In this lesson, we’ll cover what fleas are, as well as the symptoms you can expect to see when a cat or dog has fleas.
Fleas are not just any pests; they are tiny insect ‘ectoparasites’ (like ‘external’, as they live on the outside of the animal, and ‘parasites’ because they feed from an animal to that animal’s detriment).
Despite being small, they have the ability to make the lives of our beloved pets truly miserable. These tiny creatures primarily target pets, making dogs and cats their preferred hosts, although they won’t shy away from occasionally making a meal out of humans.
The journey of a flea onto your pet can begin in a multitude of ways. Most flea infestations are picked up by contact with other animals – the fleas jump off them, and onto your pet. But they can live for a while in the environment, so your pet could get them from visiting places where other pets have been.
Common ways that pets get fleas include:
While fleas may not have wings, they are adept jumpers, allowing them to leap onto pets effortlessly. Once on board, they puncture the skin to feed on the pet’s blood. The aftermath of a flea bite is far from pleasant. The immediate reaction includes irritation and an unrelenting itch.
For some pets, this isn’t the end of their ordeal. They may develop flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), a condition stemming from an allergic reaction to flea saliva, leading to heightened skin sensitivity. These pets are over-sensitive to every flea bite, leading to extreme itchiness.
Use the accordion below to read common signs of fleas in pets and confirm whether the signs you’re seeing are due to fleas
Dogs exhibiting FAD typically display intense itching and the following symptoms:
The most noticeable regions for these signs include the base of the tail, the lower back, inner thighs, the lower abdomen, and the sides. The base of their ears and the underside of the throat may also show these symptoms.
Cats are often the culprits when it comes to bringing in an infestation, as they don’t always show signs of having fleas. Here are some things you might spot
Flea-allergic dermatitis (FAD) is a reaction to flea saliva in cats. When bitten by a flea, cats with FAD undergo severe itching and display a distinct rash. This rash often feels gritty under the fur and usually appears on their head, neck, belly, and back legs. Cats coping with FAD may:
Flea allergic dermatitis needs treatment by a veterinarian as these cats often have secondary skin infections and their itch needs medication. Moving forward, it will be essential to ensure these cats don’t get fleas in future – the rest of the course will be helpful there!
If your pets have fleas, and they’ve been indoors, you can guarantee that there are fleas in your house. But if your pets don’t show many signs of fleas, you might spot signs of fleas in your house before you spot them on your pets. These signs include:
Fleas prefer pets to humans, but if there’s a bad infestation or pets are in short supply, they can bite humans.
Other than their annoying itch (especially if you’re unlucky enough to have an allergy!), fleas can also carry diseases into your home. These include:
Fleas are small insects that jump onto our pets and feed on their blood. It’s fairly rare to spot an actual flea, since they don’t spend much time out in the open. More commonly, you’ll see flea dirt (aka flea poo) and itching or grooming as the first signs of a problem. Some pets are allergic to fleas, and only need to be bitten by one flea to have an extreme reaction – we call this ‘flea allergic dermatitis’.
Fleas are not the only cause of itching in pets, but they’re one of the most common ones. You don’t have to see live fleas for them to be causing a problem for your pets.