dog flea (Ctenocephalides canis)


Fleas are a type of wingless parasite found worldwide. They feed off the blood of humans and animals such as dogs and cats. Since fleas use a wide range of hosts, diseases can be transferred from one host to another. Fleas are known to transmit tapeworm larvae and, uncommonly, the disease murine typhus. They are most notorious for transmitting bubonic plague from wild rodents to humans in certain parts of the world (not Australia).

The three main species of flea that infest humans are:


  • cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis)
  • dog flea (Ctenocephalides canis)
  • human flea (Pulex irritans).


The cat and dog flea are common in Australia. A flea bite is intensely itchy and secondary infections caused by scratching are common.


Symptoms of a flea bite
The bite of a flea has certain features, including:


  • It is extremely itchy.
  • A red, swollen weal develops within half an hour of the bite.
  • After a day or so, the wheal (lump) may develop into a blister or small wound.
  • The legs and feet are often targeted.
  • Secondary infections caused by scratching are common.
  • Some people may become hypersensitive (very sensitive) to bites.


Treatment for flea bites
Suggestions to treat flea bites include:


  • Resist the urge to scratch.
  • Wash the bites with antiseptic soap to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Apply an icepack frequently to help relieve swelling.
  • Use calamine lotion, anaesthetic creams or similar to treat the itching.
  • See your pharmacist for advice on appropriate antihistamine medications to reduce the swelling.
  • Seek treatment for possible tapeworm infection, since fleas can transmit this parasite through their bite.
  • See your doctor if the symptoms worsen or if a secondary infection develops (indicated by discharge of pus from wounds).


Treating your pet for fleas
Infested animals should be treated fortnightly for several weeks. Suggestions on treating your pet include:


  • See your veterinarian for a range of appropriate flea-killing products.
  • Treatment options include tablets to be swallowed by the animal, and solutions or powders to be applied to their fur.
  • Treat your pet for tapeworm, since fleas can transmit this parasite through their bite.

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Bird fleas can multiply enormously in hen houses, breeders, batteries and other similar environments.


Appearance

  • Adult fleas are generally brownish in colour, and 1/32"-5/16" long. 
  • The eyes as well as the antennae are apparent. Their mouthparts are well adapted for piercing skin and sucking blood and project downwards from the head. 
  • This species is the most common bird flea, then hen flea.

Lifecycle

  • Bird fleas can only live for a short time indoors and only in nests. 
  • They breed during the nesting period when the host and/or young are available for regular blood meals.

Habits

  • Adult bird fleas live in bird nests. When the birds move from the nest, the adult fleas must find a new host. 
  • If the nest is reused, the pupae will hatch, mate and continue the breeding cycle. 
  • Bird fleas can multiply enormously in hen houses, breeders, batteries etc.

Adult Dog fleas feed on the blood of dogs and cats, and they occasionally bite humans.

It is a vector of the Dog Tapeworm, Dipylidium caninum, which can also affect humans.


Appearance

  • Adult is brownish black in colour, but appear reddish–black after a blood meal.
  • Adult dog fleas are 1 to 4 mm long. The legless larva is off–white and measures up to 5 mm long.

Lifecycle

  • The fleas go through a four–stage life cycle: eggs, larvae, pupae, adult.
  • The larvae are longer than the adults and feed on particles of dry blood, excrement, and organic substances.

Habits

  • The body is laterally flattened, which allows it to move easily through an animal’s fur. Spines project backwards from the body of the flea, which help it to hold onto the host animal during grooming.
  • As they can jump approximately 6 inches, they can move from host to host. They can also infest garden lawns.

cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis)

bird flea (Ceratophyllus gallinae)

Cat fleas are often unable to determine whether a host is suitable until it has been bitten.

If it is deemed unsuitable, the flea soon drops off.


Appearance

  • Cat fleas are 3mm long wingless ticks, flattened from side to side with long legs enabling them to jump.
  • They have both genal and pronotal combs (ctenidia), differentiating them from most other fleas of domestic animals.

Lifecycle

  • Fleas pass through four stages: eggs, larva, pupa, adult. The eggs are small and white. These stages combined vary from two weeks to eight months.
  • The adult flea is awakened by the detection of vibration of pet or human movement, pressure, heat, noise, or carbon dioxide for potential blood meals.
  • A cat flea cannot complete its life–cycle feeding only on human blood.

Habits

  • Cat fleas nest where the host is in its usual resting place, for example the cat basket. This is where the young often drop to mature.