Every summer, many dog and cat owners in Nebraska are plagued by serious and persistent flea infestations. Sometimes even petless families have to deal with fleas after a visit to the pet store or after the kids have played with a neighborhood dog or cat. Flea bites can be mistaken for a rash; each bite has a small red spot in the center surrounded by a red halo. And unlike some other insect bites, there is not much swelling associated with flea bites.
Fleas are small, dark brown insects whose bodies are hardened and compressed from side to side. If you looked at a flea under a microscope, you would see that it has strong hind legs that helps it jump from host to host. Animals often get infested through contact with other animals or after walking in areas frequented by infested animals.
Flea bites are extremely irritating to the animal; large infestations or extreme sensitivity may result in intense itching and weight loss. There are many species of fleas which tend to infest specific types of animals. But, if no other host is available, they will also jump on and bite any warm-blooded host.
Adult female fleas require a blood meal to produce viable eggs. Eggs are laid on the animal, but because they are not glued onto hairs, the eggs fall off the animal into the bedding, carpet, yard or wherever the animal spends most of its time. It has been recorded that a single female flea may lay 400 – 800 eggs over the span of 5 months! This is even more remarkable when you consider the fact that each egg is about 1/12 the size of the adult flea. If you have an indoor pet, the very small, wormlike larvae live among the carpet fibers or cracks and crevices. There, they feed on all sorts of organic matter, skin scales, and dried blood. After several developmental stages, the larvae pupate by spinning a tiny silken cocoon.
Adult fleas emerge from the cocoon when proper stimulation is present, including vibration, increased carbon dioxide levels, heat and motion. The adult can emerge from the cocoon very quickly and immediately jump on the host. Once on the host they feed on blood by biting through the skin. Under optimal conditions, a flea can go through its entire life cycle in 14 days.
Flea control is difficult because effective treatment includes treating the animal, the house and the outdoor environment. However there are new products on the market that make flea control safer and more effective than ever before.