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24th June 2024

A topic to make most of our skin’s crawl! These itchy critters can be a real problem in our pets and getting rid of them can be hard work. Keep reading for the do’s and do not’s of flea prevention.

FleasWhat are fleas?

Fleas are flightless insects that ingest blood from a host to sustain themselves and reproduce. There are many species of flea, a lot of them can only live on one specific host species i.e. rabbit flea, dog flea, however cat fleas can live on both dogs and cats. Fleas have been around for millions of years, and their presence has affected humans for centuries. For example, did you know it was fleas that were responsible for the spread of the bubonic plague? Rats got the blame, but it was in fact the fleas they were carrying that passed on the disease.

Fleas are visible to the naked eye as brown or black dots about 3mm long, they will often congregate around the base of the tail or around the neck of your pet. They can’t fly but they can jump almost 200 times their own body length in a single jump, so they can disappear out of sight quickly! Even if you don’t see the fleas themselves, they will still leave behind evidence of their presence – flea droppings! To the naked eye flea droppings look like specs of dirt but if you place them on damp white cotton wool, they will leave a red (blood-coloured) mark, due to the blood meal they have eaten.

All about fleasWhy are fleas a problem?

The problem with fleas is that, as mentioned earlier, they spread diseases. Some of those diseases can be passed to people, including a tapeworm called Dipylidium caninum, which can cause diarrhoea and abdominal pain in children. However, the fleas themselves can still cause a problem without the transmission of disease. As the fleas ingest blood, this can cause low blood volume in our pets, called anaemia. In very young or small pets, this anaemia can be life threatening, as the fleas steal vital nutrients away from the pet, leading them to become very weak. Skin irritation is a common outcome when your pet has fleas, some dogs and particularly cats can even suffer from an allergy to flea bites, which can lead to horrific self-trauma injuries as the pets try to remove the fleas from their bodies by scratching or over-grooming. This condition is called flea allergic dermatitis.

What can we do about them?

Regular flea prevention treatments are the best defence against fleas, as the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. The reason for that is, a female flea can lay 50 eggs per day, so the longer the fleas are feeding from your pet and breeding, the more eggs there are to get rid of from your home. Fleas will spend the majority of their time in the environment, not on your pet, as they only hop on to feed, so the ones you can see on your pet are just the tip of the iceberg. Therefore, a combined approach is always needed once fleas have invaded your home, whereas, if they are prevented from establishing in the first place, you will only need to treat your pet to keep them at bay. Speaking from experience, even without a pet in the household for fleas to feed on, it can still take several months of repeated household treatments to eradicate them. 

Flea life cycleWhat flea treatments should I use?

Not all flea treatments are created equal, over the counter products often contain older drugs that have been superseded by veterinary licensed formulations. These older products will still kill fleas, but the speed of kill is often drastically longer than newer products, that means the fleas will continue to lay eggs before they die. This means that the numbers of eggs in the house will still continue to grow, so you will be fighting a losing battle in terms of ridding them from the house. In addition to this, buying products over the counter comes with a degree of risk, many products are weight banded depending on the weight of your pet, an under or over estimate of this can mean that either the product doesn’t work, or has the potential to cause harm if the dose is too high. Flea treatments designed for dogs should NEVER be applied to cats. These will often contain permethrin which causes seizures in cats and is often fatal. By buying a product prescribed by your vet, this risk is eliminated, as your vet will have examined your pet and will be able to help you decide which product is most suitable for their individual needs and lifestyle.

The legal bit

As some of you may be aware, the legislation surrounding prescription of veterinary-strength flea treatment (and worming treatment for that matter) changed in January 2024. Your veterinary practice is now not allowed to prescribe these medications without a clinical evaluation of each pet requiring treatment. This change has been made to safe-guard your pet, and the environment, from the harmful effects anti-parasitic treatments can have if used improperly. Here at Broad Lane Vets, we have been preparing for this change since Summer 2023 and so most of the time we can still dispense these treatments without a hitch, but for those pets we haven’t seen in that time, we may ask to see your pet an appointment in order to comply with the new regulations. Please speak to our helpful reception team if you will need to order flea (or worming) treatments soon, so we can try to avoid any delays in getting your pet the prescription product they need to keep fleas at bay!

Treating your house

If fleas have managed to make your house their home, don’t panic and follow the following steps;

  • Daily vacuuming of the house around and under all the furniture can help to reduce the number of fleas and their eggs in the environment. Don’t forget to empty the vacuum cleaner after each use.
  • Wash all bedding regularly in a 60⁰C wash. This helps to kill eggs and larvae.
  • Use a veterinary recommended household spray on all surfaces to reduce the egg, larvae and pupae stages in the environment. Remove pets (and humans!) from the environment whilst using the spray, the product will advise how long the room should be empty for. Take extra care if you have pet fish – flea sprays can be toxic to aquatic life.
  • You may need to repeat these steps more than once.
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