Home, Lawn & Garden Insects & Pests
The cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis (Figure 1), is the most common flea found on cats and dogs in Tennessee. These fleas are about 1/16 inch long and are reddish-brown in color. Fleas have bodies flattened from the sides with backward projecting spines so they can easily walk through animal hair. Parts of the legs are enlarged for jumping, which allows an adult flea to jump almost 200 times its height.
Most of us are well aware of the flea and the itch produced by its bite. Not only are flea bites irritating, but fleas can also transmit several disease-causing organisms to humans. The organisms that cause plague and flea-borne typhus are transmitted to humans by fleas that have fed on infected rodents, such as rats. Fortunately, these two diseases are seldom encountered in Tennessee. Cat fleas, however, are a medical concern because they are able to transmit dog tapeworm, Dipylidium caninum. The flea larvae ingest the tapeworm eggs which were dropped from the dog’s anus by the adult tapeworm. Cats and dogs can also be infected if they groom and consume an adult flea infected with tapeworms. Humans can be infected as well if they accidentally consume an infected adult flea.
Fleas are obligate ectoparasites, meaning they must stay on or close to a host to survive. Fleas will not stray far from host resting areas. Cat flea hosts include cats, dogs, opossums, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and occasionally rats and other urban animals. Although adult fleas prefer to feed on dogs, cats or other small animals, they will attack humans when pets are not available. Cat fleas do not develop very well on human blood and a population will soon die out if no preferred hosts are present.
"PB1596-Chemical and Nonchemical Management of Fleas," The University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service, PB1596 10/06(Rep) 07-0071, http://trace.tennessee.edu/utk_agexdise/16