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Cat fleas

Cat fleas Ctenocephalides felis, are the most common ectoparasite on domestic cats and dogs.

Cat flea

Cat flea

The female is 2.5 mm long, and the male is slightly smaller. The head of the female cat flea is twice as long as high when seen from the side, while that of the female dog flea as less than twice as long as high. In both species, the genal comb consists of 8 pairs of spines, and the pronotal comb also consists of 8 pairs . With the aid of low magnification,

it can be determined that the first 2 anterior spines of the genal comb of the cat flea are about equal in length, while the first spine is distinctly shorter in the dog flea .

Adult mouth parts are modified for piercing and sucking blood, larvae have chewing mouthparts. Adults can bite repeatedly. Adult fleas move around freely on the host and from host to host. Although cat fleas prefer cats as hosts, they are capable of surviving on dogs and other wild or domestic animals. Adults suck blood for survival, egg development, and partially digested blood expelled as feces serve as food for larvae. Newly emerged, unfed adults can survive for weeks off of the host.

Eggs can be collected by sweeping the ground around an infested animal. These eggs and the debris (fecal material – dried blood) collected with it can be kept in a jar to allow larvae to develop. Adult specimens can be obtained from infested hosts using a fine tined comb. Traps with a light as an attractant above a pan of water or sticky card are marketed to control fleas.

Cat flea

Cat fleas

Life Cycle :Unlike most fleas, adult cat fleas remain on the host where feeding, mating, and egg laying occur. Females lay about 20 to 50 eggs per day. Cat flea eggs are pearly white, oval, and about 1/32 inch long. The eggs are smooth and readily fall from the pet and land on surfaces such as bedding and carpeting in the animal’s environment. They hatch in about 2 to 5 days.

Flea larvae are no larger than 3/16 inch long, hairy, and wormlike with a distinct, brownish head but no eyes or legs. The larvae feed on dried blood and excrement adult fleas produce while feeding on the pet. Larval development is restricted to protected places where there is at least 75% relative humidity. The larvae feed and crawl around for 8 to 15 days before building small, silken cocoons in which they pupate and develop into adults. Debris, such as pet hair or skin or carpet fibers, usually covers the pupae, providing visual camouflage.

Flea larvae develop more quickly at higher temperatures, preferring areas that are 70° to 90°F. At cool temperatures, fully formed fleas can remain in their cocoons for up to 12 months. Warm temperatures and mechanical pressure caused by walking on or vacuuming carpet stimulate emergence from the cocoon. At normal room temperatures, the entire life cycle can occur in about 18 days.

An adult cat flea generally lives about 30 to 40 days on the host. When normal grooming activity is restricted, 85% of adult females survived for 50 days. You can find fleas on pets throughout the year, but numbers tend to increase dramatically during spring and early summer when conditions favor larval development.

Management :fleas must be removed from the pet, the home, and the yard. Removal of fleas from the animal alone is futile. Immature fleas which have developed into adults off the animal simply jump on, causing subsequent reinfestation. Flea combs may be used to treat the pet, yet they only remove ten to sixty percent of the fleas. By shampooing the animal, the dried blood and skin flakes which provide food for the larvae are removed.

Cat flea larvae

Cat flea larvae

Shampoos contain certain pesticides such as pyrethrins, carbamates, and citrus peel derivatives. Pennyroyal oil, another natural product, is also available in shampoos. Pulegone, the active ingredient in the oil has dose related toxicity to mammals and may induce lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, nose bleeds, seizures, and, possibly, death due to liver failure.

For effective control, the home must also be treated, primarily in areas most frequented by the animal; eggs and larvae are developing here. This can be done by way of vacuuming, washing bedding and rugs, and using sprays containing insecticides on the carpet. Vacuuming, however, will only remove eggs and food sources from the carpet. Larvae curl up around carpet fibers and pupae stick to the carpet.

Borate carpet treatment, applied either by the home owner or a professional, works as an intestinal poison upon ingestion by the flea larvae. Diatomaceous earth has been used as a chafing agent to control larvae in carpets, but it contains silica which is known to cause lung disease in humans if inhaled in excessive quantities. Light traps placed around the home, especially where the pet frequents, may collect fleas upon emergence from their cocoons. Yet it is doubtful that this trap will attract fleas off the pet. Cedar chips and leaves from wax myrtles have repellent properties according to some homeowners, but have not been scientifically proven. It is important to restrict pet access from areas that are hard to treat, such as children’s playrooms, crowded garages, and work areas. Sheds and dog houses should be treated the same way as the home.

Cat flea pupae

Cat fleas pupae

To treat the outdoors, pyrethroids may be sprayed in dry shaded areas which the animal frequents, as well as insect growth regulators such as pyriproxyfen and fenoxycarb, which are the most effective outdoor treatments. Methoprene is also commonly used outdoors, but is not stable in sunlight. Since larvae prefer shaded, dry areas, spraying the entire yard is wasteful and irresponsible. If possible, control access of feral animals, such as skunks and opossums, to your yard as they bring new fleas with them. For outdoor areas which are difficult to treat (i.e. under decks), pet access should be restricted. Outdoor treatment is primarily used in severe cases of flea infestation and may not be necessary if fleas are controlled on the pet and in the home.

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