Pets often love a good scratch but if your four-legged friend is scratching a lot he may have some six-legged friends living on him, for example a flea. A flea infestation can be irritating for everyone as these nasty little parasites don't mind who they bite. Fleas are also notoriously difficult to get rid of once they've set up home so you need to know what you’re up against to really get on top of the problem and oust them from your home.
Get to know your enemy before they get to know you
Fleas are tiny, wingless insects. These parasites jump on your pet and stay alive by sucking its blood. They can easily spread between animals and can often be tricky to spot. Did you know a single flea can bite your pet up to 400 times a day? Just imagine what that feels like for your pet. But that’s not the worst of it. Flea bites not only cause irritation, distress and discomfort for your pet, they can also transmit disease. As well as causing intense itchiness, some animals can suffer from skin infections, hair loss and may even pick up diseases from fleas. In short, you don’t want fleas and neither does your pet.
The life of a flea
The life cycle of a flea begins with tiny small white eggs laid by the female flea in your pet’s coat. Adult fleas can lay up to 50 eggs a day on your pet which will fall off onto carpets, bedding and soft furnishings, where they’ll hatch into larvae usually within a few days. These larvae scoot off into corners of your house, surviving on flea droppings and dead skin cells. They then enter a pupal state, spinning cocoons around themselves inside which they develop into adult fleas. Inside the cocoon the fleas are protected until the conditions are right for them to hatch – laying dormant anywhere from a week right up to a year or more. The whole cycle can be complete within a few weeks if conditions are right.
Once they’ve arrived in your home, fleas can be very difficult to get rid of due to the rate at which they reproduce and the extent to which they can spread throughout the house. In fact, only around 5% of fleas in an infestation are found on your pet – the other 95% are scattered all around your home in their immature stages. Fleas love warmth, and they used to be much more of a problem in the summer, but modern central heating means that fleas are usually able to thrive all year round – even staying active during the winter.
How can fleas affect your pet’s health?
Flea bites are not just painful and uncomfortable for dogs and cats; they can also transmit a number of diseases to both animals and humans. Continuous scratching can lead to pet’s skin becoming sore and can also result in hair loss.
Fleas can cause serious diseases in pets, such as flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), which is an allergy to flea saliva that creates a rash. If an animal is allergic, the itch can lead to further damage and can require a visit to a veterinarian for treatment to help the pet recover. Heavy flea infestations can lead to anaemia in cats and dogs, common signs of anemia include pale gums and lack of energy.
Fleas carry some bacteria that can cause disease in human beings, such as Bartonella henselae. This bacterium is present in flea dirt and responsible for cat scratch disease (CSD) which can be transmitted from cats to humans if a cat with fleas bites a human or through petting the cat. Dogs can also be infected with different Bartonella species from fleas, showing symptoms that include lameness, vomiting, liver and heart disease.
What can you do about fleas?
The less parasite bites the better. Pet owners should protect their animals before they get bitten. Effectively controlling parasites is critical to keeping pets healthy. By far, the best way to help avoid a flea infestation is to keep your pet protected against fleas with a regular flea prevention protocol that helps to repel and kill fleas on contact and prevents fleas from biting and infesting your pet.
But dealing with fleas involves a double pronged approach. An important part of treating a flea problem is tackling your house, as while adult fleas live on your pet, the rest of the flea life stages are found as eggs, larvae and pupae all around your home. There is a gaze set of useful tools here, household cleaning items like shampoos, pet sprays, and outdoor sprays that help eliminate fleas and larvae in carpets and furniture and keep pests at bay and pets healthy and happy.