Scratch, scratch scratch goes your pet dog or cat. Behind the ears, on his body. He whips about trying to chew up his tail. What’s eating him? You part the hair and feel around. It’s a flea!

Fleas are parasitic insects that suck the blood of birds and mammals. There are over 2,400 flea species worldwide classified under the order Siphonaptera. They are tiny wingless insects like the lice in our hair, either black or reddish brown.

What's Biting the Flea?
What’s Biting the Flea? [Illustration by Sudheer Nath]
The flea body is flattened and has many spines and bristles, like a porcupine, all over its body. Fleas are found on cats and dogs and are very common during summers and humid rainy weather.

This body design of spiny bristles allow easy movement between the fur of animals. These insects have six legs with a small claw at the tip to enable it to stay attached to the skin even as the animal scratches forcefully.

Fleas are very agile and great jumpers. Though they are less than an inch, they can jump seven-eighth of an inch vertically and 14 to 16 inches horizontally. This is equal to a human jumping 600 feet in the air!

Fleas are attracted to animals by body heat, movement and the carbon dioxide they exhale. They are normally found near the neck, behind the armpits or firmly attached in between the paws.

Both male and female fleas suck blood and if the flea cannot find a dog or cat, they will even bite other animals and humans.

An average dog flea lives for about 100 days. A female flea lays about 25 eggs a day and over a 1000 in her lifetime. By the time a flea pair dies they and their family could produce millions of other fleas! A female flea consumes 15 times its body weight in blood daily.

A flea bite leaves a red itchy mark that is quite itchy. Although dog or cat fleas are not carriers of any specific disease, other fleas like the rat flea can transmit diseases like the typhus or bubonic plague.

However, the flea is also a circus attraction. In a flea circus, these fleas are exhibited and made to show off their jumping prowess. No, I do not know if you can pick your fleas off your pet and make it join a circus, but you sure can help bring some comfort to your pet!