Why Do Fleas Make My Pet Anemic?
Fleas are amazing little creatures. Sure, they may be irritating, but they've certainly got some skills to brag about: ability to jump over 200 times the length of their body, capable of producing over a trillion eggs in 9 months, and surviving in cocoons for over a year without feeding. They're also capable of some massive destruction when in large quantities because of their sole food source: blood.
That's right - fleas eat blood, and lots of it. Female fleas require blood to reproduce, baby fleas need blood to grow, and adult fleas need blood to survive. In a flea infestation, that's a lot of fleas to feed. This can result in anemia or a low red blood cell count in smaller animals or in larger animals when severely infested.
In mammals, red blood cells are required to transport oxygen throughout the body. On average, dogs have about 66 milliliters (one hundredth of a liter) per kilogram of weight. That's about 3 liters of blood in the average large dog. Considering a single flea can bite 350 times a day, you can see why a flea population could consume a lot of blood very quickly.
When pets experience anemia, the most common signs are pale gums, listless or lethargic behavior, or a colder temperature in severe cases. If fleas are not removed and anemia is allowed to progress, pets can die from lack of oxygen to crucial organs and tissues. Even more frightening is the fact that animals rarely itch from a flea infestation unless they are allergic to the fleas, meaning a pet could have a substantial flea infestation and show no symptoms. Some pets are at a greater risk than others for developing anemia. Kittens or puppies raised outdoors and elderly animals are the most likely to become anemic during a flea infestation.
How Will I Know If My Pet Has Fleas?
If your pet is allergic to fleas, it will most likely scratch incessantly or even bite places like the rear and back legs to soothe itching. If your pet is not allergic to fleas and doesn't scratch as a result, you can still detect a flea infestation from the appearance of flea feces. Flea feces looks like dirt or pepper and can be found both on your pet and in the areas it sleeps or relaxes (like a rug or on furniture). The best way to identify flea feces is to squeeze some between paper towels. If little red smears result (flea feces contain blood), you're dealing with fleas.
Because fleas can survive for long periods unattached to a host, it can be very difficult to rid both your pet and house of fleas. The best methods are thorough and repetitive. To rid your pet of fleas, a series of flea shampooing, topical treatments, and even oral medications should be administered. Repeat treatment up to three times every 10 days, while carefully monitoring your pet's behavior as treatments are toxic in high doses. To prevent your pet from re-infection, you must treat any areas your pet inhabits at the same time your pet is being treated. If this includes places within your home, you can use sprays, powders/dusts, or foggers to kill fleas. Just like your pet's treatment, repeat this regimen two or three times, each 10 days apart, to be sure you kill all fleas in all life cycles. Being aware of changes in your pet's behavior as well as periodically checking areas where your pet relaxes for signs of fleas is the most effective way to prevent a flea infestation and the anemia that can result from one.