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Fleas on companion animals

Fleas are one of the most common ectoparasites of companion animals and feed on the blood of their hosts. The blood intake of a female flea can be equivalent to more than 15 times its body weight. Well fed this way, adults survive on a host for up to 140 days. Several thousands of eggs are laid by female fleas and dropped wherever the host animal goes. The warm temperature and humidity in homes provide a favorable microclimate for multiple flea life cycles.

Flea species

Morphology of A Cat flea Ctenocephalides felis; B Dog flea Ctenocephalides canis; C Hedgehog flea Archaeopsylla erinacei; D Poultry flea Ceratophyllus gallinae. Original size A: 2.1 mm; B: 3.2 mm; C: 3.2 mm; D: 2.2 mm Source: Krämer F, Mencke N. Flea Biology and Control. Berlin, Heidelberg, New York: Springer; 2001.

Fleas belong to the insect family (classification: phylum Arthropoda, class Insecta). In most parts of the world, only a limited number of flea species are common on companion animals, particularly on cats and dogs. These are

  • Ctenocephalides felis, the cat flea,
  • Ctenocephalides canis, the dog flea,
  • Archaeopsylla erinacei, the hedgehog flea,
  • Pulex irritans, the human flea, and
  • Echidnophaga gallinacea as well as Ceratophyllus gallinae, fleas found on poultry.

The flea life cycle

Life cycle of the cat and dog flea. 1 Adult female flea; 2 Eggs; 3 Larva; 4 Pupa; 5 Preemerged adult. Source: Krämer F, Mencke N. Flea Biology and Control. Berlin, Heidelberg, New York: Springer; 2001.

All flea species develop similarly via four stages:

  • Eggs: are laid 24 to 36 hours after first blood meal.
  • Larvae: three larval stages, life span 5 to 12 days.
  • Pupae: best protected and resistant life stage.
  • Preemergent adults: The waiting stage, emergence of adults upon stimuli (pressure, heat).

The life cycle of the flea is based on holometabolic metamorphosis. It can be completed in as little as 14 days or be prolonged up to 140 days, depending mainly on temperature and humidity.

Harmful effects of flea infestation

Flea infestation can disrupt the general well-being of all animals, cause itching, redness, hair loss, and in certain cases severe skin infections. The most harmful effects are:

  • Blood loss
  • Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD)
  • Transmission of tapeworms
  • Transmission of bacterial diseases

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