What are fleas?
Fleas are common parasites of dogs and cats. They cause the animals to itch and can elicit an allergic response in some pets, leading to scratching, hair loss, redness of skin, scaling and papules (small, solid elevations of the skin). Heavy infestations can cause anaemia, particularly in young animals. Cats and dogs also can become infected by tapeworm if fleas containing tapeworm larvae are accidentally eaten.
Life-cycles of fleas can be completed in as little as 12–14 days or can take up to 350 days, depending on temperature and humidity. Female fleas can start producing eggs 24–48 hours after taking the first blood meal and can produce up to 50 eggs per day.
Environment can play a vital role in sustaining fleas. Fleas can develop indoors all year round given suitable conditions. However, in warm seasons the development of fleas outdoors is enhanced and fleas can easily be picked up from outdoor areas such as parks or gardens.
A healthy pet is a joy for the owner and should be of high importance. Constant itching is both a nuisance to the pet and a cause for concern for the owner. Hair loss can turn a beautiful coat into a sorry sight and sore patches can result.
Speak to your vet or SQP for advice about how to manage fleas. Various anti-parasitic agents can be applied successfully in a manner best suited to your pet.
WARNING: Do not use flea products containing the drug permethrin on cats. Permethrin is toxic to cats and can cause serious illness or death. Always check the packaging for details and if in doubt, ask an SQP or your vet for advice.
Key preventative measures
Fleas can be an issue in an indoor environment, in an outdoor environment and on pets. It is therefore important to remove flea infestations wherever possible and this can mean treating your home and your pet!
To keep flea infestations from developing:
- Clean households regularly.
- Vacuum homes thoroughly, especially below curtains, under furniture edges and where your pet sleeps. It is estimated that vacuuming can remove up to 50% of flea eggs.
- Wash your pet's bedding regularly and treat the bed and surrounding area, for example with a product that contains an insect growth regulator.
- You can purchase all sorts of flea prevention products to best suit your pet such as sprays, collars, creams, shampoos and combs.
To treat an existing infestation:
- When treating your home, use a product that will kill any remaining adult fleas and also stop the development of eggs and larvae.
- Wash your pet's bedding thoroughly and treat the bed and surrounding area, for example with a product that contains an insect growth regulator.
- Do not forget to clean and treat your car, pet carrier, garage or any other place your pet spends time.
- As with other parasites, is important to regularly treat all pets in the same household to prevent reinfestation.
Fleas are most common during the warmer late spring to early autumn months. However, flea infestations can suddenly occur out of season when the central heating is turned on, providing an ideal environment for fleas to thrive, especially if owners have stopped treating their pets.
There may also be a risk of infection to indoor house cats, as pet owners can bring fleas, larvae or eggs into the home without realising. This means that cats can then become infested in what may be perceived as a safe environment. Therefore, even indoor animals should be monitored for flea infestations, so that should an infestation occur it can be treated appropriately.
Fleas are a nuisance for both pets and humans, with larvae, eggs and pupae residing in carpets, bedding and clothing.