If your cat has ever had fleas, you know exactly how much of a problem fleas can be. This article will not only educate you on everything you need to know about fleas and their life cycle, but also to help keep your cat flea free for life.
Fleas are the most common external parasite from on cats, and the consequences of flea infestation are terribly uncomfortable for your cat. They can even cause deadly disease in rare cases. Flea bites cause horrible itching, and for a cat that is hypersensitive, this can cause incessant scratching resulting in open wounds in the skin that are vulnerable to serious infection. As well as the discomfort they cause your cat, they can also carry zoonotic diseases that can be transmitted to humans.
Flea infestation can pose a serious danger to kittens. A severe infestation can lead the kitten to be anemic from the fleas constant need for blood meals. This is not as common in adult cats.
The adult flea is a tiny, brownish, wingless creature ranging in size from a pinhead to about 1/8th of an inch long. It has a slender, flattened body, short antennae, a strong saw-toothed jaw, a slender sucking snout, and powerful legs. These legs give the flea incredible jumping power: a flea can leap as far as seven feet! For its size, its pretty impressive.
The flea’s mouth is made-up of three sections: two laciniae, and the epipharynx. The laciniae are pedal shaped parts that close down around the central mouthpiece- the epipharynx. When put into place, the laciniae pierce through the host’s skin, while the epipharynx pierces a blood vessel and sucks the host’s blood.
A flea’s life cycle generally lasts about one month, though it can go longer than that depending on temperature and humidity. During the life cycle, the flea moves through a complete metamorphosis: egg, larvae, pupa, adult. It is the most dangerous in the larval and adult stages. In the larval stage, fleas need blood to support their growth, and in the adult stage, female fleas need blood to produce eggs.
After feeding on an animal’s blood, adult females reproduce quickly and efficiently, typically laying hundreds or even thousands of eggs. A female will usually have a blood meal, lay a few eggs, then repeat the cycle for weeks or months.
The eggs soon hatch into larvae, and the blood-nourished larvae spin cocoons, which is the pupae stage. This is where they mature to adults. When the environment is warm and moist, the cocoons burst open to yield more adults to continue the cycle.
In ideal conditions, one mating female will lay at least 20 eggs a day, half of which hatch to females. This can lead to the production of 20,000 new adult fleas in 60 days.
All cats are susceptible to getting a flea infestation. Many cats are able to harbor thousands of fleas without showing significant signs other than scratching.
To get rid of fleas, there are a few steps you must take. You must treat your cat, the environment, and all other cats and dogs in the home. To control the infestation, you need to treat all affected animals for at least three months, but keeping them on a preventive year around is ideal. Treating your cat means applying insecticide that is safely designed for cats. It is important to speak with your Veterinarian about which products are safe to use for your cat in order to rid them of fleas. Some over-the-counter treatments are ineffective, and can actually be dangerous to use on your cat.
To treat the environment, you need a product that is an insecticide and insect growth regulators for use in homes. Treatment in the house should be in places where the flea eggs, larvae and pupae are likely to be. It is recommended that you treat the entire household first, and then concentrate on the hot spots- like your cat’s favorite dozing spots- such as soft furniture, beds and carpets. Once they hatch from the egg stage, flea larvae move away from the light, and burrow deep into carpets and other nooks and crannies where it is difficult to treat. Be sure to move cushions, furniture, and beds to spray underneath. Other places larvae are likely to live include baseboards and cracks in wooden floors. Insecticides are safe to use if you follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If you have concerns about a product to use in your home or on your cat, contact your veterinarian to find out which product is best to use.
When trying to control a flea infestation, it is important to prevent re-infestation. Finding the source of the fleas and limiting access to that source is an important step. For example, if a raccoon is coming onto your back porch at night, and your cat then sun-bathes on that porch, you have to keep your kitty off the porch or find a way to keep the raccoon off your porch. Often, it can be other animals that bring in the fleas, like dogs. It is essential to keep your cat on flea prevention for a minimum of three months when you have an infestation, and you have to continue to treat the environment. If you follow your veterinarian’s step by step advice on treating your cat and home, you will have the relief of having your home flea-free once again.