Flea Infestations in Dogs and Cats


Fleas are the most common external parasite. They feed on animal blood and lay their eggs everywhere including your pets, your house, and your yard. Some people get bit from fleas too, so keeping your pet free of fleas can help everyone in your family.

Where Fleas Like to Be

Where you live will determine the number of months during the year in which flea prevention is needed. Flea preventatives include treatment for your pet and treatment in their environment. If it gets really cold where you live, your pet [dog, cat, rabbit (if needed)] will not require flea preventative for the entire year. Fleas, including their eggs and larvae, will go dormant in temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit and eventually die in extremely low temperatures. Temperatures around 75 degrees are ideal for reproduction and the progression of their life cycle.

Flea Life Cycle

Fleas have three life cycles. The egg and larva are in dormant stages and can stay in your environment for up to one year. Not only can the eggs and larva survive on your pet, but also in your carpet, couches, beds, pet’s beds, and yard. When treating an outbreak, the environment, along with the pet, must also be treated to properly eliminate the infestation.

Treating Your Environment

The easiest way to treat the environment is to place a cheap flea collar (which should not be applied to your pet) in your vacuum bag or container and vacuum everything. Vacuum your carpets, couches, beds, and under your furniture and then throw out the bag or empty the container. Not throwing the bag out or emptying the container could result in reinfestation from the fleas that didn’t die. Make sure to wash all bedding including all animal bedding, pillows, and rugs. Fleas, eggs, and larvae like to hide in dark areas. When the eggs and larvae are warmed by the vibration of the vacuum or the warmth of the pet laying on top of them, they move into the next life stage. For the exterior and perimeter of your house, you can use diatomaceous earth. Do not let your pets eat the diatomaceous earth or roll in it.

Adult Fleas

Adult flea infestations on your pet can cause pain when they bite. It also creates allergic reactions (skin infections, hot spots), chronic itching/scratching/biting, and tapeworms (from ingesting the fleas). Extreme infestations that go on for an extended period of time can cause anemia (low red blood cell count) which results in increased respiration, increased heart rate, lethargy, and weakness. If it gets bad enough your pet may need a blood transfusion, steroids, antibiotics, iron supplements, and/or hospitalization. Prevention of flea infestations are healthier for your pet and cheaper and easier than the costs of treatment.

Flea Collars

Flea collars should be used with caution. Some of the cheaper flea collars can cause tremors, seizures, and/or neurologic effects after being applied to the pet. Some of these side effects are reversible, but I have seen dogs and cats have permanent twitches because of the cheap flea collars.  If you do want to use a flea collar talk to your veterinarian for recommendations. 

Flea Preventives

Many different types of flea preventatives can be used to prevent fleas, ticks, and internal parasites. There are topical applications, collars, and chewable tablets. If you have small children, be careful with collars and topical applications as you do not want them ingesting the ingredients in these pesticides if they get it on their fingers.  There are also some flea preventatives that prevent heartworm too.  For more information on heartworm check out my article on Heartworm Treatment.

Always talk to your vet about which type of product would be best for your pet in the area you live.

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