Fleas are one of the most common parasites affecting our pets – these tiny critters feed on your pet’s blood and infest your home. You might be wondering, can I catch fleas from my pets? If just thinking about these creepy crawlies makes you feel itchy, then watch out for the real thing because fleas aren’t fussy, and they’ll happily bite you or your family as well as your pet! Luckily there are simple solutions to help keep our pets, homes and families protected. Read on to find out more…
Fleas are tiny insects that can infest our pets’ skin; biting them and feeding on their blood. Female fleas lay smooth-shelled eggs that fall into your home as your pet wanders around. You can think of your pet as a bit like a salt shaker on legs, sprinkling tiny flea eggs all around your home. These eggs hatch into wriggling flea larvae in your carpets, sofas and even your bed (sorry!). After a week or so of feeding, the larvae spin cocoons and develop into new adult fleas. This whole process from egg to new flea can happen in as quickly as a couple of weeks. Since one female flea can lay up to an astounding 2000 eggs in her lifetime1, it’s easy to see how a couple of fleas that hitch a ride on your pet, can soon escalate into a full-blown infestation in your home, eurgh!
Now getting to the main question, can I catch fleas from my pets? When an adult flea first breaks out of its cocoon, it has to feed pretty quickly in order to survive. Its goal is to jump onto a passing pet, but if your furry friend happens to be snoozing elsewhere when a new flea pops out, it will look around for another meal… and may land on you! Fleas can’t live on us for long, they need the warm hairy coats of our four-legged pals to set up a more permanent home, but they’ll still happily take a bite or two from us to keep themselves going while they wait for our pets to return!
Flea bites on people are red, raised bumps on our skin, that often appear in clusters of three or four. They are usually found on our ankles and lower legs (as newly-hatched fleas are often in the carpet, and bite the first bit of skin they come across) but they can appear anywhere on the body. They’re REALLY itchy, and if you give in and scratch them, you might cause an infection. Aside from the irritation they cause, they also act as a warning sign that these pests have set up residence on your pet and in your home.
As if having a blood-sucking parasite on your skin wasn’t bad enough, fleas can also transmit infections when they feed. A bacteria called Bartonella henselae is carried by up to 40% of cats in the UK2, and is transmitted by fleas. It doesn’t usually make our feline friends unwell, but it can cause ‘Cat Scratch Fever’ in people.
Over 1 in 10 fleas have been shown to carry Bartonella3 – a significant number when you think about how many fleas can be crawling on our pets when they’re infested. Infected fleas pass the bacteria in their poo, which, rather disgustingly, is the black specks, or ‘flea dirt’, that you see in your pet’s coat when they have fleas. The flea dirt can find its way to underneath your cat’s nails when they scratch themselves (something that is understandably more likely when they have an itchy infestation on board!). If your purring pal happens to give you a swipe (accidentally or otherwise!), the bacteria may get passed on to you from their claws.
Symptoms can vary, and people with compromised immune systems are more at risk. Signs can take a few weeks to appear, they may include swollen lymph nodes (close to the site of the scratch), tiredness, headaches and fever.
Thankfully it’s easy to keep fleas at bay, and by regularly treating your pet, you protect not only them, but your family too!
Treating your pet: Once a flea infestation has taken hold, it can take a loooong time to get rid of (think months, sometimes more). Treating your pet with a flea product is the first crucial step in tackling the problem – this will kill the adult fleas already on your pet, and also be active against any newly-hatched fleas that land on your fur ball. Some flea products have the added benefit of being effective against some of the flea life stages, too. Imidaflea, for example, kills adult fleas and flea larvae in the home. Fipnil Plus kills not only fleas (and ticks!), but stops the development of flea eggs, larvae and pupae too. These simple spot-ons are easy to apply and, when used monthly, help keep your pet protected.
Treating your home: It’s worth remembering that it’s only the adult fleas that set up home on your pet, the rest of the life stages (eggs, larvae, pupae) are scattered around your home. If you’re faced with an infestation, you may need to treat your home as well as your pet. You can get vet-approved flea sprays for your house that tackle these life stages – remember to use these wherever your pet spends time in your home, and don’t forget the car! Vacuuming is also really helpful, and hot washes for pet bedding (and your bedding, too, if your furry friend sometimes snoozes there) will help boot these pests out for good.
Preventing the problem: If you’ve ever dealt with a flea infestation in your home, you’ll know what an ordeal it can be to get rid of every last critter, so the best bet is to try and prevent these pests from moving in in the first place! With our home cosy and warm even in the winter months, fleas are now a year-round problem, so regular flea prevention for your pets throughout the whole year will keep them protected. A spot-on like Imidaflea is simple to apply, and used once monthly helps you avoid the nightmare of a flea infestation in your home.
Cuddling up to our four-legged family members is one of the best parts of pet ownership, so don’t let fleas get in the way! By using a flea product regularly on our pets, all year round, we can protect not only them, but our families too.
1. Dryden, M. W. Host association, on-host longevity and egg production of Ctenocephalides felis felis. Veterinary Parasitology 34, 117–122 (1989).
2. Barnes A, Bell SC, Isherwood DR, Bennett M, Carter SD. Evidence of Bartonella henselae infection in cats and dogs in the United Kingdom. Vet Rec. 2000 Dec 9;147(24):673-7.
3. Abdullah S, Helps C et al. Pathogens in fleas collected from cats and dogs: distribution and prevalence in the UK. Parasites Vectors (2019) 12: 71.