Fleas! Just the though of them can make people itch! These nasty critters can cause a host of problems for man and beast in summer (and winter thanks to central heating), but why are they so hard to get rid of?
Fleas are blood sucking parasites with the ability to jump up to 13 inches onto prospective hosts. A single female flea, once it has fed, can lay up to 50 eggs a day! It does not take much for a few unwelcome guests to turn into an infestation. The flea eggs soon hatch into larvae which cocoon into pupae. When the pupated fleas detect a warm blooded mammal they hatch into adult fleas and the whole cycle repeats itself. It is estimated that 95% of eggs, larvae and pupae are shed into the environment with only 5% actually on your pet; controlling a flea problem means breaking the flea cycle in your home as well as on your pets.
How do I know if my pet has fleas?
You may notice your pet scratching or chewing at themselves; there may even be signs of irritation, hair loss, bald spots or red patches due to severe scratching.
Fleas are big enough to be visible so you may be able to see tiny black specks in your pets fur. The best way to check for fleas is to groom your pet with a fine-tooth comb. Hold the comb over a white piece of kitchen paper to deposit any fleas or droppings. Add a drop of water onto the paper, a clear sign of fleas is if the droppings turn reddish brown. Repeat grooming regularly to monitor the flea infestation as you treat.
Why is it so important to get rid of fleas?
Aside from being uncomfortable, fleas can pose a health risk to your pet. Excessive itching can lead to irritated or infected skin which may require treatment with antibiotics. This can be exacerbated if your pet is allergic to flea saliva and suffers a reaction; this is referred to as flea dermatitis and is one of the most common types of skin allergies in pets.
At risk animals, such as the young, elderly or those suffering from a debilitating illness are in danger of developing anemia due to blood loss from a serious flea infestation.
Infected host fleas can transmit tapeworms to your pet; speak to your vet about an appropriate product to prevent intestinal worms. Other diseases, such as myxomatosis in rabbits, can be spread by fleas; protecting your pets is about a lot more than just stopping the itch.
How to treat your pets
There are several options available for protecting your pet against fleas. We recommend speaking to your vet about a suitable prescription treatment as many over the counter remedies may not be as effective, or offer the same level of cover against parasites. It is important to use the correct treatment for your pet, some dog specific medications can be toxic to cats – always follow your vet’s advice.
Many flea treatments will also combine protection against other harmful parasites such as lungworm, heartworm, ticks and mites; your vet will help you choose the best product to give your pet the widest spectrum of protection. Remember you need to treat all pets in your household, fleas are not species specific and will happily jump onto any host they can find.
Monthly spot-on treatments
Spot-on treatments have the advantages of being easy to apply and effective in protecting your pet, making them a highly popular choice. Simply part the hair between your pet’s shoulder blades and dispense the content of the supplied pipette (some larger dogs may need to have the product dispensed at several points along their back); it is recommended to do this just before bed so the treatment can dry without being accidentally rubbed off.
Flea collars are a great option as they can provide over 7-8 months protection once applied and can protect against some parasites not covered by other treatments, like ticks and sandflies, which may be important if your are planning to travel with your pet. Speak to vet about combining a collar with appropriate worming treatments.
There are also tablet options for flea prevention which can be given monthly and cover a spectrum of parasites. Manufacturers try to make these as palatable as possible so your pet may even take them as a treat or hidden in a little food. Again, speak to your vet about combining this with worm protection.
Shampoo and grooming
Grooming is a great way to bond with your pet and also check them for fleas, ticks and anything unusual. A pet safe shampoo alone will help kill fleas on your pet and grooming will help prevent matting that could hide pesky parasites.
Treating your home
Treating your home is a vital step in eradicating a flea problem, even if you treat your pet religiously they will still have fleas if you do not also treat your home.
Vacuuming is your best weapon against fleas in your home. Not only does it physically remove fleas and their eggs but it will also stimulate adult fleas to emerge from their pupae, making them easier to kill with a household flea spray. Vacuum thoroughly- including upholstery, skirting boards and mattresses; concentrate on areas that your pet likes to lie in. Remember to clean and treat the car too if your pet is a regular passenger. Empty vacuum cylinders or dispose of hoover bags into an outside bins so fleas cannot scurry back inside.
Wash all bedding, especially pet bedding, in hot water and dry on a high setting. Perhaps buy new pet bedding if you have a serious infestation. You may also consider steam cleaning, the high heat and soap will kill any fleas and you can reach into nooks and crannies where they may be hiding.
Try a household flea spray, they are easy and effective to use, we stock cans at the practice which can treat a 4 bedroom house. Always follow the instructions on the product, this is only intended as a quick guide for spraying your house. After vacuuming thoroughly and removing all pets and other household members, close all windows and doors and spray carpets, wooden floors, pet bedding and soft furnishings. Once each room has been treated, open the doors and windows and allow to ventilate for at least an hour. 24 hours later you will need to quickly hoover and continue to do so weekly.
If you have a really major issue with fleas in your home there are extermination companies which can treat your home for you.
If you would like to speak to a member of our team about flea prevention, please call us on 01435 864422.