Fleas are usually found on cats, dogs, carpets, furniture, dusty floors, sandy subfloor areas, and even grassy areas. Although the common names, cat flea and dog flea, would suggest that a particular species of flea is specific to one host, this is not the case, and either of the abovementioned species can be found ‘biting’ various hosts including humans.
The body of adult fleas are laterally compressed, enabling them to move quickly and easily through dense hair or fur, and each of the six legs has a pair of claws at the tip to enable them to remain attached to the host regardless of scratching. The hind legs are well developed to facilitate jumping onto a passing host.
Fleas are only found on warm blooded animals, and both male and female adult survive on blood meals. The female adult flea generally takes a blood meal prior to egg laying. She can lay several hundred eggs during her lifetime, these eggs turn into white legless larvae which feed on food debris, human skin scales and undigested blood secreted by the adult fleas. After several weeks, the eggs pupate in a silken cocoon and attaches itself to a host ready to start the cycle again.
Adult fleas do not spend their entire time on the host and often drop off between feeds.
When a flea infestation occurs in a domestic residence, the bites are usually observed on the ankles and lower parts of the legs as small red spots, which due to the injection of flea saliva at the time of biting prevent the blood coagulating, can cause severe irritation to the host.
The role of fleas in the transmission of various diseases is well documented, and some of the more common disease attributed to fleas are bubonic plague, where the bacteria is transmitted between rats and humans by the flea, and also murine or endemic typhus. Tapeworms may also be transmitted by fleas.
Fleas prefer warm humid environments and breed mainly in the warmer months, hence ‘flea plagues’ usually occur during summer, especially outdoors.
Before any treatment takes place, the premises should be
carefully cleaned, especially under furniture and carpet edges. Upholstered furniture and areas where pets sleep should be given special attention. All vacuumings should be burnt or sprayed with as aerosol to kill off any fleas or larvae present.
Pet bedding should be washed or replaced and the pets given a flea wash. Your local veterinarian will advise you of the best product to use.