Itchy and scratchy? How to tell fleas that their time’s up
Fleas are pesky pests with a cunning plan. They’ll jump aboard any passing furry animal – or human – to gain entry to your home. Once in, they’ll make the most of every opportunity to become a full-blown colony, nesting in your soft furnishings, carpets and bedding, with the females busily laying up to 50 eggs a day. Safely hidden away in cosy cracks and crevices, flea eggs can lay dormant for up to a year.
In fact, these blood-sucking parasites only spend a limited amount of time aboard an animal, so if you discover that your pet has fleas, it’s highly likely that your home does too.
A serious risk to health
Not only can fleas make your pet uncomfortable, sore and itchy, they also pose a serious health risk. Flea infestations can cause anaemia, due to the amount of blood an animal can lose, which in the worst cases can be fatal – especially in young or frail pets.
What’s more, flea larvae can become infected with tapeworm eggs. If your pet eats an infected flea when grooming, they can then become a host to this loathsome internal parasite. So, if your pet has fleas you should make sure they are treated for worms too. Fleas can also pass on other nasties, such as myxomatosis, which is a serious disease in rabbits.
GRIM FACTS ABOUT FLEAS
- There are around 2,000 different types of fleas, such as dog fleas, cat fleas and rabbit fleas, but only one type that can live on humans.
- Fleas will hitch a ride on humans, who unwittingly transport them from pet to pet. These miniscule bugs are capable of incredible long-jumps – some types of flea can leap more than 100 times their own body length.
- A flea can live from between 14 days to a year.
- A female flea can lay up 1,500 eggs in a lifetime.
- It’s estimated that 95% of flea eggs, larvae and pupae live in the environment – on beds, rugs, carpets and sofas – not on your pet. Source: RSPCA
How do I spot if my pet has fleas?
Even the cleanest pet and most spotless home can have a flea problem. Signs to look out for include:
- You have insect bites
- Your pet is scratching a lot
- You can see bald or sore patches
- There is thickened skin in certain areas, such as around ear edges
- You find tiny dark specks in fur. Groom your pet with a fine-tooth comb held over a white surface such as a kitchen towel. Any fleas or droppings will be deposited on the towel. Add a few drops of water and, if the droppings turn reddish brown, it's likely your pet has fleas.
Treating pets with fleas – always use the right medication to prevent fatal poisoning
When it comes to fleas, prevention is always better than cure, which is why it’s essential to keep your pets up-to-date with their parasite prevention medication. However, if you spot the signs of a flea infestation, seek treatment as soon as possible. Although there are over-the-counter solutions, from spot-on treatments to tablets, powders and shampoos, it’s best to seek professional advice from your vet.
"Dog flea treatments contain permethrin, an insecticide that is safe to use in small doses on canines but is fatal to felines. A cat can die simply by coming in contact with a dog that’s been treated with permethrin"
Burgess in-house vet Dr Suzanne Moyes says: “If you’ve identified fleas on one of your pets, all the animals in your home will need treatment – but only with medication that is suitable for their species. This is absolutely vital. Products that are safe for one type of animal may not be suitable for another.
"For example, dog flea treatments contain permethrin, an insecticide that is safe to use in small doses on canines but is fatal to felines. If you have a multiple pet family, your vet can advise of the best treatment – a cat can die simply by coming in contact with a dog that’s been treated with permethrin.
"Likewise, if your pet is very young or old, or has any underlying health issues, your vet can suggest the best approach, recommend the right dose according to age and weight and show you the correct way to apply medication."
As fleas are a common pest, flea control needs to be carried out regularly – a single application of any product is not sufficient.
Treating homes with fleas
Because fleas can survive without a host for many months, you’ll also need to take care of these pests in your home. Clean bedding regularly – including pet bedding – and wash at 60 degrees C. Vacuum furniture, floors and skirting boards thoroughly to help destroy fleas at each stage of their life cycle – throw away the dust bag after each use to prevent any flea eggs and larvae from developing. Ideally, this needs to be done daily for three months. You could follow up with a pet safe insecticide spray such as EcoSMART, but avoid general insecticides as these can be highly toxic to pet animals.
Small pet homes will also need some anti-flea treatment with a pet-safe cleaning product specifically designed for the purpose – always make sure you follow the instructions carefully.
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