Tips From the Vet: 10 Flea Facts and 10 Tick Tidbits
10 Flea Facts
#1: Ctenocephalides felis, or the “cat flea,” is the most common flea found on pets in North America. This is an equal opportunist—perfectly happy to feed on dogs, cats, and people!
#2: Adult fleas only live on your dog when they need a fresh blood meal, to prepare for laying eggs.
#3: Dogs with flea allergy syndrome will itch, bite, and chew badly from just one fleabite.
#4: The Oriental rat flea, Xenopsylla cheopsis, helped spread the bubonic plague in medieval Europe. Fleas can also spread tapeworms and other diseases such as typhus.
#5: Fleas are Olympic-level jumpers. A flea can jump well over 100 times its length, making it easy to move to a new host.
#6: In addition to their skill as top jumpers, fleas are also fleet of feet. For their size, they exceed Olympic sprinters in speed.
#7: Fleas are prolific reproducers. Females lay at least 20 eggs per day after a blood meal. One female flea can lay 2,000 eggs over her short life span!
#8: The female flea can consume up to about 15 times her own body weight in blood daily. That may not seem like much, but if a small puppy has a heavy flea infestation, anemia can result.
#9: It can be difficult to find fleas on a dog. One method is to have your dog lie down and roll over for a belly rub. Any fleas that are exposed will run across the thinly haired groin area, where they will be more visible.
#10: Flea “dirt,” the salt- and pepper-appearing material you can find by ruffling your dog’s coat over a white sheet of paper, is actually a collection of flea feces and eggs. Add a drop of water; if the debris turns pink, you know it is the dried blood in the flea fecal material.
10 Tick Tidbits
#1: Ticks are actually arachnids, not insects. This means they are related to spiders and scorpions—not a nice family group!
#2: Recently it was found that bites from lone star ticks can cause allergic reactions to red meat in both people and dogs. Dogs tend to show skin allergy signs: itching, biting, and chewing.
#3: Unlike the athletic flea, ticks do not jump or run. They reach out from tall grasses and shrubs and grab at hosts passing by. Then they anchor themselves with their jaws and sticky saliva.
#4: Most ticks use different hosts for their three life stages: larvae, lymph, and adult. These hosts can include mammals, reptiles, and birds.
#5: After ticks have eaten a blood meal, they expand greatly in size. Eventually, the bloated tick drops off and lays eggs in the environment.
#6: Ticks are known for spreading a number of diseases and health problems, such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and paralysis.
#7: Ticks infected with disease pathogens may pass them on to their eggs, so the larval stages are already infected. Some can also carry an infection through all of their life stages.
#8: Many tick species have favorite habitats. These areas can range from meadows and grassy fields for dog ticks to woods and leaf litter for deer ticks.
#9: Ticks don’t fare well in extremely dry areas. They prefer warm temperatures and humid conditions but can survive very cold and snowy winters.
#10: Controlling the environment can help minimize tick exposure. This means keeping grass cut short, removing brush piles and shrubs near the house or in the yard, and discouraging (or at least not encouraging) wildlife around your house and yard.
Deb M. Eldredge, DVM, is a Cornell graduate and horse lover from early childhood. She was active in 4-H and Pony Club and has competed in various horse show venues, competitive trail rides, and small three-day events. Dr. Eldredge is also an award-winning writer with the Cat Writers Association and the Dog Writers Association of America. She lives in upstate New York on a small farm with 3 elderly horses, 1 miniature horse, 2 donkeys, and various other animals.