Prevention is always better than cure
If you are a member of the Healthy Pet Club, then you will get all your monthly flea and worm preventative treatments included in the scheme. These help to keep your pet healthy and flea free.
Flea species have lived on our planet for hundreds of millions of years. They are highly evolved and are very hardy and resilient. In order to know how to keep our pets and our house flea-free, it is essential to understand the life cycle.
The flea life cycle
- An adult flea is a little brown wingless parasite up to 3mm long. They can move very fast and jump huge distances relative to their size. Adult fleas jump onto the host (e.g. cat, dog or human) and within minutes will begin feeding on the host’s blood.
- In less than 48 hours, female fleas begin laying eggs which fall off the animal into the environment – wherever the host happens to be at the time. A single female can lay up to 50 eggs a day! That means in one month, an unprotected pet with just 10 fleas, can give rise to 15,000 eggs!
- In a few days these eggs hatch into larvae (like tiny maggots) they dislike light and immediately crawl away deep into carpets and cracks in floors. The flea larvae feed on organic debris in the environment but also the faeces of the adult fleas (this is basically the digested blood of the host)
- The larvae will feed for 1-2 weeks before turning into a hard shelled pupa. These pupae may lie dormant for weeks or months. When the environmental condition is right, they hatch into adults and start the whole cycle over again. Depending on temperature, the life cycle can last as little as 2-3 weeks or as long as several months.
Tell-tale signs your dog or cat has fleas
- Scratching – most dogs and cats will scratch themselves a lot if they have fleas.
- Loss of hair especially on the back. Both cats and dogs will show hair loss on their back and around the base of the tail. The hair often looks broken and spiky.
- Cats often go bald on their tummies
- Skin becomes lumpy or scabby on the back or around the neck (especially in cats)
- Excessive grooming.
- Fleas are visible to the naked eye being up to 3mm long, so therefore you may see them.
- Flea dirt is the faeces of the flea. It looks like black soot, but if you put a bit on a wet white tissue or cotton wool, it will turn red as it is digested blood.
Help! I think I’ve got fleas in my house
It is not uncommon that pet owners find themselves with a flea infestation in their home. In summer in particular, the life cycle speeds up and the numbers of eggs and larvae emerging as adults accelerates. Unless we are scrupulous in the preventative treatment of all our pets, and therefore keep breaking the cycle, it is almost inevitable that fleas will set up home alongside us!
Tell-tale signs you may have a flea problem in your house
- All the above signs, that relate to your pet having fleas.
- You and your family are being bitten. This is most noticeable as very itchy bites on your limbs and torso. They often get infected and take a long time to heal. They can often occur when you are in bed, especially if your pet likes sleeping there too!
- You may see adult fleas on your bed or elsewhere.
- If you are continually seeing fleas on your pets despite treating them with a veterinary recommended product, this is much more likely to mean a flea infestation than the product not working.
How to get rid of them
Nothing kills the pupal stage of the flea. Therefore once they are in your house, they have to emerge as adults before they can be killed.
- Treat all the pets in your house – regardless of whether they all have symptoms or not.
- Always use products recommended by your vet that contain an environmental component as well as something to kill the adult fleas.
- Use an environmental spray (again a veterinary recommended brand), for your house and soft furnishings.
- Hoover daily. This will not only hoover up some of the pupae, but the vibrations will encourage the adults to emerge.
- Persevere. It can take several months to eradicate all the life stages from your house. Do talk to your veterinary practice if you need support.