Anesthesiologists - The OTHER surgical MVP

Dr. Shafford cradles a patient with asthma, kidney and heart disease.  The kitty is recovering well from anesthesia.

Dr. Shafford cradles a patient with asthma, kidney and heart disease.  The kitty is recovering well from anesthesia.

It’s a loving pet parent’s “perfect storm” — being caught between a pet’s need for a medical procedure and his or her risk of complications with anesthesia.

“One thing that always surprises me is that people don’t know specialist-level anesthesia is an available option,” says Dr. Heidi Shafford, DVM, board-certified veterinary anesthesiologist. It’s Shafford’s business to provide anesthesia care for medically-fragile patients.

A veterinarian may consider a pet high-risk with anesthesia for various reasons, including age, breed sensitivities, liver, heart, or kidney disease, previous anesthesia reaction, or a littermate who died under anesthesia.

“It’s not necessarily that their pet can’t undergo anesthesia, and it isn’t necessarily that their vet is wrong, but that it isn’t within their vet’s comfort level,” Shafford explains. “I’m not contradicting what that vet is saying, but here’s an analogy for what I do. Some people have compared me to a river 'bar pilot' — like those who help captains cross the difficult Columbia River Bar between the river and the ocean. Instead I help medically fragile pets navigate anesthesia.”

Shafford’s expertise helps enable high-risk pets to have procedures that can increase quality of life. A toothache is no longer life-threatening.

Veterinary anesthesiologists are sticklers for detail, crafting special anesthesia plans for each pet. For example, older pets require lower drug doses, benefit from extra support and monitoring during and after anesthesia, and need to quickly resume eating. Pets with liver disease are safer with an anesthetic that doesn’t involve liver metabolism. For kidney patients, extra pre-anesthetic fluid support and special attention to preventing and treating low blood pressure can help support fragile kidneys during anesthesia.

“Most of my patients have heart disease, kidney disease or both!”  Whatever the challenge, Shafford faces each with specialized training and thorough preparation, along with a formidable team.

“I want owners to know that I take what I do — improving anesthesia safety for pets — very seriously.  I gather detailed information about each pet ahead of time, both the focused medical picture and overall background. I get a grasp of the main concerns from the primary vet, and also talk with owners about their pet’s energy level, appetite, any coughing, sneezing, and other various details.”

Dr. Shafford also explains the upcoming procedure to pet parents. “For example, with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, there is a risk of low blood pressure and irregular heartbeats, and my anesthetic plan would include steps to minimize stress and prevent low blood pressure. I would be monitoring from before the anesthesia begins and intensively throughout, to immediately pick up on any changes, if any, to support the patient early and well.”

According to Shafford, recovery is too often an overlooked danger zone.

“During a procedure, the pet is getting extra oxygen, is often being warmed, and someone is close at hand. They are often getting IV fluids. When many clinics finish anesthesia, there is a misperception that the anesthesia is 'finished,' that the pet is out of harms’ way, and people move on to something else.”

But, says Shafford, the majority of pets lost to anesthesia-related deaths actually pass away during recovery.

Anesthesia was stopped early for this sweet dog by her primary care veterinarian because of complications related to heart disease.  She was referred to Dr. Shafford for specialist-level anesthesia care.  Here the pup looks happy after a successful anesthesia and dental procedure!

Anesthesia was stopped early for this sweet dog by her primary care veterinarian because of complications related to heart disease.  She was referred to Dr. Shafford for specialist-level anesthesia care.  Here the pup looks happy after a successful anesthesia and dental procedure!

“In recovery I monitor closely,” she says. “They are recovering from medications, may be a little cold, and not fully in control of their systems. It’s that first one to three hours after surgery that's so critical.”

That extra assurance is one reason Shafford’s schedule is full of return clients.

“A big piece of what I do is assure you that your pet is looked after, that they are warm, that their heart is beating strong, and that they are comfortable and well.”

On site two to three days a week at the Animal Dental Clinic in Tigard, Shafford says, “The dental specialists and technicians are very skilled, fast and efficient, and it truly minimizes anesthesia time. We team up for patients that are the most at-risk. I know if I ask them for help during an anesthesia emergency, they are there for me. We’ve worked together through some very challenging cases.”

Also working alongside other veterinarians, the doctor says, “The majority of vets in the Portland Metro area are familiar with me, and there are times when I’m available to come to their location. Some procedures are best performed at certain clinics.”

Neutering a dog may be a routine surgery, but for a high-risk patient with serious heart disease, anesthetizing demands her skills. “And I’ll be doing that next week for a kitty cat. There’s just this wide range of things I do for so many pets — I anesthetized a cat for cataract surgery last week — never a dull moment! I absolutely love what I do.”


Christy Caballero writes from the heart about all things pet-related, from a couple deer trails off the beaten path, typically juggling a cat (or two) on her lap as black kitty AsTar teeters on her shoulder and Mojo the retired Greyhound quietly calls for einforcements!!

Don’t let Halloween become a nightmare for your pet

While Halloween can be a howling good time for family members of all ages, it can be downright dangerous for pets – from toxic Halloween candy to pet costumes turned choking hazards. Sink your fangs into this scary stat from Petplan pet insurance: During Halloween week, pets are 84% more likely to visit the vet for raisin poisoning and 26% more likely to visit for chocolate poisoning.  

Below are tips from Petplan veterinarians for keeping pets safe this Halloween.  

 

· Afraid of the Dark (Chocolate): Chocolate poses a whole pillowcase-full of problems for pets. While all chocolate is toxic to pets, dark chocolates are the most dangerous containing a higher concentration of toxins like theobromine and caffeine, which can cause diarrhea, vomiting and increased heart rate and blood pressure. It can even be fatal depending on the amount ingested.  Milk chocolate has higher fat content which can trigger conditions like pancreatitis. The risk of chocolate toxicity during Halloween spikes 26% higher than at other times of the year. Be sure to keep the candy haul out of paws reach! 

· Raisin’ Hell: Some pet parents prefer to hand out raisins to trick-or-treaters instead of sugary sweets. While healthier for children, raisins are terribly toxic to pets – especially dogs. Even in small doses, raisin consumption can cause kidney failure. The risk of raisin toxicity is 84% higher during Halloween than at other times of the year. Be sure that any raisins are out of reach from pets. 

· Ghastly Get-Ups: According to the National Retail Federation, 16.2% of pet parents will dress up Fido or Fluffy this year.  Be certain pets are able to breathe and move freely in their costumes and choose an outfit that doesn’t have extra pieces like legs, hats or pompoms, as dogs often mistake these choking hazards for chew toys. Remember, too, that pets can become overheated and dehydrated in their disguises, even in cooler weather. 

· When Witches Come Calling: If you’re expecting lots of ghosts and goblins to ring your doorbell, make sure your pet isn’t tempted to dash out the door. Consider setting up a room with water, food, toys and a comfy bed where your pet can stay safe and sound.  

· Wrappers of Fright: Foil, cardboard and paper wrapping can cause just as much mischief as the candy inside! If a pet snacks on wrappers, they can become stuck in his guts, causing an obstruction that often requires surgery to remove. After bingeing on bonbons, be sure to toss trash in a lidded can well away from sniffing snouts.

Reprinted with the permission of PetPlan.

What to do . . . If you’ve LOST or FOUND a pet

If your pet is MISSING  

It’s so scary when a pet becomes lost — countless what-ifs, and the fear you might never see them again. Following are tips to prevent your pet getting lost, and what to do if it happens.  

Microchip and keep contact info current. The majority of reunions are thanks to microchips. Causes for separation are many — don’t make the mistake of believing it can’t happen to you.  

Keep collars/current tags on. Cats often lose collars; if yours roams, check to be sure it’s still on, and if not, replace it immediately. Machines at pet and even grocery stores make it easy (and affordable) to get a new tag on the fly.  

Keep current photos. Those on your phone can be sent to your computer to make a flier if needed. 

Fortunately, unlike humans, you needn’t wait 24 hours after a pet goes missing to report it. Start the search checking nearby places; for cats this includes all nooks and crannies — they can hide in unbelievably small spaces. Talk to neighbors, including kids, who are more often outdoors and usually love pets (and helping).  

Check local shelters and lost pet postings at local veterinary clinics, pet stores, and nearby businesses. Have fliers ready to post as well — fliers should have a decent photo, a brief, clear description, where/when your pet was last seen, and contact information.  

Get online. Post your flier, or your pet’s photo and info, on Facebook, craigslist, nextdoor.com, and any other sites with lost/found pages — including shelters and vet hospitals. Keep posts current and be available for people to reach you. Don’t give up hope. Pets go missing every day and there are many happy endings.  

NOTE:  Visit the shelter, don’t just call. Staff and volunteers carry a heavy load, and are caring for many pets — potentially making it tough for them to spot yours. You, on the other hand, will likely sight your sweetpea almost instantly if he or she is there. 

If you’ve FOUND a pet  

Finding a lost pet can be exhilarating as well as stressful. Did someone abandon him? Is s/he injured or unwell? Does s/he have a family missing him or her, or could s/he have been mistreated or abandoned?  

Social media is packed with stories of mistreated pets, so it’s easy to assume that if a pet is lost s/he didn’t have a good pet parent. But that’s not always the case. Pets go missing for any number of reasons. Fireworks. Construction or remodeling. New babysitters. Kids coming and going, leaving doors ajar.  

First things first

Will the animal come willingly, so you can get him or her to safety and investigate where s/he belongs? If yes, here are tips for helping get a lost pet home.  

-        If the pet has tags, try the contact information.

-        Have a veterinarian scan for a microchip. If s/he is chipped, contact the registered owner.

-        If no tag or microchip, hopefully the vet will do a quick wellness exam, and they or you can contact the local animal shelter who will take over from there.  

You can do more

-        Being a good citizen, you can post all the same ads you would if your pet was lost. Contact local clinics to see if they have a patient matching the pet’s description and post a description and photo(s) of the found pet on Facebook, craigslist and nextdoor.com where family — or friends of the family — might see it.

-        Most animal shelters must hold a pet for a set number of days before making him or her available for adoption. This is when the chance is greatest for reuniting the pet with its family.  

Unable to capture

If you cannot get the pet, don’t force it. Some may react aggressively purely out of fear. Also, you don’t want to spook the pet and potentially lose sight of it or put it in harm’s way. Contact animal control for help. Stay in the vicinity with the pet if you can. Try not to corner him or her, but do try luring and building trust with food or treats. If all efforts fail, from time to time a lost pet will linger in the area. Put out food and fresh water and keep an eye on social media pages. Contact shelters and veterinary clinics, and even post ‘FOUND’ posters in the area. Hopefully his or her family will spot one and comb the area. Often a pet is just waiting for someone familiar. 

Resources  

Bonnie L Hays Animal Shelter, West Side  *  co.washington.or.us/HHS/AnimalServices/AnimalShelter

 Clackamas County Dog Services  *  clackamas.us/dogs

 Family Dogs New Life Shelter  *  familydogsnewlife.org

 Humane Society for SW Washington  *  southwesthumane.org

 Multnomah County Animal Services  *  multcopets.org

 Oregon Humane Society  *  oregonhumane.org

 Oregon Friends of Shelter Animals  *  ofosa.org

 The Pixie Project  *  pixieproject.org

 Make fliers:  search.petfbi.org/lost-pet-flyer.aspx

What to do...If you FIND an INJURED Pet

Getting to work one morning, I once found an injured duck. The air was crisp, and dense fog hung low to the ground. While gathering my things I heard a sound. Moving to go in, I saw him – a beautiful duck sheltered under a bush against the side of the building. 

He wasn’t likely a pet, but he was injured. My first instinct was to help. My next thought was: how? I couldn’t very well just grab him and put him in my car. Where could I take him? The answer is both simple and complicated.

First and Foremost:

Don’t put yourself at risk. Don’t stop suddenly in the middle of the road and cause an accident. You can’t help anyone if you harm yourself. 

Capture, Contain

-        If you cannot capture the animal while keeping it and you safe, seek help. If you can, approach calmly, reassuring the animal with a low, soothing voice.

-        If you have a towel or blanket, wrap the animal to keep it from biting and to act as a sling/support for transport. If possible, place the animal in a carrier/crate or box — injured animals can be unpredictable.

-        Get to the vet. Most veterinarians will assess, triage and, if needed, humanely euthanize an injured animal. If the pet survives, the vet will immediately scan for a chip. “You cannot put a price on the value of a microchip,” says Michelle Vincent of Halsey East Animal Clinic in Portland. “We reunite 99 percent of injured pets with their families thanks to microchips.”

-        If the pet survives but has no ID or microchip, the clinic will contact its partner county shelter. The shelter will then take custody of the pet. Vincent reiterates: “Sometimes people don’t check with the shelter soon enough; once again, please microchip your pets!”  

Injured Wildlife

If you find an injured wild animal, the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) recommends calling them, the Oregon State Police, or a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. The DFW recommends not moving or removing the animal — often young are left while parents and adults seek food. Unless you are certain an animal is injured, it’s best to leave well enough alone or to call an expert. It is illegal to take in and keep captive many wild animals. Plus, improper care can do more harm than good. Fortunately we live in a region with resources for all animals — wild and domesticated. Contact them promptly to give the animal the best shot at recovery.  

Suit up to Show up

If you’re an animal lover and want to be prepared to help a critter in need, compile a rescue kit for the car. Include phone numbers of shelters, emergency clinics, and special resources like those below, a carrier, crate, or cardboard box, blanket and/or towel, bottled water, a dish, leash and collar, pet first aid kit, and fragrant treats. 

Above and beyond all, think safety first for all involved. Call for help if needed. Report the injured animal to the authorities — they will help determine next best steps based on long expertise and experience 

Resources  

Contact the agency handling the type of animal found. 

Injured or Orphaned Wildlife/Birds

  • Audubon Society 503-292-0304
  • DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital 503-228-7281
  • Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife 971-673-6000
  • Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife 360-696-6211

Wildlife Law Enforcement

  • Oregon State Police 503-375-3555
  • Washington Department of Wildlife 360-902-2936 (enforcement), 877-933-9847 (poaching, dangerous animals)
  • US Fish and Wildlife (Federal Regulations) 503-231-6125 

Domestics, Exotics and Other Animals

  • Oregon Humane Society 503-285-7722
  • Humane Society of SW Washington (Vancouver) 360-693-4746
  • Multnomah County Animal Services 503-248-3066
  • Clackamas County Dog Services 503-655-8628
  • Washington County Animal Services 503-681-7110
  • Clark County Animal Services 360-397-2488
  • DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital 503-228-7281

 

What to do . . . If you discover animal abuse

Animal abuse. It’s a foul phrase, isn’t it? Most have heard or seen stories. Many of us scroll past them on social media because we can’t bear them. But what to do if you discover active abuse yourself? Can you pretend it doesn’t exist and continue supporting the animal charities you love in hopes that it balances the scales? How to know if it is animal abuse as opposed to someone simply treating their pet differently than you would? 

Oregon — and most states — have animal cruelty laws. In Oregon, statutes are summarized as follows: 

“Animal” means any nonhuman mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian or fish. The term “assault,” which is generally associated with human crimes, is used to define certain crimes against animals. Animal abuse may be elevated to a felony offense if the act was committed directly in front of a minor child or if the perpetrator was previously convicted of domestic violence. 

According to ORS167.310 – 167.351, all domestic animals in Oregon must receive minimum care as follows:

-        Food of sufficient quality and quantity to allow for normal growth or maintenance of body weight

-        Access to potable water (suitable for drinking)

-        Veterinary care when necessary to relieve distress from illness, injury or disease

-        Access to an area kept reasonably free from excess waste or other contaminants that could affect the animal’shealth

-        Suitable air temperature for the animal 

The Oregon Humane Society has published a comprehensive booklet on Oregon law and animal cruelty; download it at: http://www.oregonhumane.org/wp-content/uploads/08-20-14_law_book2.pdf

If you suspect animal abuse or neglect, contact your veterinarian or the Oregon Humane Society. Explain what you’ve witnessed or know in as much detail as possible. If warranted, a Humane Society officer may pursue the matter. Be patient — officers must follow laws and protocols. Remember: things are not always as they appear. If a neighbor is down on his luck, perhaps you can offer help to his beloved dog. People sometimes find themselves in unexpected hardship. While neglecting our loved ones may seem unfathomable, it does happen. Lending a hand can sometimes make a real difference: to the person, the pet, and for you, too. 

Typically the first agency to contact about animal abuse is the county shelter. You might also try the nonemergency police line for further direction. The Bonnie Hays Shelter website says if you see an animal in distress, call 911. If you are uncertain or suspect abuse or neglect, contact the county animal shelter.

Animal abuse or cruelty in Clark County can be reported by phone during business hours (360-397-2488) or online after hours: clark.wa.gov/community-development/report-animal-cruelty  If the animal is a horse, call 360-397-2375 extension 2488.

Soaring Temperatures Can Be Dangerous to Pets

After a summer notable for its moderate temperatures, the Portland area forecast is for temperatures that may soar to 100 degrees. It is important to remember that such extreme heat takes different pet care than more moderate sunny days.

“Pets, especially dogs, are in much more danger in the heat than humans are. This is because dogs don’t sweat and are less efficient in expelling heat from their bodies than we are,” explains Washington County Animal Services manager Deborah Wood. 

Dogs in Hot Cars

The number one danger to pets in hot weather is being left in a hot car. “With temperatures this high, don’t assume your dog will be okay in the car for even a few minutes,” says Wood. . “With the predicted temperatures, these cars can quickly become death chambers.”

If you see a dog in a hot car, and the dog appears to be in distress, and especially if it lethargic or appears non-responsive, call for help. You can call Animal Services in each county or can call 911.

“Animal services agencies and law enforcement agencies are very serious about animals that have been endangered in hot cars,” says Wood. If an animal has been physically endangered by the situation, the owner could face a fine of up to $500.

“Depending on the circumstances, the person could also face criminal animal neglect charges; if convicted, the person would be barred from possessing a pet for five years and may even face jail time,” says Wood. Law enforcement and animal services officers have the right to break into a car if the animal’s life is in immediate danger and take the dog to safety. 

Tips for Keeping Your Pet Safe

♦ Consider your pet’s individual needs. Some pets are especially at risk. Pets with flat faces such as pugs, bulldogs, and boxers – and Persian cats – don’t handle heat as well as animals with longer noses. Older pets, overweight pets, and pets with medical issues also have particular trouble on hot days. Even a short walk or too much sun can result in a medical emergency.

♦ Keep all your pets in the coolest place available. Bring pets inside where temperatures are lower. Provide them with plenty of available cool water.

♦ Don’t walk your dog in the heat of the day. In addition to the danger of heat stroke, hot sidewalks and asphalt can burn the bottom of your pet’s paws.  “The bottom line is that, if you love your pet, leave your pet at home and keep it cool,” says Wood. 

Dealing with Heat Stroke

♦ Symptoms of Heat Stroke: Signs of distress include excessive panting, curled tongue, salivating and discomfort. As the symptoms progress, your pet may vomit, have diarrhea, become disoriented, lose consciousness or even have seizures.

♦ Treating Heat Stroke: “This can be a medical emergency,” warns Dr. Allison Lamb, staff veterinarian for Washington County Animal Services.

If you are concerned your pet has heat stroke, cool the animal slowly. “Don’t soak your dog to cool him or her down,” says Lamb. “With the pet’s body heat, the wet fur can actually end up heating up the pet instead of cooling him off. Instead, apply cool, not cold, water to feet, legs, and armpits to help cool it down.”

Call your veterinarian right away if you think your pet has become overheated, even if your pet appears to be okay. “Internal organs can be affected, and your animal could have secondary effects from the exposure. It is always important to consult with your regular veterinarian about your animal’s personal medical history in regards to heat exposure,” says Lamb.

Bonnie Hays Shelter Reminds Pet Owners to Take Special Care During the Oregon Air Show

It's a time when many frightened pets run away

While you’re looking skyward at the stunts and majesty of flight during the Oregon Air Show in Hillsboro this weekend, remember to think of your pets on the ground. Every year, many animals, frightened by the noise, bolt from their homes.

“When we humans see the magnificent planes flying in formation we are thrilled. To a pet, they are a terrifying threat. Animals presented with a threat like that are very likely to do anything they can to escape,” says Deborah Wood, manager of Animal Services at the Bonnie Hays Animal Shelter in Hillsboro.

To prevent pets from becoming frightened and lost, pet owners should be prepared much like they are for the Fourth of July.

To prevent your pet from becoming lost:

**Make sure your pet has identification. Every pet should have collar tags and a microchip.

**If you live within earshot of the planes, keep your pets inside this week. “Frightened animals can get out of a fenced area they would never leave under normal circumstances,” says Wood.

**Make your home a sanctuary for your pet. Have an interior room (such as a bathroom or basement with no windows) where your pet can stay if he’s fearful of the noise. Keep a radio or TV on for “white noise” to soften the sounds of the airplanes. Many people find that ThunderShirts, available at pet supply stores, can also be calming for pets.

If you lose a pet:

Check with the Bonnie Hays shelter. All stray animals are available to view on the shelter’s website (www.washingtoncountypets.com – click on “Lost and Found”).

Also, call the shelter and report a lost pet even if the pet is not on the website – the shelter may have received a “found pet” report from someone in the community. The number to call for a lost or found pet report is 503-846- 7039.

People can pick or drop off stray pets found in Washington County from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and from noon until 6:00 p.m. on Wednesdays. The shelter is closed on Sundays. The shelter is located at 1901 SE 24 th Street in Hillsboro (on Tualatin Valley Highway adjacent to Lowe’s and Home Depot).

Department of Health & Human Services ● Animal Services Division ● 1901 SE 24 th Avenue, MS 53, Hillsboro, OR 97123

Phone (503) 846-7041 Fax (503) 846-7074 E-mail Animal_Services @co.washington.or.us

Student Assembly: Safety Preparedness

What: Safety & Preparedness

When: Today

Where: Main Auditorium

Guest Presenter: Jo Becker

National Preparedness Month, observed in September since 2004, is a time when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and local responders encourage everyone to take steps to prepare for disaster — at home, school, work, and in their communities.

How to prepare for the unexpected, be it a house fire, a pet in seizure, or nearby wildfire — or more regional events like an earthquake?

Among my favorite tips is to think through your plan and number your supplies. Here’s how it works: 

When immediate evacuation is required (think house fire — the most common disaster, with one reported every 86 seconds), then get low and get out. Because many house fires happen at night, chances are the exit will be out the bedroom window. Me? I want more options. I want every avenue available for my pets to exit with me.

If disaster is imminent but there’s time to exit via the front door, grab wallet, keys, family and animals, and go. I keep collapsible crates in the trunk that can be assembled for the pets’ safety and comfort once we reach a secure area.

When there is forewarning (say slow-rising flood waters or wildfire in the general vicinity), I’d grab my lovebugs and secure them in carriers, grab wallet and keys, and take them to the car. Then I’d go back in, and from the closet by the door grab Bag #1, which has a minimum of food and water for all of us, to supplement emergency supplies I carry in my trunk. It also has a copy of emergency contact information and places we might evacuate to (another copy is always in the car), as well as maps, lights, gloves, hats, copies of important documents, a little cash and a recent backup of computer files. If there’s time for a second trip in, I’ll grab Bags #2, and so on.

Once done with the numbered supplies in the front closet, if time still remained, I’d turn refer to instructions posted inside the closet door. It lists coolers in the shed that can be loaded with food from the refrigerator or freezer and stowed in the vehicle, further extending emergency rations. The list also includes personal comfort items (jammies), family heirlooms, and things like my laptop or tower in the event there’s time and space in the getaway vehicle.

This preparedness plan allows one to act without much thought, regardless of what’s happening.

If all of this seems scary and overwhelming, here’s a golden nugget I find infinitely hopeful and reassuring. Even if you had no money for supplies (or they exist but you can’t get to them for some reason) know that just thinking ahead about possible ‘what ifs’ and how you’d handle them can significantly increase the odds that you and all of your family members will not only survive, but go on to thrive following an incident.

This September, accept the preparedness challenge. Take steps to prepare your home, family and animals should the unexpected or unthinkable occur.


A pet mom and surrogate livestock handler for neighbors, Jo Becker is passionate about disaster planning for the entire family. Learn more about Jo at JoBecker.weebly.com/animals-in-disasters.html.

Itching to Switch FLEA Myths into Facts!

Often considered a nuisance, in reality fleas can cause havoc and serious health issues for everyone in the family, especially our beloved pets.

Fleas are tiny (1/16-1/8 inch), flat, dark reddish-brown, wingless, bloodsucking insects. They have existed for more than 100 million years, with approximately 2000 species. They reproduce massively and exponentially during their life cycle stages, resulting in flea infestations in many households. Despite their historical longevity, there is still much to learn in order to eradicate misconceptions about these pesky bugs.

Many people don’t realize that such a miniscule creature can actually kill pets. The most common found on both cats and dogs is the Cat Flea, and it only takes a few to cause a huge dilemma — and they’re not always readily apparent. A flea can jump 7 inches vertically and 13 inches horizontally, but rarely jump from pet to pet. When a flea jumps on its host, be it cat, dog, bird, wild animal (raccoon, skunk), or human, it will start feeding within five minutes and continue for up to two and a half hours. A flea’s saliva can dissolve skin, allowing its mouthpiece underneath to obtain needed nutrients from the host’s blood.

The average lifespan of an adult flea is 2-3 months, depending on the environment and host. Females lay eggs within 36-48 hours of their first blood meal, and ONE adult can lay 40-50 eggs per DAY, potentially generating 2,000 eggs in her lifetime!

The flea lifecycle is similar — just not as pretty — to a butterfly’s, with four stages: egg  - larva  -  pupa  - adult.

Eggs fall off the host and hatch best in humidified temperatures of 65-80 degrees. Flea larvae don’t eat blood, but feed on skin, hair, and flea waste. The pupa stage can last up to eight months, during which fleas await a suitable host and ideal environmental conditions (vibrations, heat, carbon dioxide and moisture) before emerging as adults. It’s no wonder, given the number of eggs laid in an ideal environment, that infestations can really flourish.

Numerous young, hungry adult fleas + a host (your pet) = Fleas, Fleas, more Fleas and A FLEA INFESTATION!

If your pet is found as a host, s/he is at risk of a variety of problems. Flea saliva is an allergen that can cause simple to intense itching, painful red bumps, and allergic reactions in both pets and people. Since fleas suck blood, numerous fleas can cause anemia, and occasionally life-threatening blood loss in pets. Fleas are also responsible for transmitting bacterial diseases and canine tapeworms to cats, dogs and humans.

Fleas lurk everywhere — outdoors, indoors, in wood floors, furniture, and carpets. All pets are at risk, even those with indoor-only lifestyles. You may not see these tiny insects, but they are always awaiting a suitable warm-blooded host (humans are least preferred) for meals and reproduction.

The best prevention and treatment? Annual veterinary visits, flea combing to elicit any fleas or flea dirt, and regular flea preventive and/or treatment.


Denise Kinstetter is a lifelong animal lover and advocate! Once a Pediatrician, she combined her passion for animals and medicine to help at a vet clinic and volunteer 4000 hrs to OHS in the past 5 years.