Fleas can be a problem, even in the most spotless home or on the cleanest pet. And as the weather turns cold and the central heating is switched on, so the fleas quickly realise that a furry body living in a warm house is a much cosier, comfier alternative to outside.
In this second article of our pet health care series, we offer some tips and suggestions to effectively treat and control fleas both in your home and on your pet.
Fleas are small, wingless insects, that are brown in colour and about 3mm in length, with long, strong back legs designed for jumping – an adult flea can jump 10cm … that’s 33 times their own body length, the equivalent of a human man jumping 60m!
There are different types of fleas which will bite cats, dogs, rabbits and humans. An infestation can cause skin irritations (flea bite dermatitis), allergies to the flea saliva (flea allergy dermatitis) as well as anaemia in smaller and/or young animals. Also, flea larvae can become infected with tapeworm eggs; if your pet eats the larvae when grooming it can become host to this parasite as well. If your pet has fleas you should also make sure your pet is treated for worms.
The life-cycle of a flea is around 21 days but only 5% of that life span is actually spent on your pet – for the other 95% of the time flea eggs, larvae and pupae live in the environment: your pet’s bedding, in the carpet, on the sofa or even on your bed! Flea eggs are laid on the animal but then fall into the environment. These pests also multiply fast – just one female flea can lay 50 eggs a day, so it can take as little as 21 days for one flea to become 1,000.
It’s clear then that effective flea treatment and control involves treating both the home and your pet. In fact, in severe cases it may be necessary to continue treatments for several months to ensure you kill fleas at all life-stages.
How do I know if my pet has fleas?
The most obvious sign is scratching – if your pet is scratching more than normal, check their fur for these other signs:
Are there any tiny dark specks in your pet’s fur? In polite company, this is flea dirt; to you and me, it’s flea poo!
Often harder to see than flea dirt, the tiny white grains you may find are flea eggs. Use a special flea comb and put the combings on something dark, if you can’t see against your pet's pale fur and skin.
You might even see an adult flea crawling through your pet’s fur or even jumping off them on to you or the surrounding environment. It’s unlikely that you’ll see flea larvae – these tend to stay hidden in the carpet and furnishings.
Do you have any unexplained bites yourself?
De-fleaing your home and pet
Regular treatment all year round will help to eradicate any infestations present and eliminate any potential invasions.
The most important treatment of the home is regular vacuuming – close to the skirting boards, under the sofa cushions and your pet’s bedding. Remember also that fleas can get in your car’s carpeting, so thoroughly vacuum your car if you transport your dog.
Don’t forget to wash your pet’s bedding regularly in hot water too, taking care not to let any fleas, eggs or larvae to spread.
Flea preparations come in all forms – sprays, powders, collars, spot-ons, oral tablets or shampoos – but the only really effective treatment is one that kills both fleas and eggs (such as Bravecto, Broadline or Advocate – all available from your vet).
Beware that dog flea treatments cannot be used on cats, as they contain permethrin, an insecticide that is safe for use on dogs but which is highly toxic to cats.
If you’re looking for natural and alternative remedies you could try:
Simple bathing – if infestation is present, lather up! The soap suds trap the fleas, and some experts say soap also kills insects by removing their protective waxes, so leaving the lather on your dog for a little while can make for a more effective, longer-lasting debugging. Apply the soap first before rinsing down your dog – intuitively, the fleas will jump off as soon as your pet’s coat becomes wet … possibly on to you or the environment around you!
Neem oil – a natural insect repellent from the Indian Neem tree. Add a few drops to your favourite pet shampoo or simply apply the oil directly to your dog’s coat.
Additionally, you could cover your pet’s bedding with mint leaves and lavender seeds to discourage fleas.
This article was brought to you by Scallywags Pet Care - based in Hurst Green and covering Oxted, Limpsfield, Westerham and the surrounding areas, we provide dog walking, cat and small animal feeding and pet taxi services. Contact us now to see how we can help with care for your pet.