There are different types of fleas, and the ordinary cat flea called Ctenocephalides felis is the one that is most commonly found in dogs (and cats), although the cat flea actually prefers dogs.
The adult flea is a small dark brown insect which is about 2 to 8 mm in length, visible to the naked eye.
The flea has a laterally flattened body which has three parts – the head, thorax, and abdomen.
The flea has 3 pairs of legs which are attached to the thorax.
Although fleas have no wings, they have enlarged powerful back legs enabling them to jump great distances. They can move through the hair quickly and are therefore extremely difficult to catch.
Fleas detect hosts with their eyes as well as antennae.
To effectively control fleas and eliminate them from our dogs, it is important to understand the flea lifecycle.
The flea lifecycle consists of four stages.
Time of completion of this lifecycle depends heavily on the humidity and temperature. For example, at 30°C, the entire flea lifecycle takes only 2 weeks.
The higher the temperature and humidity, the more efficient their reproduction.
Let’s look at each stage of a flea cycle:
Stage 1 (Adult Fleas)
Adult fleas account for about 5% of the entire flea population.
They can live for up to 115 days on a dog, but generally speaking they only survive on dogs for 1 to 2 weeks because constant grooming of dogs tends to remove the fleas.
When fleas are on a dog, they feed on the dog’s blood, after which they mate on the dog’s skin.
The female then lays eggs within 24 to 48 hours. A female flea can lay up to 50 eggs a day and 2,000 eggs during its 4-month life span!
Stage 2 (Eggs)
Flea eggs account for about 50% of the entire flea population.
These eggs have a smooth shell which allows them to slip through a dog’s hair into the environment. They incubate in the dog’s bedding, carpets, cracks, and so on.
Flea eggs can survive through extreme environmental conditions such as heat, moisture, cold, drying out and even household chemical, making them almost impossible to kill.
They can also lay dormant for up to 2 years, waiting for the right conditions for them to hatch. If the conditions are right, flea eggs hatch in about 10 days into larvae.
Stage 3 (Larvae)
Flea larvae account for roughly 35% of the flea population.
They look like small maggots and can be found in the cracks and crevices of floors, carpets and bedding. They survive only in conditions of high humidity.
Flea larvae feed on organic debris and spin a silk-like cocoon before they become flea pupae.
Stage 4 (Pupae)
Flea pupae account for about 10% of the entire flea population.
Once the larvae have spun their protective cocoon, the pupae remain protected against the environment and other predators.
The pupae, however, are extremely prone to drying out, and have less resistance against chemicals. The pupal stage can last for days or months depending on the environmental conditions.
The hatching is triggered by warm, humid weather and most importantly to vibrations. These vibrations are cause by the presence of an animal, a foot or by people.
Under these ideal conditions, the pupae incubate for around 3 to 9 days upon which they emerge as young adult fleas, which all hatch within a few hours of each other.
After hatching, the immature adult fleas have 2 weeks to find a host.
As you can see, about 95% of the flea population is in the invisible egg, larval, and pupal stages.
Thus, the immature flea stages provide an ongoing source of adult fleas if left untreated.
So, an effective canine flea control program must be in place to eliminate not only the adult fleas found on dogs, but more importantly, this 95% of the flea population in the environment.
To eliminate the mostly immobile eggs, larvae and pupae, we have to be vigilant in vacuuming the floor and washing the dog’s bedding regularly.
In other words, treating the environment, especially areas around your dog’s sleeping place, is extremely important to completely eradicate fleas.