Nasty little critters, there are few things less appealing than finding a flea jumping about on your pet pooch or moggy. Not only do they cause itchiness and skin disease in our pets, they can also cause anaemia, transmit dangerous infections and are an absolute nightmare to eradicate from the home.
Does my pet have fleas?
We may first suspect that our pet is providing lodging to these tiny parasites when we notice them scratching more than usual or perhaps chewing the fur above their tail, leaving their skin red and sore. Those with flea allergies will be particularly bothered and may develop bald patches, scabs and deep skin infections.
How can I be sure?
Interestingly, it is not always easy to find fleas on a pet, particularly on a fastidious groomer who may have already picked off all of the adult fleas and swallowed them! Rather than looking for live fleas, we should perform the ‘wet paper test’ to check for an infestation. Use a fine-tooth comb and a damp piece of white paper, gently brush the fur, ensuring anything that falls off lands on the paper. When fleas are present, we will typically see ‘flea dirt’ which is a gritty black substance that turns a brown-red colour when wet.
A flea here or there… what’s the problem?
It is important to diagnose fleas because they can cause a myriad of problems. Young puppies and kittens can become anaemic if lots of fleas are living off them and in serious cases can even pass away. Cats and dogs are both at risk of being infected with tapeworm, and cats may be infected with Cat Scratch Disease (Bartonella henselae) which, worryingly, they can then pass on to humans via bites or scratches.
Yuck! Can they be cured?
As with many things in life, prevention is ultimately better than cure and if we can stop our pets from catching fleas in the first place, we will already have won the battle. This is achieved by keeping them up to date with effective flea preventatives. These products may come in the form of liquid spot-ons, injections, collars, sprays or tablets. Importantly, not all treatments are created equal and some items sold in supermarkets, pet stores or online are simply not effective enough for most households. It is best to discuss which flea medicine to use with one of our vets, who will help you choose the product that is most appropriate for your pet, depending on their lifestyle.
How often do I need to dose them?
Flea preventatives must be used religiously and it is critical that doses are not missed, regardless of the time of year. In the past, flea infestations would be worse during the warmer months but, thanks to central heating, this is no longer the case and they are seen all year round. The medication must be administered correctly and in the right dose, which will be weight dependent. Our staff are always willing to apply products for you and to provide a demonstration if necessary.
But what if my pet’s already… infested?
If a pet already has fleas, we need to be more intensive in dealing with the situation. Of course, they and any animals they are in contact with must receive a flea preventative immediately if one is due. On top of this, their environment must be deep-cleaned. This is necessary because only a small number of fleas will live on the pet, with roughly 95% of the flea burden living within their bedding and homes. Any blankets and beds should be hot-washed and floors must be thoroughly vacuumed, disposing of the vacuum bag afterwards – and don’t forget the carpets in your car! There are also insecticidal house sprays which should be used whenever fleas are present within the home. Ideally, treatment of the pets and house should be carried out at the same time and it is not unusual for the process to need to be repeated at least once a few weeks later to eliminate the issue completely – on average, it is reported to take three months to clear a heavily infested house.
If you are having trouble getting on top of a flea problem, our staff will be more than happy to offer you some helpful advice and direct you to the most effective treatments available.