A regular topic of conversation in the shop is fleas and how to protect either a customer’s home or pet from them. Every cat or dog will pick up fleas at some point in their life, and now, with the weather finally warming up, we’re on the cusp of the annual “flea season” when these pesky creatures are at their most active.
So, what are fleas? They’re part of the insect family and, apart from being tiny (only 2-3mm in length), they’re most commonly known for their ability to jump by using their powerful back legs. Due to their size they can be difficult to spot on your pet, especially if the animal has long or dark coloured fur. Unfortunately, this means that the first indication that your pet has fleas will probably be when you or they get bitten and start scratching away at it. By this point the fleas have well and truly made their home!
Ticks, on the other hand, are quite a bit bigger and easier to spot. They’re part of the spider family and, unlike a flea, will climb on to your pet rather than jumping. Therefore, they can often be found after a walk in wooded areas or through fields of long grass.
Fleas and ticks have two things in common:
- They both feed by sucking the blood of the animal they’ve made their home on. However, whereas the flea will just bite the skin to achieve this (their saliva causes an itchy sensation, hence the animal scratches themselves) the tick injects a mild anaesthetic to numb the skin, so the host animal won’t notice. In fact, the tick can ingest enough blood that it’s body swells to almost 200 times its original size! This then makes them big enough to be an obvious lump on our pets.
- They both can cause subsequent health issues in the pets that they have bitten. A large flea infestation can result in the pet suffering mild anaemia. Fleas can also transmit tapeworm through their eggs – the pet swallows the flea whilst grooming and hence introducing the worm into their gut. Ticks, on the other hand, can carry Lyme disease which can also be passed to humans. If untreated this can lead to long term health complications.
The most common way to prevent flea infestations on a pet is to regularly use one of the commercially prepared “spot on” solutions. Some of these will also kill ticks within 48hrs of them attaching themselves to your pet, but none of them will stop the tick from biting in the first place. Removal of a tick can be trickier. You can’t just pinch them and pull them off since this may result in the blood being squeezed back into the pet which can pass on an infection. The safest way is to use a plastic or metal tick remover tool and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Probably the best-known brands of flea treatments are Frontline and Advocate. Each of these uses a different principal ingredient, which means they work in different ways. In our shop we sell two equivalents to these:
- Fiprotec. Like Frontline this contains Fipronil and works on both fleas and ticks
- Johnsons 4Fleas Spot-On. Like Advocate this contains Imidacloprid which works on fleas. It also kills any flea larvae to reduce the likelihood of re-infestation if any flea eggs have fallen off on to the pet’s bedding etc
These products both offer an effective course of action at a lower price point than the likes of Frontline. We use them on our dogs and have found they are just as successful.
When discussing a flea treatment we will always ask which one a customer has used before, and whether it’s for a cat or a dog. Just because one product works for one pet it doesn’t necessarily mean it works for another. The size and age of the animal is also important because the strength of treatment needs to be appropriate to the body weight – too weak and it won’t be effective, and too strong and the pet could have an adverse reaction. We will also ask if there are any other pets in the household. There have been recorded instances where one pet has licked or groomed another thereby ingesting some of the treatment chemical and needing subsequent treatment by a vet.
Female fleas can lay up to 50 eggs each day which then fall off the pet as they move around. These turn into larvae before pupating inside a cocoon and then emerging as fleas. The time from eggs to adult fleas can be as little as two weeks hence it’s possible to go from a few fleas to a few thousand in no time at all! In fact, it’s estimated that 95% of the flea problem inside a home is in the eggs, larvae and pupae.
Our best advice for how to tackle a flea infestation is:
- Give your pet a bath with a flea shampoo. This will help clean their coat and rid them of the immediate itchy problem.
- Regularly treat your pets with a good flea treatment. This should be done approximately every four weeks unless fleas are seen again sooner. And don’t allow your pet to get wet for 24hrs after applying the treatment otherwise it can get washed away.
- Regularly vacuum all floors and soft furnishings. All pet bedding should be washed at 60C or higher (a boil wash). This reduces the number of eggs and larvae.
- Don’t restrict where your treated pets go in the house. This will encourage fleas to emerge and jump on whereby the treatment on the pet will kill them.
- Use a good quality household flea spray anywhere the pet goes in the house or car. Pay special attention to any corners, cracks or skirting boards. This will kill fleas and larvae to stop re-infestation. We sell a Johnsons 4Fleas spray which also contains an “insect growth regulator”.
- Consider using a room fogger which is like an aerosol which you click on and then leave in the closed room. This will essentially fumigate the area around it and the treatment will get dissipated everywhere.
- Be patient. A flea infestation won’t go away overnight. It can take several rounds of treatment etc before it’s fully gone.
- If all else fails, call in a professional pest control specialist.
We’re always happy to give advice on anything flea or tick related so don’t hesitate to ask. Being dog owners ourselves we know only too well how much discomfort and trouble they can cause.