Fleas not only make dogs, cats and other pets miserably itchy, but they may also transmit disease and in severe cases, feed on enough blood to reduce red blood cell counts to dangerous levels. Fleas are small, parasitic insects that are easily transmitted from an infested animal or environment to a formerly flea-free pet.
Most animals with fleas are itchy, but those that are allergic to fleabites can scratch and bite at themselves to the point where they develop areas of hair loss and raw, inflamed skin. Fleas are an extremely common cause of itching and skin abnormalities in both dogs and cats but are sometimes hard to find because the animals will remove many of the parasites through their self-grooming behavior. Flea feces, which is also called flea dirt, looks like coffee grounds and may be visible on an infested pet's skin, especially on its hind end around the base of the tail.
Many effective methods of killing fleas and preventing infestations are now available. The products that can be purchased by prescription are often much safer and more effective than are the older, over-the-counter pesticides. Cat owners must be aware that some of the products labeled for use on dogs are extremely toxic to cats. All pets in the home need to be treated on the schedule recommended by the manufacturer or a veterinarian. Thoroughly vacuuming carpets, floors and furniture and washing a pet's bedding can greatly reduce the number of fleas present inside the home.
Written by: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Last reviewed: October 2, 2008