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Fleas - An Irritation at Best and Major Problem at Worst

By Charles Hopkins Published 04/25/2006 | Pets and Animals
Fleas are a tiny almost invisible insect and something that most people never even think about, until they, or their pets become infected. People then realize that fleas are a major problem to many of households and will take whatever measures are available to eliminate them.

Fleas are an irritation at best and a major problem at worst. Not just to our pets but to us as well. The most common symptom of a flea infestation is itching. This comes from several sources. Firstly, fleas just itch when they crawl around on skin because this is very irritating. But worse than this is that fleas bite their host...and this can include you! They bite to feed on the blood of the host, and the bite causes irritation, itching and scratching.

However, the health effects of fleas can be worse than just the associated itching. Fleas can cause and transmit a range of medical conditions in animals and humans.

Dermatitis caused by fleas is responsible for more than half of all pet skin complaints treated by vets. This can result from excessive scratching or from an allergy to the flea bites, and can be caused by as little as one bite in a particularly sensitive individual. And the dermatitis can become more serious leading in some cases to secondary infection.

Fleas can carry worms from one host to another. Cat fleas, for example can carry and transmit dog tapeworms. This is generally not a problem for people, but can certainly be a problem for our pets.

And because fleas feed on blood they can transmit diseases from one host to another whenever there are blood borne diseases. Many years ago, it was fleas, not rats, that carried the plague which decimated much of Europe. The fleas were responsible for transmitting the disease from host to host. Even today fleas can transmit the plague in some remote villages in Africa, although this does not generally occur elsewhere.

Fleas therefore, are not something to be ignored if your pet is infected. In the warm months it is particularly easy for a wandering pet to pick up fleas very quickly and it is important to be aware of this possibility.

So what do you do if your pet is scratching and appears unusually irritated? Firstly, suspect fleas and then inspect your pet.

How do you determine if there are fleas present? They can be seen on your pet if you comb through the fur. Fleas are fast moving so make sure to look closely.

Check where you animal sleeps. Pets with fleas usually infest their bedding (or yours if this is where they sleep).

Be vigilant and keep note of any places where fleas are found as these are the places which will need to be treated to remove the fleas.

And how do you find out if you have fleas in the house? You'll see or feel them. If you find a flea on your person, chances are you've probably got fleas in the house.

A simple trick for detecting fleas is to walk around any suspect areas in your house with white socks over your shoes. Then check the socks for fleas.

Alternatively you can put a shallow dish of water in the suspect area on the floor. Suspend a light bulb (taking proper safety precautions) about 6 inches above the water and leave the light on at night. Try putting a few drops of dishwashing detergent in the water to break the surface tension. Fleas are attracted to the light and some will fall in the water and drown. So, if you find fleas in the water next morning you've got fleas!

Moral of this story - If you have fleas don't ignore them. The problem isn't likely to go away. Do something about it soon.