Let’s face it, fleas are extremely yucky to find. And where there is one, there are typically hundreds–if not thousands–that are not seen. The most common flea affecting dogs and cats in the U.S. is the common cat flea. While fleas may be found anywhere in the country, they are found in greater numbers in areas where higher humidity and warmer temperatures exist.
Luckily, Montana is one of the top five states where fleas are NOT found. However, this does not mean that we don’t have fleas! Many fleas just tag along with people moving into the state. Most of the flea cases we see are from people living in apartments; the close proximity of so many people and pets simply makes it easier for them to spread.
Amazingly, fleas can lay about 40 eggs per day. In ideal conditions these eggs can turn into adult fleas in about 2 weeks, which can then start laying more eggs within 2 days. So, it is easy to see how a tiny flea can rapidly turn into a large infestation. Flea eggs and larvae optimally need about 50 percent humidity and temperatures between 75o to 85o F; however, they can still survive in slightly cooler and warmer temperatures. When a flea population becomes established in a home, they no longer have to worry about temperature and humidity fluctuations that can affect their eggs and larvae.
Fleas can not only make you and your pet’s life miserable, but they can also transmit certain diseases. For humans in the U.S., fleas can transmit Bubonic plague (a few cases crop up every year in the southwestern U.S.), Murine typhus (also periodically found in the southwest), and Tularemia. As with some pets, certain people can also have an allergy to flea saliva.
For cats, fleas can cause several disorders…
- Anemia: While not specifically an illness, large flea infestations can cause anemia and death in young kittens.
- Tapeworms: There is a tapeworm that fleas can carry. Cats (and dogs) become infected with the tapeworm when they swallow dead or living fleas, usually when grooming or chewing at flea bites.
- FAD (Flea Allergy Dermatitis): A hypersensitivity reaction to flea saliva when bitten by a flea. It causes intense irritation, resulting in hair loss, usually around the tail, belly, and inner thighs. These areas can become infected, leading to crusts, scabs, discharge, and odor.
- Bartonella (also called “cat scratch fever” in people): A bacteria shed in flea feces that cats can pick up when they groom themselves. It can cause fever, lethargy, gingivitis, uveitis (inflammation in the eye), or neurologic issues.
Fleas can easily be prevented by a monthly application of an approved preventative. We recommend using one if you live in a flea-infested area or are traveling out of state. If fleas do take up residence in your home, the house will need a thorough treatment with a spray or bomb that will kill the adults and eggs. All the pets from the home need to be treated, too.
As mentioned earlier, Montana is not a hotbed of flea activity, but infections do occur periodically. We see about 4 or 5 cases of fleas yearly. If you suspect there are any fleas on your pet, call to make an appointment as soon as possible!