Debarking Pet Myths: Indoor Pets Can’t Get Fleas
Welcome to “Debarking Pet Myths,” a monthly series dedicated to addressing common myths, misconceptions and old wives’ tales about dogs and cats.
Owners of strictly indoor cats and dogs may be surprised by the facts surrounding this month’s myth:
Indoor-only pets can’t get fleas.
The reality is that indoor cats and dogs can become infested with these biting creepy-crawlies, although indoor-outdoor pets are more likely to get them. Knowing some key facts about fleas, how they live and where they’re found can help you understand how your “indoor-only” pet can get these hardy blood-drinkers and why your veterinarian may recommend flea control.
So how do indoor-only cats and dogs get fleas? Here are some of the more common ways (Try not to scratch as you’re reading):
#1 – You or another person can bring fleas indoors
Fleas, which can be found outside around your home, lawn and garden or in area parks, have no qualms about hitchhiking into your home on you and your clothes. Another family member or friend with pets can also bring fleas to visit. Even though humans aren’t their preferred food source, hungry fleas are indiscriminate feeders and will happily take a blood meal. So, if you spend time around other pets who may have fleas, volunteer at an animal shelter or hike through a flea-infested area, you could be carrying home a stowaway (or two) without knowing it.
#2 – Another pet brings a pair (or more) of flea friends inside
The number-one way that fleas enter a home is on the family dog, so if your dog goes outside for potty breaks, he or she could become a host for one or more fleas. (It only takes two fleas to create an infestation!) The most common type of flea in the United States infests not only cats and dogs but also rodents, ferrets, opossums, rabbits, raccoons, foxes, birds and cattle. As flea-infested wildlife pass through your yard or sleep around your home or garden, they seed the environment with flea eggs. Especially during humid months, these eggs develop into adult fleas that your dog can pick up.
Even dogs that are treated with a flea and tick control product can bring live fleas into the house. Many flea and tick products need some time to kill fleas, or fleas must bite the pet before they are exposed to the medication. Another possibility is that exposure to a high number of fleas can overwhelm the product that was applied to your dog. Since some products may not be 100 percent effective all of the time, a few fleas may survive long enough to lay eggs.
#3 – You move into a “new” home that has a preexisting flea infestation
It’s possible that your home’s previous owner or tenant had a pet with fleas. Here’s where knowing a little bit about the flea life cycle and flea populations can be truly helpful. Adult fleas are actually a very small (5 percent) segment of the total flea population. The remaining 95 percent can be found as eggs, larvae and pupae hiding in the environment — in carpet, cracks in floors, gaps along the baseboard, pet bedding and furniture. Because there’s a little flexibility in the flea’s life cycle, these blood-drinkers could just be waiting for your pet to arrive.
It all starts with a pair of adult fleas. Within seconds of landing on your dog or cat, both female and male fleas start to feed and mate. Then, within 24 to 36 hours of the first blood meal, female fleas start laying eggs in the pet’s coat.
As a general rule of thumb, fleas typically stay on a host animal. They don’t readily jump from pet to pet — unless their living situation becomes crowded.
Flea eggs aren’t sticky, so they fall off the pet into the environment. Eggs hatch into larvae in two to 10 days.
Larvae are sensitive to light, so they hunker down, especially among carpet fibers. They feed on flea dirt (flea feces) and other organic debris in the environment. Larvae grow and molt twice over five to 11 days, depending on the environmental temperature, humidity and food availability. When larvae reach maturity, they spin silk cocoons and become pupae.
During the pupal stage, larvae develop into adult fleas. This stage is extremely resistant to environmental flea control treatments (except for vacuuming, potentially). Development into an adult flea inside the cocoon is finished within five to 10 days; however, newly formed adults don’t emerge immediately. They may stay inside their cocoons for several months (and possibly a year) as pre-emerged adults, waiting until conditions are right — namely, that a suitable host is present. Once adult fleas emerge, they try to find a blood meal immediately, but they can survive for about seven to 10 days without one.
The entire life cycle can occur in as few as 21 days if conditions are ideal.
#4 – Your pet picks up fleas during boarding, grooming or a trip to the veterinary clinic
Most indoor-only pets aren’t truly restricted to their homes. Even indoor-only pets still leave the house for an occasional veterinary or grooming appointment — unless your veterinarian makes house calls. Or maybe you need to board your pet outside your home. Even these outdoor trips are opportunities for your cat or dog to pick up fleas.
While indoor pets have a lower risk of getting fleas than indoor-outdoor pets, it’s still possible for them to become infested with fleas. And certainly, where you live also plays a role, since environmental conditions in some areas of the country (for example, Florida) are much more favorable to fleas than others. Be sure to talk with your veterinarian regarding your pet’s specific risks and how to best prevent your pet from becoming infested with these sneaky, blood-thirsty insects.