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Cat fleas are frequently encountered in homes and are common pests on domestic cats and dogs. Cat fleas may breed on animals such as opossums and become trouble-some of wild animals find refuge in a subarea or attic. Dog fleas look like cat fleas, but they are rare in California. Sticktight fleas can become a problem when pets frequent areas near poultry. About half the size of a cat flea, sticktight fleas remain firmly attached around the ears and eyes of their host. Mobile fleas on either cats or dogs around homes or apartments in California, therefore, are most likely to be cat fleas. The cat fleas is suspected of transmitting plague and murine typhus to humans, but its primary importance is its annoyance to man and pets. Cat fleas will readily try to feed on almost any warm-blooded host. Some people are bothered by fleas walking on their skin. Flea bites usually cause minor itching but may become increasingly irritating to sensitive or reactive people. The bite consists of a small centralized spot surrounded by a red halo, usually without excessive swelling. Bites tend to be concentrated on the lower legs but some may also appear elsewhere. Some people and pets suffer from fleabite allergic dermatitis characterized by intense itching, hair loss and reddening of the skin, and secondary infection. Just one bite may initiate an allergic reaction, and reactions may become apparent over 5 days after the bite. Cat fleas may also serve as the intermediate host of dog tapeworm. Cats or dogs may acquire this intestinal parasite by eating fleas containing a cyst of the tapeworm.

Adult cat fleas are about 1/10 inch long, wingless, dark reddish brown and laterally compressed. The adult is the pestiferous stage because it bites to feed on the blood of the host. Unlike most other kinds of fleas, cat fleas remain on the host where they mate and lay eggs. An adult flea generally lives less than 3 weeks on the host. Each female lays about 10-20 eggs per day. Fleas may be found on some pets throughout the year, but numbers tend to increase dramatically during the spring and early summer. Cat flea eggs are opalescent, oval and about 1/32 inch long. The eggs are smooth and readily fall from the host to substrates where hatching occurs within 2 days. The whitish wormlike larvae feed on various materials including dried excrement produced by adult fleas feeding on the host. The food gives the larvae a grayish appearance. Fleas larvae develop more quickly at high temperatures. They feed and crawl around for 5 to 15 days at 70-90 degrees F and up to 35 days at 55 degrees F before they build small silken cocoons in which they develop into adult fleas. At cool temperatures, fully-formed fleas may remain in their cocoons for up to 4 months. High temperature and direct pressure on the cocoon stimulate emergence from the cocoon. At room conditions, the entire life cycle may be completed in about 24 days. Immature stages are readily killed by either excessively dry or flooded conditions. Larval development is normally restricted to protected places where there is at least 75% relative humidity. Cat fleas are most prevalent in coastal localities and places with moderate daytime temperatures and fairly high humidities.

Flea eggs dropping from infested pets develop to adulthood in carpeting, furniture fabrics, the bedding areas of pets, and occasionally in peripheral cracks and crevices. Vacuuming or shampooing will usually not remove enough larval food to prevent development, but will remove many adults and destroy larvae. Thorough periodic cleaning of carpet, furniture or areas where pets food or rest will help reduce the number of fleas present. A large variety of total release aerosol-type devices are currently available to control fleas indoors, but those containing DDVP provide best control when they are used at no less than 1 oz spray per 1000 ft3 (125 square foot room). Products with high concentrations of insecticide are available only to professional applicators. some aerosols contain an insect growth regulator (methoprene) that inhibits larvae from developing into adults. Growth regulators have no direct effect on adult fleas but may aid to prevent eventual flea infestation. Sorptive dust such as Dri-Die or Drione kill fleas by removing wax from the insect's body and dehydrating the insect. Drione also contains pyrethrins for faster knockdown of fleas. Even though they are extremely safe to humans and pets, these dusts may be somewhat unsightly and may irritate the nose and throat. Several insecticides such as Safrotin, Knox Out, and Dursban LO are effective flea control materials that should be applied only by a professional pest control operator. These insecticides provide rapid effects and excellent residual control of adult and larval fleas for at least 6 weeks. Recent studies indicate that pest control devices based on the principle of ultrasonic sound do not repel fleas, prevent them from feeding or alter their behavior.

Environmental conditions in California do not promote extensive outdoor flea populations, except under unusual circumstances or in shaded and protected areas such as sheltered animal enclosures or crawl spaces where pets may sleep. Failure to treat these places may result in a continuing problem due to reinfestation of the pet. Carbaryl, chlorpyrifos, diazinon or malathion sprays may be used to eliminate fleas in specific sites where large numbers are found. Regular watering and lawn maintenance help destroy larvae and prevent development of excessive populations of fleas.

Although many different flea collars, shampoos and dusts are currently registered for use on pets by veterinarians or consumers, their overall effectiveness is somewhat questionable and controversial. You should consult with a veterinarian to determine the safest and most efficacious treatment for your pet. Special combs are available that help remove adult fleas from the fur of the pet. Removing fleas may provide comfort to the animal and reduce flea breeding. Recent studies indicate that Vitamin B, (thiamine hydrochloride) supplement does not prevent does not prevent fleas from feeding.

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