Podcast Transcript: Fleas

Just saying the word is enough to make you itch. Anyone who has experienced a flea infestation knows the havoc these insects can wreak. But fleas are more than just a nuisance that can drive pets and people nuts. Fleas are responsible for potentially severe allergic reactions in dogs and cats, and can transmit a range of diseases to both humans and animals.

In this podcast we'll talk about prevalence, lifecycle, risk factors, clinical signs, and methods of treatment and prevention.

According to Banfield Pet Hospital's 2011 State of Pet Health Report, the prevalence of fleas is the highest of all external parasites. Prevalance increases through Spring and Summer before peaking in early Fall and decreasing in Winter. Prevalence also varies according to geographic region. Data from Banfield's Applied Research and Knowledge team shows the Southwest region has the highest prevalence of fleas for dogs and the Northwest region for cats.

Worldwide about 2,500 species of fleas have been described, and of these, the cat flea is one of the most common. It accounts for 92 to 99% of fleas on dogs and cats, but can also infest humans and other domestic and wild animals.

Under the right conditions fleas are prolific breeders. Female fleas may lay up to 2,000 eggs in their lifetime, and dozens of eggs daily, which can hatch quickly into larvae or remain in the environment for months.

The flea's lifecycle consists of the egg, larva, nymph, pupa, and adult. Larvae develop into pupae that can remain dormant for extended periods before emerging as adults. Larvae seek out dark, warm, humid places, usually carpets, bedding, under furniture, or garden debris. They feed on organic material and the feces of adult fleas.

There is little published data on risk factors for infestation. The risk for environmental infestation has been modeled in Europe based on weather patterns and climate. This does not however take the indoor environment into account. So risk for infestation indoors may be higher depending on household heating and flea prevention habits.

Fleas may be small but they can cause big problems for dogs, cats, and people. Their bites are an annoyance and can be very itchy, causing a pet to scratch, especially if it's allergic to flea saliva. Clinical signs include red, irritated, and broken skin on areas such as the neck, ear, belly, or hindquarters. Fleas prefer thicker, furrier areas to hide in, as well as between a pet's joints, near the base of the tail, or in neck folds. Flea infestation can also cause flea allergy dermatitis which can appear as inflammation and infection of the skin.

The best way to fight fleas is to prevent them. Many suitable products are approved for the treatment and prevention of fleas. These are available in the form of shampoos, rinses, sprays, mists or fogs, oral pills, and spot-on treatments. Treatment involves on-animal and environmental control with a brief course of short-acting corticosteroids for the itching and inflammation, and treatment of secondary infections with oral and/or topical medications. The aim is to eliminate adult fleas on all animals in the house as well as the immature fleas in the environment.

Bedding and resting areas should be identified and treated aggressively. This includes washing blankets, bedding, and rugs, vacuuming carpets, cushions, and pillows, and clearing away dead vegetation from resting areas outside. It is important to use the flea control products throughout the entire year to prevent re-infestation.

To help clients appreciate the importance of flea control, it is important that veterinary staff become educated on how pets can become infested, and what products are available to prevent or treat that infestation. Effective control and prevention of fleas depends on a good knowledge of the lifecycle, identification and cleaning of source-points, and application of appropriate chemicals on a regular basis.

Doctor Jeffrey Klausner, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for Banfield, says that veterinary professionals should take the lead in showing pet owners that effective flea control is essential to minimizing the spread of disease and keeping pets, and their homes, flea free. Effective control and prevention is the responsibility of both veterinarians and pet owners, and through an established doctor-client relationship, we can better ensure compliance and proper application of preventive products.

This podcast was created and developed by Banfield Pet Hospital and is brought to you by the Banfield Applied Research and Knowledge team. For additional content, or to view the whitepaper for this topic, please visit Banfield.com.

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