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Fleas and Your Pet's Health

The adult flea will spend most of its life on a host (usually an animal), biting as often as 400 times a day. Fleas can make life miserable for your pet and they can transmit diseases and cause serious illnesses. Although rare, fleas can transmit bubonic plague and murine typhus, which can be deadly to you and your pet. Fleas can also cause anemia, allergies, and carry tapeworms.

What illnesses do animals get from fleas?
While on your pet, an adult flea will bite often. With each bite the flea sucks out a small portion of blood. If a small pet is severely infested with fleas, the pet can lose a considerable amount of blood. Depending on the infestation and how long the infestation continues, small pets, puppies, and kittens can develop anemia. Treatment for anemia often requires hospitalization with treatments of iron supplements or a blood transfusion. Some pets do not survive severe cases of anemia.

Fleabite dermatitis
The saliva from a flea can cause an allergic reaction in your pet. The allergy becomes apparent when your pet begins to scratch excessively. To prevent a blood clot while feeding, a flea injects saliva into its host before sucking out blood. The saliva creates an allergic reaction—itching. The severity of itching depends on the severity of the allergy. Just like people, your pet can have a minor reaction (a little itchy), or a major reaction, scratching until it bleeds.

If your dog or cat can’t seem to stop scratching it may be experiencing an allergic reaction to fleas. Your pet can scratch to the point it has no hair in a particular area and the skin can become red, swollen, or raw and bleeding. A skin or blood test can determine if your pet is allergic to fleas. If your pet is allergic to fleabites, then simply getting rid of the fleas will cure your pet.

Fleas aid the development of tapeworms by becoming the host of the developing tapeworm eggs. The amazing life cycle of a tapeworm begins when a flea larva feeds on the tapeworm eggs. Instead of the egg being destroyed, it actually develops inside the flea larva, and continues to grow through the flea’s pupa stage, and in the adult flea. When the flea matures as an adult, it bites its host, irritating your dog or cat. If your pet eats the flea while grooming or through biting at the flea, it is swallowed. Again, the tapeworm is unharmed and it begins to grow and reproduce inside the pet’s intestines, starting another cycle. The mature tapeworm develops eggs that are passed out of the rectum of the pet, supplying new eggs for the flea larva to feed upon.

Treatment & Prevention
The complete life cycle of a flea includes the egg, larva, pupa, and adult stages. The clear-to-white eggs can be seen along with the adult flea feces when your dog or cat scratches. The eggs resemble salt and the feces looks like black specks of dirt. Each stage of the fleas’ life cycle relies upon another state for survival. For example, the larva feeds upon the feces of the adult and the pupa does not emerge into an adult until the environment is adequate for the adult flea to survive. The fleas’ ability to adapt to the environment makes it very difficult to get rid of fleas.

If you have an infestation, the yard should be spot treated, paying special attention to areas of shade or under decks where animals rest. The interior of the house should be treated with residual materials such as an adulticide and with an Insect Growth Regulator. To rid the pet of the adult fleas, wash, comb and then put on a treatment for the best results.

Some pest control companies offer flea pest kits to help you treat your home, yard, and pet. Flea kits are convenient and are often more economical because the products are sold as a package instead of being individually priced.

You may want to take your pet to a veterinarian instead of treating your pet yourself, especially if this is the first time you have treated your pet for fleas. Some over-the-counter pet products can cause serious illnesses such as seizures or allergic reactions causing loss of hair, bleeding wounds, and sometimes death. Go see the vet; your pet will be treated with loving care and with the healthiest medications on the market today.

Fleas can transmit serious diseases and an infestation puts you, your family, and your pet at risk. Get rid of the fleas and eliminate the danger.

For products on getting rid of fleas in your home or on your pet, please contact

About the Author: Dennise Brogdon is the managing editor of the Hughston Health Alert, a quarterly, patient-information newsletter, and she is an editorial assistant for the National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s scientific journal, the Journal of Athletic Training. Dennise is a Web site copywriter and editor. She has experience writing and editing SEO copy and META tags, brochures, advertorials, video scripts, and other technical and promotional material, as well. Dennise earned a BA in English with professional writing as an emphasis at Columbus State University. She is a member of the American Medical Writers Association and the Georgia Writers Association.

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