The importance of the flea is often underestimated. Some people regarding them as the inevitable companion to dogs and cats.
Fleas not only cause considerable irritation to the infected animal directly by their bites, but some animals are hypersensitive and develop serious skin ailments from the bite of even a single flea.
The flea also acts as an intermediate host for some of the dogs tapeworms and some species may act as a vector in the transmission of disease from rodents to man.
The flea lays its eggs on the dog and cat which quickly fall off and complete their development off the host animal. The flea egg is while and comparatively large, being about one third the length of the adult flea.
Eggs hatch after only a few days in warm weather and the larvae find shelter, in the animals’ bedding and in cracks and crevices in the vicinity of the dogs’ sleeping area. They feed on organic matter such as shed hair and scurf.
After a week or so the larva spins a silken cocoon which can adhere to blankets, bedding or carpets in the house. This pupal stage can be as short as two weeks but development can be suspended for long periods, as the hatching from this stage requires vibration. In a house that has been left empty for a long period a massive infestation can occur a short white after the house is reoccupied.
Newly hatched fleas do not survive very long in dry conditions unless a host animal is found, but in moist humid conditions unfed fleas can survive for as long as three months.
Fleas on our domestic animals are not very host-specific; cat fleas can exist quite happily on the dog and vice versa. Both cat and dog fleas visit man and can cause considerable irritation.
The control of fleas must involve both treatment of the animal and also the environment that the dog or cat inhabits. Insecticidal washes and powders containing either malathion or carbaryl are both safe and efficient. They should be used regularly every two or three weeks and be combined with regular grooming.
Fleas collars are useful to maintain a more consistent control. Some dogs and cats develop a hypersensitivity to the collar and the animal should be carefully observed when first applying a collar to watch for any sign of irritation of the skin under the band.
A newer type of flea collar is obtainable which, instead of relying on the release of an organic phosphate vapor to kill the fleas, releases a very fine powder which covers the animal’s skin from head to foot. This type is particularly useful for large dogs or animals with very thick coats; the older form of collar often did not kill the fleas at the tail end.
To prevent reinfection the larval and recently hatched fleas must be killed in the surroundings of the animals bed. Blankets should be regularly changed and shed hair removed. An insecticidal solution such as diazinon is useful to scrub down kennels or bed boards and to penetrate cracks and crevices. Flea plagues indoors usually require the services of a pest control firm.