Fleas in dogs and cats and how to control them

You only have to talk about fleas, it triggers insatiable scratching cravings. They cavort on dogs and cats, but also jump over to humans from time to time. The result: bites all over the body and excruciating itching. How to fight the beasts?

When your beloved animal roommates scratch themselves, the thought that a bunch of small, bloodthirsty pests are cavorting in their fur or feathers spoils the fun of the cuddle session. Even though the little animals are reluctant to change hosts, humans are not completely immune to becoming victims of their blood addiction. Because this can tempt the fleas to record-breaking jumps.

Fleas – great jumping masters with history

jumping is the easiest exercise for fleas. They jump over 250 times their own body length and accelerate in a millisecond to 200 times the acceleration due to gravity. To match them, a human would have to jump about 450 meters high, and with incredible stamina: fleas achieve this feat 600 times per hour.

Fleas were already on earth 50 million years earlier than humans – enough time to develop an immense diversity. More than 2.000 species are known so far, how many are still undiscovered is hard to estimate.

© picture alliance / blickwinkel/F. Fox | F. Fox
Image rights: picture alliance / blickwinkel/F. Fox | F. Fox

You don’t really want to see a cat flea that closely, but here’s one in fluorescence contrast – a microscope image.

Human fleas are rare in this country

Human fleas (Pulex irritans) have become rare these days – at least in this country. Human fleas hardly ever occur in our well-kept homes, because vacuum cleaners, mops, and personal hygiene that is excessive for fleas spoil the opportunity for them to settle in. But in less hygienic conditions they can still spread.

Pets are popular flea victims

Our pets are not so lucky. They are the main flea carriers. For almost every animal there is its own "flea family" – from the dog flea (Ctenocephaloides canis) to the cat flea (Ctenocephaloides felis) to the pigeon flea (Ceratophyllus columbae). This does not mean, however, that fleas of one family can only be "pure variety" bite. It is even the case that dogs are mostly plagued by the cat flea.

© picture-alliance/dpa news service
Image rights: picture-alliance/dpa news service

Oh dear, a flea! In a moment it will start to itch.

How can humans catch an animal flea??

The little bloodsuckers can hide in dog houses, nesting boxes or bird houses. It can quickly happen that you catch a flea while working in the garden. Also during petting and cuddling fleas may be tempted to try a different taste and imitate the human flea. But humans are the wrong host and only an aberration, so not the first choice of an animal flea.

How do flea bites make themselves felt?

Don’t worry: You will quickly notice that some little animal has stung or bitten you by the excruciating itchiness. Fleas usually bite several times in a row, so that a regular "flea street" arises – that is one of the ways you can identify them. Reactions to flea bites can vary greatly – they are often more pronounced in women, children and allergy sufferers. In extreme cases, the redness can be as big as the palm of your hand and last for weeks.

Ointments against itching

Against the itching help so-called anti-histamines in the form of gels, in more severe cases cortisone ointments can provide relief, which prescribe family doctors or dermatologists. If necessary, you should also notice it, because strong scratching at the puncture site can cause pathogens that were transmitted during the flea bite to penetrate the skin more intensively and cause inflammations.

How to get rid of fleas from dog or cat?

If your pet is infested with the bloodsuckers, you should take immediate action to get the animals and home flea-free. The persistent scratching, biting or licking of your pet could be an indication of flea bites. You can check this with the help of a flea comb – similar to a lice comb in humans. Comb the fur against the grain in the process. If you comb out dark particles that turn reddish when crushed on a damp kitchen towel, it is flea feces with blood.

Flea infestation – best to go to the vet

If the suspicion is confirmed, it is safest to go to the vet, because flea collar and Co. do not help in case of an infestation – at best for prevention. A doctor can advise you on what means you can use to get the flea problem under control. For this purpose, there are special shampoos, flea powders or sprays. You should also have your dog and cat wormed, because dog and cat fleas can cause tapeworms.

Clean the apartment

The biggest problem, however, are not so much the fleas in the fur of your pet, but the fleas, eggs and pupae in the favorite places of your four-legged friend. That’s why these places need to be cleaned thoroughly, too: vacuum, wipe and wash the cuddly blanket.

In case of severe flea infestation only insecticides help

If there is a real flea infestation in your home, these gentle measures are of little help. A female flea lays up to 50 eggs a day in the fur of her pet already after the first blood feast. These then fall off, slide between floorboards, sofa nooks or into the shallows of the flokati. Once their time has come, the hatched fleas hop onto the next host.

That’s why you should prevent fleas from settling in your own four walls right from the start. Because a whole flea circus at home can become not only extremely unpleasant, but also expensive. Because the little pests can settle down permanently because of the long pupal dormancy, which can last for years. If the apartment is infested, you have to spray carpets, floorboards and cracks with insecticides containing active substances against these pupae. A consultation with the veterinarian is essential, because the means are poisonous. In the worst case only the exterminator helps.

How to fight the fleas

If you are a victim of a flea attack, a simple measure helps: showering. And again, clothing and blankets or bedding should be washed thoroughly.

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