Fleas - A Horror Story (and how to prevent yourself becoming a victim!)

Written by Sarah  - Furballs Cattery Manager

In the same way that some owners forget to keep up the 'annual' booster vaccination requirements, some being under the impression that because their cat(s) had a full course of vaccinations when they were kittens, they are 'covered for life', the same belief can occur with the treatment of fleas/parasites.

As with all boarding facilities we ask that all cats due to come into Furballs are treated for fleas prior to arrival.  In the cases of 'spot-on' treatments, which seem to be the most preferred option of flea prevention these days, a lot of our 'guests' arrive with their next 'treatment' packed in their luggage, needing to be administered during their stay. Which, incidentally, we are very happy to do at no extra cost!

Although the many varieties of 'spot-on' treatments work very well, they will only 'do the job' if they are administered (as instructed on the label) regularly, normally approx every 4 weeks.  They prove to be somewhat ineffective if used only 'once', or  used 'on occasion'.  In fact, a complete waste of time.

Many people simply do not understand or are not aware of the need to also treat their homes as well as their pets.  If you find fleas (or indication of fleas present) on your cat, you must remember that the 'flea' will not have stayed on the cat they will drop off, (along with any eggs) into your house. It doesn't matter whether you have carpets, hard wood flooring, laminate or tiled floors - fleas are not fussy, they will happily find a cosy spot, a tiny crack or crevice to lurk.............and wait............and lay eggs etc! (More on that in a bit)

Household flea treatments - mostly in spray form - are readily available in all veterinary practises, all pet supply outlets and pet supply on-line retailers, there is no excuse for not having a supply to hand.  

The many years of living/working with cats has given me 'lots of practise' at spotting/dealing with these irritating, hoppy, itchy little critters!  In fact,  I must by now, be entitled to 'shares' with at least one of manufacturers of flea sprays, due to the amount I've purchased over the years!  I  always routinely spray all areas of the cattery - not just the cat pens themselves.  In addition to replacing & washing all bedding on a weekly basis of all boarding cats, however long their stay.  Each time a pen is vacated it is stripped out, cleaned, disinfected and then sprayed with a flea treatment before the next 'guest' arrives. 

This 'prevention' routine is not just applicable to those of us who run boarding and rescue facilities, it should be applicable to all pet owners.

As our pens are built to 'highlight any extra unwanted guests' of the crawly kind, we are very quickly able to spot a problem within a very short time of any new arrivals.  We are then able to deal with any bedding /luggage that has arrived with them to help eliminate the problem.  However, on occasion, we are faced with cats that have quite a 'major' flea problem that is not so easily dealt with and in the cattery environment it causes us a great deal more work and a great deal more expense.  If we do point out that your cat has a bit of a flea problem, we are only being 'helpful'.  It is not something to be embarrassed about and we are not accusing you of neglect.  The fact is, unfortunately, 'pets & fleas' go together - it's how you deal with it that matters and it is just a simple case of establishing a routine to prevent it becoming a life-time partnership.

Unfortunately, no clever person, as yet,  has come up with the tag you can attach to your cat "All fleas keep away - or else!" when they set off on their daily adventure, even if it turns out to be only a brief five-minutes-on-the-patio type adventure, it only takes one flea to start the cycle. (Anyway, fleas can't read!).  So its up to all owners to be 'alert' and get into a regular 'flea search & treat' routine!!

Some Flea Basics

The cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis, is one of the most abundant and widespread species of flea on Earth. Here's a little bit of good news for you - Humans can be bitten but cannot be infested (not such good news about the biting though!)

Fleas have four main stages in their life cycle: egg, larva, pupa, and adult

ADULT: The adult flea is very flat side to side and have hair-like bristles on their body and legs to aid in their navigation through cat fur. Fleas have 3 pairs of legs with  the hindmost pair designed for jumping - boing!. Adult fleas prefer to live on an animal and their diet consists of meals of blood  courtesy of the animal they're living on - Yuk!. A female flea lays up to 50 white, roundish eggs per day! Worth repeating  - one female flea lays 50 eggs every day!

EGG: Flea eggs are not sticky  and they usually fall off of the animal into the carpet, bedding, floorboards,etc .
When the flea egg hatches varies -- anywhere from two days to a few weeks, depending on the environment. The larva emerges from the egg using a tool called a "chitin tooth", which is a hard spine on the top of the head that later disappears - quite gruesome..

LARVA: This stage is actually 3  stages within 1. Larvae are about 1/4" long, and semi-transparent white. They have small hairs on their body and will actively move around. They eat the feces of adult fleas, which is mostly dried blood,  and other organic matter found in the carpet, bedding,etc .
Depending on the amount of food present and general conditions, this larval stage lasts about 5 to 18 days (sometimes longer) before the larva spins a silken cocoon and pupates. Hands up who's scratching?

PUPA: This is the last stage before adult. The adult flea can emerge from the cocoon as early as 3 to 5 days, or, the scary bit, it can stay in the cocoon for a year or more before emerging! Stimuli such as warm temperatures, high humidity, even the vibrations and carbon dioxide emitted from a passing animal will cause the flea to emerge from the cocoon faster. And there we are with another adult ready to start laying another 50 eggs a day!.

As you can see their entire life cycle is quite variable. It can be as short as two weeks or as long as two years -  That is why it is so important to remain vigilant, even when a flea problem is thought to be under control!

If you've got a calculator handy try doing the sums - remembering a female flea lays 50 eggs a day. You will soon see how quickly a total infestation can develop.

 

 indorex-household-flea-spray

If you are feeling very brave click on the link below.  This will show you pictures of the cabin area of one of our boarding pens that housed 2 young cats on a 3 week stay. 

It shows what we were faced with on a daily basis throughout the entire 3 weeks. (Remembering that during the cats' stay you have to clean out with the cats remaining in the pen area.)  We are of course able to see all of this 'dreadful mess', as it shows up on our hard surfaces.  Remember however, that the same mess will be in your home..............on sofas, in carpets etc..............but you can't see it! 

Also, think about the discomfort and distress caused to the poor cats having to live with this.  The end result (after the cats had vacated) was the pen had to be stripped out completely (including shelving, skirting etc), scrubbed out repeatedly over several days, & completely re-sprayed.  Also the floor areas had to be relaid, as the amount of hard scrubbing needed to remove the dried on flea dirt (blood!), and eggs and repeated spraying with the disinfectant and treatments, caused the surface to be damaged.  The pen was out of use for over 2 weeks! 

If you want to see the pictures click here

 

 

 

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