Nobody likes fleas or wants them around. We all know they're gross. We also know they can make pets sick and are difficult to get rid of once they've become established in your household. But the real reason flea prevention is important is because exposure to fleas can make you sick. Fleas are an important vector for a variety of infectious agents that can cause diseases in both pets and humans.
New studies have established that a startling 80% of fleas carry diseases that have the potential to sicken any warm-blooded host, including us humans! In today's world, it's increasingly difficult to feel like we have control over much of anything. Safe and effective flea prevention is relatively inexpensive and easy to access. Why not take advantage of this simple step you can take to keep your entire family, pets included, healthier?
What are the facts?
Even as a veterinarian with more than 25 years of clinical experience, my mind was blown when I recently learned that the percentage of fleas carrying disease-causing agents is so high. We've known for a long time that a variety of diseases can be transmitted by fleas, but we still don't fully understand the actual incidence of these diseases or the full spectrum of the types of symptoms they can cause. Aside from causing anemia in cats, life-threatening blood loss in tiny newborns, and the occasional case of plague in the southwestern US, flea-borne illnesses were never top of mind. But the fact that as many as 80% of the fleas that are out there are carrying disease-causing agents means the potential they have to cause illness in people as well as pets is much larger than originally thought. We are only just beginning to understand the role these flea-borne illnesses may play in chronic inflammatory diseases in humans, like fibromyalgia and arthritis. Simply put, we didn’t know to look for flea-borne diseases before when evaluating humans with chronic inflammatory diseases and having that new insight on the table is a game changer. Learning more about these flea-borne diseases is cutting-edge science.
Even though we usually think about fleas spreading bloodborne diseases directly to their hosts when they bite them, it doesn't always have to work that way. Have you ever had a pet with fleas? Did you notice how much dark debris accumulated in your pet's fur? It's almost impossible to pet a cat or dog with fleas and avoid getting that gritty matter under your fingernails. It might look like pepper, but that yucky stuff (affectionately known as "flea dirt") is actually flea poop. Fleas subsist on a diet of blood, so their poop is essentially digested blood. As a result, that substance (which gets everywhere!) can effectively transmit diseases. Getting a little bit of flea dirt into a hangnail or small cut on your hand is sufficient to successfully transmit a flea-borne illness. As such, it isn’t terribly difficult for a human to inadvertently be exposed to a flea-borne illness.
While this can be scary, it's important to avoid letting the pendulum of caution swing too far in one direction. It's not as if we should react to this news by getting rid of our pets, after all. We know with certainty that many times when our pets are infected with these disease-causing agents, they don't end up developing any symptoms. Our previous understanding was that flea-borne illnesses were not terribly common, especially in people. As we learn more that's likely to change, but it's not as if there's currently a pandemic of flea-borne illnesses. However, fun fact: a flea-borne pandemic has happened in the past. It was called The Plague! Instead of panicking, enjoy all the benefits our pets bring to our lives, while maintaining a good parasite control and prevention plan is the easiest way to avoid getting sick ourselves.
What are the additional benefits of preventing fleas?
Keeping your pets on a regular program of safe and effective flea control helps to keep them healthy in a variety of ways. Pets are exposed to fleas whenever they walk across the ground or carpeting where other animals with fleas have passed. The fleas jump on and get to work enjoying a blood meal and reproducing. When your pet grooms itself, it will end up consuming some of those fleas — which is actually one of the most common ways our pets are exposed to tapeworms. Like fleas, tapeworms are not only disgusting, but they can also cause illnesses. Keeping fleas off your pets will also reduce their exposure to tapeworms.
Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is a common form of allergic skin disease for both dogs and cats. Pets with FAD are allergic to flea saliva, so even just a few flea bites can lead to a severely itchy rash characterized by scabs and itchy hair loss, particularly toward the hindquarters of the animal. Consistently using a good flea product is critical for helping those pets live an itch-free life with beautiful skin and fur.
Tapeworms, FAD, and the variety of other diseases fleas cause are all important and worthy of discussion, but those are topics for another blog post. After hearing the news about the percentage of fleas who are carrying pathogens being so high, I was eager to get this one bit of information into your hands as quickly as possible!
How can you protect your whole family, including both pets and people?
That's simple. Talk to your Vetster veterinarian about the best flea-control plan for your unique circumstances and lifestyle. Getting advice from a professional will help you avoid the dangerous and ineffective products that are widely available over-the-counter and will also ensure that you understand how to use your flea control correctly so it will actually work.
Think you're not at risk for fleas? Think again. Because of the risk of flea-borne illnesses, year-round use of a safe and effective flea-control product is recommended for all dogs and outdoor cats everywhere that doesn’t freeze for 6-months or more. This includes the lower 48 states, the UK, and much of Canada. There was once the idea that flea season only ran from April to November, but as temperatures have warmed up and frosts are fewer, we’re seeing more flea activity year-round.
If you only have cats, you're still not in the clear, even if they stay inside. Outdoor cats, squirrels, and rabbits in your yard or right outside your screen door can expose your indoor kitty to fleas. Avoid feeding critters near your house to reduce your risks, but don't hesitate to keep indoor cats on flea control if you want to be on the safe side. If you live in an apartment with an indoor kitty, your risk may still be higher than expected if your neighbors with dogs aren't being conscientious about flea control. Flea-infested dogs moving through common areas like hallways and lobbies will contaminate those floors with vast quantities of flea eggs. If those floors have carpet or rugs, those eggs will hatch and rapidly mature from larvae into adults who will be seeking a new warm-blooded host on which to take up house. Those larvae and mature adults are quite happy to move about in search of that new host and can easily crawl through carpet from the hallway, under the door, and into your unit.
Once again, this demonstrates the issue we all face with things we can control and things we cannot. You may not be able to convince your neighbors to keep their pets on a consistent program of flea control, but at least iIt's relatively simple and affordable to protect your own pets. More importantly, eliminating fleas on your pets is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from flea-borne illnesses.
Book an appointment with a Vetster vet today to put your flea prevention plan into action, get 30% off with code FLEATICK30. Click here to book now.
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