Flea Alert!

The bugs are on the muscle! We’ve seen a huge surge in flea cases in the past few weeks. I’m not sure if that’s because of the cold snap or just normal seasonal changes, but yikes!

While fleas might seem like an annoyance at worst, they can actually cause a number of very serious problems. One of the most dangerous has to do with the fact that fleas drink blood.

If you recall from the entry about blood samples and labwork back here, blood is “soup.” The red blood cells comprise, on average, about 30-50% of the blood’s volume. It’s lower in puppies and kittens. Average adult dogs run between 37 and 55%, generally. This percentage is measured with something called a packed cell volume, or PCV. This diagram indicates that the PCV is simply a percentage of the amount of red cells compared to the full volume of blood. In this diagram, the PCV is 46% (0.46).

500px Packed cell volume diagram svg

In a heavy infestation, fleas can drain a smaller pet’s blood to the point that the number of red blood cells decreases to a dangerous level (anemia). The fleas are drinking down cells faster than the bone marrow can replace them, so the eventual result is that the anemic pet can’t carry enough oxygen in the blood to keep itself alive. Severe flea anemia can kill a pet!

There are also additional complications that can result from a heavy flea infestation: infection with blood parasites called hemobartonella and babesia, as well as autoimmune problems can all have a link to flea infestations.

Patients with flea anemia can be saved with aggressive care. Usually, a blood transfusion is given to replace the red blood cells. Transfusions tend to take the patients out of critical trouble, but of course longterm attention to flea control is needed or the newly replaced cells will be consumed by the fleas.

Topical products that safely kill fleas are the best way to go. Vectra 3D, K9 Advantix, Frontline Plus, and Advantage are all good products.

I do not recommend the store brand products, nor do I recommend Hartz or Sargents. Flea baths can be dangerous for a wide range of reasons. Some flea collars are alright, but unless they’re used correctly (which they usually aren’t), they’re not very successful.

Preventing flea infestations in pets and your home is easy to do and relatively low-cost. Given the trouble and expense of treating your home and sick pets, it’s a bargain to stop the parasites before they gain a foothold. Just remember that ALL pets in the household need to be protected with a flea-control product to stop a home infestation from occurring.

Here’s hoping we can keep a Flea-Free Fall in sight!

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2 Comments

Filed under infectious diseases, news, parasites, preventive care

2 responses to “Flea Alert!

  1. I had no idea a blood-sucking bug could cause anemia…or worse! I thought the worst of it would be an itchy dog and an infested house. It’s a relief to know that the anti-flea treatments are so effective!

  2. Most of the time, adult animals are not at risk, but smaller and very young ones certainly are. Fleas are among the most disgusting parasites we have to deal with.

    There’s always a lot of psychosomatic itching after we see a flea case. Yuck!

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