’t like water and tend crawl to the head during a bath

Fleas being insects, there is little correlation between house or pet care and fleas infestations. Also, pets not allowed to get outside are just as susceptible to get fleas than any other pets. Fleas, like other insects, can enter you house without any invitation. You are more susceptible to fleas if you live at ground level or below. The higher you live, the less likely you are to get fleas, if of course your pets are not allowed outside and are not in contact with other pets.

Though fleas are mostly a nuisance and rarely dangerous, they may sometimes carry diseases, which could cause illnesses or infections in both humans and pets. Some people and pets may also be allergic to flea saliva.

Detecting fleas

It is suggested to check your pets for the presence of fleas regularly, in particular near peak season. Fortunately, this is very easy to do, and can be done while giving your pets their daily dose of love.

The first noticeable sign is often a pet scratching more than usual, every few minutes rather than a few times a day. If you do notice that, please immediately inspect your pet.

Fleas look for warm spots on pets, and are therefore more often concentrated in the neck and at the base of the tail of cats and dogs. For this reason, the back of the neck and the base of the back, near the tail, are good starting points for inspection. Slightly move your fingers in these areas, between the hair, to touch the skin, and try to locate scabs.

While flea bites are easy to see on human skins, they cannot be as easily seen on pets. However, since pets tend to scratch a lot, they cause noticeable scabs than can be easily felt with the fingers. The bites are often scattered in a line, a noticeable pattern used by fleas, or can be clustered.

If the infestation is severe, it is not uncommon to see the fleas flee for safety as you try to look between the hair with your fingers. Also, using a flea comb, you can see them easily as you catch them.

Flea feces may appear like dirt to the untrained eye

Flea feces may appear like dirt to the untrained eye

On pets with light hair and skin, you can usually see a lot of dark spots where the fleas reside, which are actually the feces from the adult fleas. These may be very difficult to see on dark animals, but a flea comb may prove useful.

Using light color (ideally white) bed sheets can helps detect fleas if your pets are allowed to sleep with you. Dead or weak fleas can fall from your pets during the night and be found on the sheets in the morning.

When fleas are detected, it is important to immediately get rid of them.

Treating your pets

Once fleas are detected, you should begin a process to get rid of them as soon as possible. Treatments are generally easy to perform, but you might need help from a friend depending on your level of skills and your relationship with your pets.

There exists a few methods, ranging in efficiency from “Fuck it! It doesn’t work!” to “Thanks Tom! You saved my life! I love you!”

Forget about flea collars. They are designed for prevention, and are of no use once an infestation took place. Furthermore, their efficiency for prevention is still to be verified.

kitten-bathA popular method is the use of flea shampoos. Shampoos are generally inexpensive and they work quick. Their efficiency varies depending on brands. Shampoos are usually available over the counter and bottles normally last several baths. It should be noted though that flea shampoos are an instant solution, but do not prevent fleas from returning on pets after they dry. Flea shampoos are medicinal products and should be used and stored accordingly. While the toxicity of these products should be low for humans, the use of dish gloves are recommended. Only use a shampoo designed for a particular pet, as the ingredients may be very toxic (read: lethal) when used on the wrong pet. Do not use a flea shampoo for dogs on cats. For extremely obvious reasons, shampoos are less popular among cat owners.

Spot-on solutions have proved to be more efficient and durable. There exists a few brands on the market, some over the counter and others only through a vet. Most of the brands sold over the counter contain similar ingredients, which are known to cause frequent allergic or toxic reactions and are of low efficiency. Please, do not use these products.

The only product I would use and recommend is Advantage by Bayer. It is a spot-on product that is extremely efficient. You will most likely be flea free within hours. There are very few and rare side effects; this is a safe product. Advantage’s main ingredient is classified as an insecticide that is banned from agricultural use and only allowed in medical products for this particular use, and is therefore sold only through a vet in most jurisdictions. The price may appear somewhat high, but is well worth it.

Advantage is sold in versions for cats and dogs, and in different dose sizes depending on the size of the animal. For dogs, they also have a more advanced formula which also takes care of ticks. You vet will help you choose the right one.

Advantage is a liquid which comes in single-dose tubes. The product is applied directly on the skin of the animal, behind the back of the neck. This spot is selected because this is where the majority of the fleas reside, but also because the pet cannot lick that spot. For large dogs, you should also put some at the base of their tail to improve efficiency. The product will act immediately, and you will likely see the first few fleas fall off within minutes. There will be few to none left within about two hours. Afterward, the product will remain in your pet’s blood and prevent any recurrence for about 30 days.

It is your pet that you want to cure from fleas, not you. For this reason, you should avoid any contact with your pet withing 20-30 minutes from the application of the product. I highly suggest that any pet be put alone in an empty room, away from human and other pets, during that period. You may want to give you pet a (healthy) treat afterward to lessen the impact of the experience.

Some animals may appear to have fever-like symptoms in the few hours following the use, such as appear sleepy and dazy. This is somewhat common and normal. These symptoms should dissipate after an hour or two.

There may be a dry crust remaining in the fur of your pets after the product has been used. This is normal and it is not necessary to clean it, though I would suggest to wait a few hours if you still wish to clean it off.

A typical flea comb

A typical flea comb

Over the few following days, it is normal to find dead or weak bugs in places your pets sleep, including your bed. You should clean these places often during this time. You may also continue to see live fleas on the treated pets for a few days, but their number should be low. If you wish, you may use a flea comb to attempt to remove them. Drown the captured fleas in hot soapy water. Fleas do not have a central nervous system (brain), and thus are not conscious. They are not aware of their own existence and do not know pain. It is morally acceptable to drown fleas.

If you are using Advantage as a preventive mean, one dose every 30 days is sufficient. However, if your pet was infested, you must use a second dose after 21 days instead. This is because this product kills eggs and adults, but does not affect larvae. The larvae remain there, invisible. After 21 days, they will have turned into adults, but will not have yet matured enough to be able to lay eggs. Therefore, using the product again after 21 days breaks the cycle, ensuring that an infestation cannot reoccur. Vets suggest to repeat this a third time after another 21 days, but I always did only twice and never had recurrence. Your millage may vary.

Once your pets are free of fleas, you may decide to continue use of Advantage every 30 days to prevent any further infestation. I do not like the excessive use of medication, and do not use Advantage outside of fleas outbreaks, but you may want to if you live in an environment where fleas are more common.

Important note: If you have quite a few cats, you vet may suggest that you buy a dose for large dogs that you will split on your different cats. If you trust your vet and you are comfortable with this idea, some versions of Advantage for dogs are perfectly safe for cats. Some other versions, though, contains permethrin, an ingredient which is safe for dogs but lethal for cats. In fact, accidental intoxication to permethrin is rated the number one intoxication in cats. Be safe and read the list of ingredients printed on the tube or box. In case of doubt, it’s better to play safe and buy several tubes for cats at the extra price.

Treating your house

Fleas are insects. They need to feed on blood, and they usually do so several times a day, but adults don’t usually remain on pets between meals. They live in your house. It is important to clean your house more often and more thoroughly during the weeks following an outbreak. Of particular interest, fleas are known to be able to survive several weeks without feeding.

If you have any carpet, vacuum them daily to take away any flea that might have taken home there. Clean your bed sheets more often. Also clean any place your pets may like to play or sleep. If fleas are left in your house, they may later infest your pets again.

Products are sold, such as sprays, to kill any fleas left in your house. I have never used any, but heard good things about some of them.

Depending on where you live, you way also want to clean your backyard. Destroy any plant or flower you may have. Just kidding. But products exist to exterminate fleas from your backyard, preventing them from getting inside your house, or infest your pets if they are allowed outside.

You scratched yourself several times while reading this article.


7 comments on “Fleas! Burk!

  1. heretherebespiders
    October 9, 2013

    I am SO glad that I’ve not seen a flea in Ireland. Yet.

    In Florida, my mom had a little set up at her end of the couch. Flea comb, glass of soapy water. It didn’t need to be hot, the little bastards would drown.

    I also lived in a bad place once, where when I went outside in the grass I was swarmed with fleas. Dog fleas. I didn’t even have a dog. For me the bites do not swell, just leave a round red spot, and the itching is tolerable.

    I have a phrase I made up, which perfectly suits your ending comment about scratching: The fleabie-jeebies. I don’t know if you have heard the ‘real’ phrase heebie-jeebies? Mine is for that feeling that there is something small (like a flea) crawling on you, or could be 🙂

    • Tom Duhamel
      October 9, 2013

      It’s nice that you haven’t saw a flea, yet. I wouldn’t rely on that though. It’s unlikely that there’s none in Ireland. I get it that fleas don’t swim, but surely pets are being imported regularly.

      I know of other people who have pets. Lots of them actually. The majority of people with pets never had any flea. It’s a fact that fleas aren’t as common of that. But I’m sure everyone with pets eventually have to face it.

      I know you didn’t write it because you were positive there weren’t fleas there, but I wanted to clarify anyway 🙂

      Fleas in the garden? Disgusting, to say the less. When I was young, we had bugs we commonly called fleas, but I’m sure they weren’t. They had a similar shape, they were wingless and jumped really high. But they were a lot larger, they were green, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t bite. We like to catch them and play with them. When they jumped, we could never find them again. They were very common, but not a nuisance at all.

      I saw pictures on google of some people’s flea bites, and they looked a lot worst than what I experienced. My own bites were not swell, just slightly raised, really like a mosquito bite. But allergies are apparently quite common. Most of those people don’t go to the hospital, but the flea bites may be extremely uncomfortable for them, may itch a lot. I’m glad I’m not sensitive to any insect. Got bee and wasp stings and never had any reaction at all. As a child, I used to play a lot with insects, and the occasional sting was just a small inconvenience as part of the “science”. Of course, I wasn’t aware back then that insects can sometimes carry diseases.

      Didn’t know “heebie-jeebies”. Looked it up and still unsure when it’s suppose to be used. Get it that it’s not as common today as it used to be. I sure understand your “fleabie-jeebies” though. I found I was scratching myself a lot while writing the article, and when I got to bed afterward. That’s how I came up with the last sentence, added only a few minutes before publishing, well after it was edited. I’m not an obsessed person though. I wasn’t imagining small bugs running on me. I don’t know how the reflex to scratch came to me. Maybe I wasn’t scratching more than usual, maybe I was just noticing more. I do notice when my cats scratch themselves though, I’m sure everyone who got fleas before notice a lot. If I notice one scratching more than once within ten minutes, I automatically check her for fleas. Always. Is that an obsession?

      Thanks for sharing your own flea experience. You know that’s the kind of comment I love the most. Hope you didn’t cut all of your flowers shortly after reading my article lol 🙂

  2. sledpress
    October 13, 2013

    I have dealt with two flea infestations, back when I had cats in a little duplex whose porch was close to the ground. The porch was screened so the cats were allowed to lounge out there, and I learned the hard way that the grass matting we had on the porch floor is something fleas love.

    So that had to go. Then we had to de-flea the two cats. I used a flea shampoo from the natural foods store containing only things like oil of lavender and lemongrass. I think the main effect of the shampoo is to drown the fleas and wash their eggs out, so none of the more highly advertised products made sense to me — also I knew a woman who had used a commercial CAT flea wash that killed her cat. Well, there was much yowling and I got scratched, but it all worked out. I put a lightweight plastic patio table in the tub, put the rubber bath mat over the table so the cat could dig in claws, and soused each one in turn, then gently rinsed with the tub sprayer.

    I got the last stragglers out of their face fur with a flea comb (drowned them like Spiders’ mom) and turned the space heater way up till everyone was dry.

    Now as to de-fleaing the house, they will get in your carpet, but 20 Mule Team Borax was all I ever needed to use. I shook it thickly over the carpet and used a broom to spread and work it in, then after some hours vacuumed it up. If you put a couple of moth balls in the vacuum bag (keep them safely away from the cats) it kills any survivors of this process. So no need for toxic sprays or bombs in all but the worst cases, I would think.

    That is all I have ever needed, though at the hot dry end of summer here there are always fleas in the grass. My guys don’t go out, which helps.

    • Tom Duhamel
      October 13, 2013

      At last! Someone who writes long comments like I do 🙂

      Thanks for sharing your experience. I hope it’s useful for somebody.

      I only bath a cat as a last resort, because of the obvious difficulties. So I actually never tried a shampoo on a cat, but they are very popular among many people with dogs, so I know they work. You need a more rigorous process, but it works.

      I’ll admit that my preference for Advantage is in part due to my laziness. It’s just extremely easy, quick, and comfortable, for both the pet and the human.

      Just one paragraph before talking about Advantage, I said to not use any over-the-counter spot-on products. I decided not to go into details, because I could not find any reliable source to back me, just anecdotal stories on blogs and forums. But yes, people have reported extremely severe after effects, including death. I use Advantage, and would probably be comfortable with other vet provided stuff, but I’m not touching an over-the-counter spot-on product with a pole.

      • sledpress
        October 13, 2013

        It was actually a shampoo that my friend used, not a spot product — it was before the days of those Advantage, . It was a really devastating moment. That’s why I was so scared of any shampoo with an actual “fleacide” in the ingredients. I know my boyfriend’s household where there are 8 cats uses a vet’s spot product, without problems so far. But there are two cats there that go out.

        Shampooing really is not for the faint hearted, I ended up with the smallest cat digging her claws yowling into my scalp and standing in the shower rinsing her and me with the hand spray. Still, it was only a minute’s humiliation.

  3. Lidia
    October 14, 2013

    I’m getting all itchy again reading this.

    • Tom Duhamel
      October 18, 2013

      Just a quick reply so you feel itchy again 🙂

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This entry was posted on October 9, 2013 by in Cats, Pets and tagged , , , , .
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