Fall Bloodsuckers

Fleas, ticks, and mosquitos--if you’re like me; you’re not a fan of any of them. They bite, irritate, cause itching and spread disease. As pet owners, we tend to hate fleas the most because they can invade your home and become a chronic problem.

Often, by the time you notice the first flea, it is too late and fleas have infiltrated your house, causing an infestation. They are living on your dog or cat. Their eggs and larval stages are hatching and maturing between your floorboards, in your rugs, upholstery, and bedding. At first, you may notice an increase in scratching by your cat or dog. You also may notice a small red itchy bump on your body, different from a mosquito bite because the swelling usually stays small. As soon as you see one flea, there might be hundreds. What are they? Where did they come from? How can you get rid of them? And how do you prevent them in the future?

Fleas are flat, brown to black insects, average 1-3mm in length, that live on mammals, rodents, dogs, cats and even humans. They feed on blood from their host. They can eat up to 15 times their weight in blood and can jump as much as two feet in one jump. The adults spend their lives on a host and can live more than a year in ideal conditions. However, the average lifespan is about 30-90 days. Females may lay 5000 eggs in that time. The lifecycle is three weeks to three months depending on conditions; warmer conditions mean a shorter lifecycle. However, eggs can stay dormant for long periods of time and hatch when conditions improve. Fleas in your house can come from a pet, the yard, your neighbor’s apartment, a flea egg brought in on a guest’s shoe or even a flea catching a ride on you. 

Here on Capitol Hill, the warm and humid Labor Day weekend increased the number of flea cases seen by AtlasVet relative to the rest of the more mild summer. However, it is also very common for us to see an uptick in fleas when the weather first turns colder and the pesky fleas look for warm bodies to huddle up next to.

Getting rid of them involves integrated flea control: vacuuming carpets, rugs and floorboards, washing and drying bedding and upholstery, and using flea preventatives on your pets. Additionally, spray insecticides that contain insect growth regulators (IGRs), such as methoprene, can be used in your house around furniture to kill eggs and pupae before they mature to adulthood. Once fleas are living in your house, it may take months, possibly a year of active flea control to rid your house of these pests. The best way to avoid this problem is by prevention.

There are different ways to protect your cats and dogs from fleas. Some are topical and some are oral. Some require a prescription, while others do not. Below is a table to help sort through the myriad of products. This list is not meant to be inclusive. There are nuances on how each of these products work and whether they are fast kill (immediate) or whether they work to prevent flea reproduction (long term management). It is best to discuss which product or combination of products is right for your pet with a veterinarian as skin type, age, indoor or outdoor lifestyle, and quantity of other pets in the house all can make a difference. 

Best of luck in your fight against our least favorite fall bloodsucker!

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