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Lifestyle // The Wild Side
Dr. John Kaya

The Dirty Little Secrets Of Fleas

The summer months are here, which means warmer days and fun at the beach. Unfortunately for our furry pets, it also means a vast increase in pesky parasites. Of the multitude of pests, none is more prolific than the flea. To prepare you for the upcoming onslaught, I will attempt to dissect the flea with pen and paper.

Why are fleas so difficult to get rid of? To explore this phenomenon, we need to first understand key points of their life cycle. Since there are more than 2,000 species of fleas, I will review the flea of biggest concern in Hawaii, Ctenocephalides Felis, commonly known as the cat flea.

The cat flea plagues not only cats but other domesticated pets like dogs and rabbits. Each female flea can lay 40-50 eggs per day or, in other words, 280-350 eggs per week. At this rate, your house can be infested in no time. These eggs roll off your pets and into the environment (bed, couch, carpet, etc.). The flea larvae hatch and crawl around eating organic debris for about a week. Once satiated, the larvae spin a cocoon and wait for the right conditions to hatch. They emerge from the cocoon if stimulated by vibration, warmth, light and shadows as well as carbon dioxide. These cues tell the flea that a creature is nearby ready to be pounced upon. And pounce they do. The cat flea can jump up to 13 inches high, which is like a 6-foot person jumping 100 feet into the air. After finding a host, the flea will start taking blood meals. Twenty-four hours later, it will start to lay eggs and the whole process starts over.

How do you know your pet has a flea problem? You need to examine your furry friend. Fleas may be hard to detect because of their small size and evasion tactics, but if all else fails, look for their poop. That’s right, you need to search for flea feces. They may appear as black debris on your pet, but upon close inspection, the poop may look round or comma-shaped. To differentiate flea poop from dirt, take some off your pet and place it on a white paper towel. Don’t worry, flea poop doesn’t smell bad (at least I don’t think it does). Adding a little water to the feces will dissolve it and leave a reddish residue from the digested blood.

Grossed out yet? Once you’ve confirmed a flea problem, bathing your little buddy and vacuuming the environment is a great place to start. Then contact your veterinarian for further advice. There are many products available to help you eradicate fleas from your home. Some are designed to stop fleas from developing, while others kill the fleas outright.

Don’t be discouraged if you’re not successful right away. Fleas are survivors and have been around for quite some time. In fact, the oldest flea fossil found was 165 million years old.

So the next time you find a flea, don’t get upset. Take a deep breath, imagine a dinosaur scratching furiously and LOL.

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