Product Development Executive at Beaphar UK Ltd
Fleas are all-too-common visitors to both cats and digs. Contrary to many myths, they’re equally at home in a clean or dirty environment. They’re blood-sucking parasites that can make life miserable for pets and their owners. You may continue to see fleas in the winter as centrally heated homes allow the development of eggs in the warm environment. Fleas quickly thrive in the spring with the warmer weather and pets and homes become infested.
They can cause:
- intense itching and scratching which can result in hair loss and skin wounds
- flea allergy dermatitis – an unpleasant skin condition caused by an allergy to flea saliva
- tapeworm infestation – one type of tapeworm is transmitted by fleas
- anaemia in puppies.
- The number of fleas visible on your pet is just the tip of the iceberg
- Only 5% of fleas live on the animal
- 95% of fleas are in your home and are mostly invisible
- Fleas can be invisible either because they are very small or because they keep out of direct light
- It’s essential to treat both your pet and your home on a regular basis
- Fleas can transmit tapeworms
- Pets should be wormed after a flea infestation.
What types of flea are likely to affect my pet?
There are may different types of fleas but the one you’re most likely to come across in the home is the cat flea (Cternocephalides felis). Although called the cat flea, it can feed and breed on both cats and dogs and it’s the most common flea to found on dogs in the UK. In the absence of any pets in the home, the cat flea may bite humans but would be unable to breed.
Other species of flea that may be encountered in the home include: dog, hedgehog, rabbit fleas and (rarely) the human flea. With the exception of the cat flea, each type of flea needs to feed on its own host species to breed. For example, pets may have their nose covered in hedgehog fleas but these will not be able to multiply in the home.
What do fleas look like?
Adult fleas are brown and approx 3mm long. They’re very thin so they can move easily through pet fur where they spend most of their adult life. Adult fleas may move from one pet to another only when their hosts come into close contact.
How do I know if a pet has fleas?
Fleas feed several times a day sucking blood from pets with their specifically adapted mouthparts. Some pets and humans develop hypersensitivity to flea saliva which produces an itchy reaction. This can cause repeated scratching and in particularly bad cases, this can lead to flea allergy dermatititis that often manifests as a gritty scurf along the animal’s back.
Pets can be checked for fleas by standing them on a damp piece of paper and combing through the coat. Tiny specks will fall onto the paper and absorb the moisture forming pink circles around them if fleas are present. These flecks are flea faeces and the circle forms from undigested blood.
How do pets catch fleas?
A pet rubbing against a flea-infested animal can be the cause of transmission however it’s more likely that a few hatching flea pupae jump onto the pet. The pupae can come from an existing infestation in a carpet or from visiting another environment with pets. In warm and humid summer conditions, fleas can survive in the garden.
Can fleas live in a carpet?
The female flea is a prolific layer of eggs producing, on average, up to 20 eggs per day and as many as 500 eggs during her lifetime. These fall onto the floor where the pet spends time – on bedding, on a settee or even in the human bed.
The eggs hatch in larvae that graze on organic debris in their environment including dry skin and flea dirt from adult fleas which is a source of protein for the young flea.
The larvae develop into pupae that hatch into adult fleas. Fully developed fleas can remain in the pupal phase for many months awaiting the arrival of a suitable host.
Once hatched, the adult immediately starts to look for a new host on which to start its life cycle again. The whole cycle can take a little as 2 weeks during warm and humid weather or may extend to several months during cold weather and with no ‘passing traffic’.
Adult fleas don’t live long on a pet and are usually groomed out after 7-14 days but they’re soon replaced by more from the population building up in the environment of the pet.