The flea is a tiny, wingless, blood-sucking parasite that requires a warm-blooded host, such as a dog, a cat, or even a human—but don’t worry, because most fleas choose the warm, protective environment of an animal’s fur. The species most commonly found in dogs and cats is the Ctenocephalides felis. Fleas prefer an ambient temperature of 65 to 80 degrees, which means many geographical regions typically have flea problems only in the spring and summer, although fleas in various stages of life can live year-round in the comfort of a heated home. Here in Tennessee, fleas thrive in our mild climate and are a year-round problem.

Understanding the flea life cycle

Infestation occurs when a flea detects a host and, with its powerful back legs, jumps up to two feet to climb on board. There are four different stages of the flea life cycle—egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Each transition to the next phase depends on the flea’s environment, including temperature and host availability. The life cycle usually takes about 14 days, but at certain stages, fleas can resist harsh temperatures and hibernate for as long as a year. Once aboard the host, the adult female flea lays up to 30 eggs per day. These eggs often fall off their host into cracks and crevices in the floor, carpet, or outdoors, where they hatch. Adults find a new host and the life cycle continues. 

How to detect fleas in your pet

Since fleas feed off your pet’s blood, they live close to the skin, and you may have a hard time seeing them on a long-haired or dark-colored animal. Fleas typically prefer the pet’s hind end, including the hips, tail base, and inguinal region, but can be found anywhere. They will quickly scurry away when you part your pet’s fur to search for them, and you may see them jump on or off your pet. 

The most common signs of a flea problem in dogs and cats are scratching, biting, rubbing, or overgrooming because they are itchy. Excessive scratching can lead to scabbing and, if severe, can cause secondary skin infections that manifest as redness on the skin, or moist, sometimes purulent, material. These cases require veterinary attention. 

How to treat and prevent fleas in your pet

Adult fleas make up only 5% of the total flea population in an environment. So, if you see one flea on your pet, there are many other fleas in various life stages nearby. While bathing your pet will help rinse off adults or eggs on the skin, it will not necessarily kill every parasite, and further treatment is indicated. 

A plethora of flea prevention and treatment options are available in the form of topical solutions, chewable tablets, and collars. Some are available over the counter, while others require a prescription. Many products that kill fleas also act as preventives, lasting from 30 days to 6 months. Take caution if you own both cats and dogs, as many products approved for dogs are highly toxic to cats. We recommend Bravecto, which is available as a chewable tablet for dogs, and a topical solution for both dogs and cats. 

You may find only one flea on one pet, but all your furry friends are at risk and should be treated accordingly. Remember that these tiny parasites can be difficult to detect and their tinier eggs will likely never be seen. 

How to treat the environment

One of the most important components of flea-infestation treatment is cleaning the home, where the invisible eggs often lie. All pet bedding, blankets, and soft toys should be washed in hot, soapy water. Carpets and rugs should be thoroughly and repeatedly vacuumed, and the vacuum bag thrown away. In addition, steam or chemicals should be used to clean the carpet. 

Further treatment may be necessary, depending on the infestation severity. The use of a household spray with an insect growth regulator can help. Ask our team for recommendations. 

Fleas are a nuisance, but thankfully, they are easy to prevent. Consult with our veterinary team about the best treatments to keep your pets flea-free.