The site was last updated on
24 Aug 2000
Winning the War Against Fleas
Fleas are one of your pets
greatest enemies. These tiny, wingless insects jump onto cats, dogs, and people
and ingest their blood. Fleas flourish worldwide in moderate humidity and
temperatures; only extreme, prolonged cold weather kills them. Their complex
life cycle includes several microscopic stages including egg, larvae, and pupae.
Fleas can live for several months.
What are the Dangers to My
Pet from Fleas?
Fleas aren't just a nuisance for you and your pet; these pests can cause the
following medical problems:
Tapeworms -- If your pet eats a flea, which is likely during
self-grooming, he could become infected with the immature tapeworms fleas can
carry. These long, flat parasites can cause weight loss and diarrhea, and can be
contagious to you and your family. One sure sign of tapeworms is the "white
rice" you may find on your pet's coat underneath the tail. These are
tapeworm segments, and they also can be found on your pet's bedding. If you see
them, take your pet to your veterinarian right away to get rid of these pests.
-- Fleas are the number one cause of allergies in dogs and cats. As fleas eat,
they inject saliva under your pet's skin, an irritation that can lead to
miserable scratching, hair loss, and infection. If your pet scratches or licks
excessively, see your veterinarian for help.
Infection -- Pets suffering from flea bites can develop dermatitis, or
inflammation of the skin. Antibiotics and shampoo therapy can rid your pet of
this problem, but if left untreated, the infection will spread and your pet will
become more uncomfortable.
Anemia -- Fleas get their nutrition by ingesting animals' blood, and they
can consume so much that a puppy, kitten, or a small pet can die as a result of
blood loss. It's especially important to keep young and old pets flea-free.
How do pets get fleas?
Fleas are picked up by being in contact with other flea-infested animals, or
from an infested environment.
What animals get fleas?
The cat flea is the most commonly encountered flea. Despite its name, the cat
flea affects dogs and cats, as well as other warm-blooded animals, including
rabbits and ferrets. Birds, reptiles and small and furry pets such as guinea
pigs, hamsters, mice and rats don't need treatment.
Can I get fleas?
Fleas often bite humans when other food sources aren't available, but they do
not thrive on human blood. Their bite leaves a red, itchy spot on the skin.
What are the signs that a pet
The obvious sign is seeing adult fleas on the body. A flea-bitten pet will
scratch a lot because fleas bite the pet leaving behind saliva that is an
irritant to many pets. A pet that is infested with fleas will scratch
persistently, which could result in a case of dermatitis.
How can I find out if my pet has
Place your pet on a white sheet and comb the coat with a flea comb. Now look at
the sheet. If you see small black specks, it could be flea dirt. Flea dirt is
actually flea feces, made up mostly of blood sucked from the pet that is
eliminated through the fleas digestive system as dried blood. Flea dirt turns
bloody when water is applied. So if you want to make sure, add a drop of water
to the specks and see if it turns a reddish color. If it doesn't, odds are that
your pet just needs a good bath.
When can pets become infested
Pets can become infested with parasites at any time of the year. However, flea
infestation is more prevalent in the spring when cold temperatures turn warmer,
making it a more hospitable climate for parasites. You are more apt to encounter
fleas in warm, humid areas. Flea populations generally don't develop in dry
I've been using insecticides,
but I'm still seeing fleas. What am I doing wrong?
You may see some fleas for 10 days to several weeks following treatment. These
are newly hatched fleas which were unaffected by your earlier treatments because
of their chemically resistant cocoons. You'll need to re-treat the home and yard
7 to 10 days after the initial treatment to kill the next wave of fleas, and
continue your treatments until all existing fleas have completed their life
Are flea control products safe?
Flea control products can be dangerous if not used properly. Always read the
label and instructions carefully. And make sure you use the product only for the
prescribed pets. Some products are not appropriate for use with cats. If you
have any question regarding the safety of any flea control product with your
pet, consult your veterinarian before you use the product.
What are the steps needed to
stop a flea infestation?
Your pet isn't the only one at risk. People can get irritating flea bites too.
Ridding your home and yard of these pests takes time, several steps and a strong
commitment to success.
Here's what you need to do:
The best place to start in eliminating fleas is to make sure you have
eliminated them from your pet. Start with a good bath using a flea shampoo.
These special shampoos contain ingredients that will kill all adult fleas in
your pet's coat. You may also want to consider having your pet dipped to
insure you get all the adult fleas. If you want your pet dipped, we
recommend that you use a professional groomer or your veterinarian. Use the
store locator to find a PETsMART groomer or veterinarian near you.
Shampoo and dip your pet.
Remember, a good bath with
flea shampoo as a dip will not keep fleas from coming back. After your pet is
washed free of existing fleas and debris you should consider one of the
on-animal or oral products available from your veterinarian or through
PETsMART.com. These products prevent flea eggs from hatching and when used in
conjunction with home and yard control can help eliminate fleas from your
You can't conquer a flea problem by treating only your pets; you also must
treat your house. Fleas can live for months without food, and every female
flea can lay several thousand eggs, which can survive in carpeted areas,
wood floors, and furniture until it's time to hatch and re-infest your pet.
Take back your home.
One simple way to clean the
flea eggs out of your house is to vacuum several times a week, tape the bags
shut, and throw them away. Also clean your pet's favorite hangouts and launder
its bed regularly. Use a professional fogger in each room and sprays for
hard-to-reach spots. Contact your veterinarian for professional advice and the
best products, and make sure you use only foggers and sprays that combine
insect growth regulators with an insecticide. Don't undertake this project
uninformed - flea products can be hazardous!
Use professional, concentrated yard sprays, many of which attach easily to
the end of a garden hose for application. It's especially important to spray
moist and shaded areas of your yard. Spray doghouses and kennels with an
indoor premise spray, and allow all areas to dry before allowing your pet
access to them. Fleas are tough! Be sure to start these procedures
simultaneously and treat all of your pets - the best time is now.
Re-conquer your yard.
Prevention through continued
Pets will continue to pick up new fleas emerging from their cocoons. Once the
infestation is gone, pets can pick up new fleas when they go to untreated areas
or when an untreated pet comes into your yard or home.