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What is a flea? The flea is a parasite that lives on the skin and sucks blood for food. It can be found on almost any mammal. It is capable of jumping up to a foot.

The flea life cycle involves a host (dog, cat, human, or other animal) and environment (bedding, floor, yard). Adult fleas live on a host, feed on the host, lay eggs in the host, and excrete small black gritty debris called "flea dirt" which is dried blood. When fleas lay eggs, the eggs fall onto the yard or floor. They then spend a period of time as eggs until they develop into immature fleas (pupae), and finally into adult fleas.

The length of time this transformation takes place depends on the temperature and available food. Warmer and more humid temperatures speed the flea's life cycle so that it can hatch, develop, and mature to adulthood in less than a week. Also vibrations on the floor such as vacuuming or even walking by the eggs and pupae can stimulate them to hatch.

Colder temperatures slow the life cycle to several weeks, but do not kill fleas. Fleas will only die if the temperature remains below freezing for several days in a row. This rarely ever happens in the southeast. Plus, pets affected by fleas often bring them into the house, thus fleas are usually a year-round concern.

How do I know my pet has fleas?

Signs of flea infestation include: itching, scratching, reddened skin, hair loss around the neck and base of tail, and black pepper-like debris on the skin (this debris is actually digested blood, and it is flea waste).

What kind of problems do fleas cause?

In some cases, a pet can be infested with so many fleas and lose enough blood through their feeding that it becomes fatal. Fleas also transmit a number of parasites through their feeding habits. These parasites affect dogs and cats, and can cause serious illness. Fleas can also transmit tapeworms, a common problem which will be discussed below.

How do I control a flea problem?

There are three components to flea control

  1. treating the pet
  2. treating the house
  3. treating the yard

If the pet has a flea problem, all three components must be addressed or the problem may not go away.

Monthly flea preventatives are the cornerstone to good flea control. Topical products such asFrontline Plus are very effective at killing fleas on contact and controlling their reproduction. For cats we recommend topical Revolution as this not only prevents fleas, but also prevents a number of other parasites. These products have a proven safety record and are effective even for pets that are bathed as often as once a week.

Environmental controlcan be accomplished a couple of different ways. One of the most effective methods is to use the heartworm preventativeSentinel. This also has an ingredient that sterilizes fleas, thus preventing them from reproducing and laying eggs. This will reduce and even prevent flea infestations indoors and even in a yard. UsingSentinel and Frontline Plus together is an excellent parasite control program for your pet and usually eliminates fleas entirely from the pet's environment.

Another option for environmental control is the use of various flea control products which are applied to the floors in a house or to the yard.

Generally for cats we recommend either Revolution, which will kill adult fleas, or a combination ofSentinel and Frontline, which kills adult fleas and prevents egg contamination of the pet's environment.

For dogs, the best solution is a combination ofSentinel and Frontline Plus . This will kill any adult fleas, and prevent infestation of the dog's house and yard.

Tapeworms

Tapeworms are common intestinal parasites of dogs and cats. Unlike other intestinal "worms", they rarely cause any illness. Tapeworm infection is usually diagnosed when the pet's owner sees little rice-grain or sesame seed sized white, or light brown specks in the pet's feces or around the pet's rear-end. Annual exams used to detect other intestinal parasites do not usually show tapeworms.

The most common tapeworms are transmitted by fleas. Fleas ingest tapeworm eggs and immature tapeworms grow inside fleas. A dog or cat that is biting or chewing at skin because it itches can accidentally swallow a flea and acquire tapeworms. Because tapeworms rarely cause illness, pets can acquire them and you may not notice any evidence for months or years.

There are certain tapeworms pets can get from ingesting wildlife. Rabbits and some rodents may carry a type of tapeworm that can cause serious illness, and which can be contagious to humans.

Treating your pet for tapeworms is easy. A one-time oral medication is prescribed and should be given with food. Because fleas are involved in the transmission of tapeworms, it is essential that you use flea preventative, such as Frontline Plus for dogs and Revolution for cats, year-round to help to prevent recurrence or tapeworm infection.