Not only are fleas a terrible nuisance to our pets, but they can also carry dangerous diseases. Here are a few “fun facts” about these tiny, unique insects, followed by tips on how to control them.
Fun Flea Facts
- Fleas can jump up to 150 times their own body length, vertically or horizontally; this means the average flea can vault 8 inches vertically and up to 13 inches horizontally.
- A leaping flea can experience up to 140 Gs. That is 50 times the standard force of gravity felt during the liftoff of a space shuttle.
- There are over 2,000 flea species on the planet.
- The world’s largest flea, Hystrichopsylla schefferi, is 6-8 millimeters. It lives on a bizarre rodent called the Mountain Beaver in the Pacific Northwest.
- The Cat Flea, Ctenocephalides felis, is found on both cats and dogs in the U.S, while the Dog Flea, Ctenocephalides canis, is rare here, occurring mostly in Europe.
- Flea circuses are a real thing and they still exist today.
- Although prolonged cold kills them, fleas can weather below-freezing temperatures on their warm-blooded hosts.
Fleas: Diseases and Other Ailment
Fleas are visible (barely) to the naked eye but quickly vanish into the fur or feathers of a host, making these nasty pests difficult to spot. Despite their small size, they can pass along a variety of ailments to our pets, including the ones listed below, making protecting our pets especially important.
Pets infested with fleas often contract Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD), a skin condition that pet owners spend millions of dollars annually to treat. Dog tapeworm is an intestinal parasite that can be transmitted when a dog eats a flea infected with a tapeworm cyst.
Cat-scratch Disease and feline rickettsiae are also flea-borne illnesses, as are murine typhus and Mycoplasma haemofilis, a bacteria that can cause fever and anemia in cats.
The Oriental Rat Flea, Xenopsylla cheopis, is carrier of bubonic plague. This “Black Death” of European historical fame is still a risk today. In rural and semi-rural areas of the American West, rodents serve as reservoirs for the plague bacterium. Cats allowed to roam outdoors may contract plague and then pass it on to their owners.
Flea bites cannot be distinguished from other kinds of bites, wounds, and even ingrown hairs. Use After Bite® to relieve itching and prevent scratching that could cause a secondary infection. Seek medical help from your physician if symptoms persist, change, or get worse.
Fleas breed mostly in nests and dens of their hosts, and they undergo complete metamorphosis involving egg, larva, and pupa stages. Flea combs eliminate only 10-60% of adult fleas on a pet. Shampoos are more effective and have the additional benefit of washing off dried blood and skin flakes that feed flea larvae on your pet and in the carpet.
Vacuum thoroughly and regularly to eliminate the eggs and larval food sources. Larvae and pupae stick stubbornly to carpet fibers, so try sprinkling boric acid into the carpet, as this poisons flea larvae when they eat it. Launder pet bedding and rugs. Control rodents and other small wild mammals on your property to help limit flea hosts. Consult your veterinarian if you are experiencing a major flea outbreak.