I think, therefore I harm
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
A 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.
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.
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.