Common Fleas that Affect Dogs and Cats

By Jennifer Kvamme, DVM on Feb. 15, 2012

Siphonaptera Species that Affect Dogs and Cats

By Jennifer Kvamme, DVM

You are probably aware of the fact that fleas are the most common (and annoying) type of pest, responsible for the discomfort of our dogs and cats (and us). But did you know that there are over 2,000 species of fleas that exist around the world, and that there are more than 300 of these varieties that live in North America alone?

These small, wingless, blood-sucking insects belong to the order Siphonaptera, so named because of their siphon-like mouthparts. All variations of flea species tend to live in their own groups, and do not mix or breed outside of their species.

The different species all have a particular kind of host animal that they prefer to feed from over all others. However, while they may prefer a dog to a cat, most fleas will take blood from any animal that’s available (even a human) if they can’t find their preferred meal. Here we will discuss some of the most common flea species that you may find feeding from your pet.


Cat Fleas

The most common species of fleas found on household dogs and cats in North America is the domestic cat flea. The scientific name for this species is Ctenocephalides felis. This species of flea selects dogs, cats, and humans as its preferred hosts.


Dog Fleas

The scientific name for the common dog flea is Ctenocephalides canis. Despite the name, this flea will not only affect dogs, but also cats, humans, and other animals. The dog flea is also commonly found on wild animals, such as raccoons and opossums, and on livestock. Both cat and dog fleas are carriers of the common tapeworm parasite, which affects both dogs and cats.


Other Flea Species

There are a few other species of fleas that will feed off of dogs and cats if their preferred host species is not available. Xenopsylla cheopsis is the scientific name for the oriental rat flea, which is a carrier of the bubonic plague. These fleas prefer rats, but will feed off of humans, dogs and cats if necessary.

The sticktight flea, also known as the tropical hen flea, goes by the scientific name Echidnophaga gallinacea. This species of flea mainly affects poultry, but will also make a meal of a cat or dog (or other animal) if they happen to be in the vicinity. The rabbit flea, called Spilopsyllus cuniculi, is seen not only on wild rabbits, but also on pet rabbits.

Fleas that target the human species as a preferred host include the Pulex irritans (or human flea) and the Pulex simulans (or false human flea). These fleas prefer a human host, but will also commonly feed from pigs, dogs, and cats. The false human flea is commonly found on dogs and cats, as well as on wild mammals in the canine family. Often, the human flea and false human flea are found in the same locations, as they are closely related.

No matter what species of flea is invading your household and bothering you and your pet, it takes perseverance and dedication to effectively eliminate their presence. Treating your household, your pets, and cleaning the environment, are just the first steps required to stop these pests from living at your and your pets’ expense.


Jennifer Kvamme, DVM


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