Spring is in full swing, and there’s even the hint that summer might be around the corner! But, just as you’re starting to relax and enjoy these long-awaited sunnier days, your four-legged adventurer picks up some hitch-hiker fleas from the great outdoors. Suddenly, they’re scratching, you’re scratching, and before you know it you’ve got a full-blown flea infestation in your home! It can happen to any of us, no matter how beautifully clean our houses are, and the nightmare of a flea infestation is the last thing anyone needs. But just what are these pests, and aside from a few irritating bites- are they really such a big deal?
Fleas are insects, but rather than scuttling around in nature like many of their six-legged relatives, these ones opt for the comfort of our pets’ furry coats to spend their lives. Our pets provide them with everything they need; warmth, shelter and all the food they could ask for, as fleas are blood-feeders, and will bite our four-legged friends many times a day to get their fill.
Spotting fleas on your pet is unpleasant enough, but the even more gruesome truth is that the fleas you can actually see are just the tip of the iceberg! Fleas lay eggs , which fall off your pet and hatch into tiny wriggling larvae in your home. These larvae grow, spin cocoons around themselves and become pupae. New fleas develop inside these cocoons, and when they’re ready, they emerge as fully-fledged adults and leap onto your pet, starting the whole sorry cycle all over again.
You can think of flea eggs, larvae and pupae as the hidden life stages; you may not be able to see them, but if your pet has fleas, it’s a dead-cert that these will be lurking all around your home. It makes ousting these pests a bit trickier, as you may need to treat your home as well as your pet, but more on this below!
Being bitten by these tiny terrors is enough of a reason on its own to give these pests the boot, but fleas can cause more than just an itch.
You might think that fleas, tiny as they are, couldn’t possibly feed on enough blood to make a pet unwell. But when pets have many fleas feeding on them throughout the day, for days and weeks on end, it can add up to a substantial amount of blood loss! In puppies and kittens, and indeed those of our furry friends that are naturally small, an untreated flea infestation can lead to anaemia; a potentially very serious condition that may even require a blood transfusion in severe cases.
Getting bitten by fleas is no-one’s idea of fun, but in some pets it goes further than a bit of irritation. When fleas feed, they inject saliva into your pet’s skin (a lovely thought!), and some pets are actually allergic to a component of this saliva. For these animals, just one flea bite can be enough to trigger an allergic reaction that causes serious itching and severe skin problems- a condition known as flea allergy dermatitis, or FAD. Keeping up with regular flea prevention is especially important for these pets, as they can become unbearably itchy and sore from even just one or two bites.
As if one parasite wasn’t enough, fleas can pass a second creepy crawly onto our pets. Fleas can carry the larval stages of the tapeworm Dipylidium caninum, and if our pets swallow fleas (an unpleasant thought, but it happens quite naturally when they’re grooming themselves), they can land themselves with a wriggling tapeworm growing inside their guts. Tapeworms are made up of lots of little segments, called proglottids, and infected pets will shed these in their poo. A somewhat horrifying fact about this worm, is that these segments are mobile, and can be seen crawling in the fur around an infected pet’s bottom. As well as being pretty revolting, they can cause pets a lot of irritation, and you may notice them “scooting” their bottoms along the ground to try and relive the itch.
Fleas are infamous for spreading diseases; the best known probably being the Plague, or Black Death, which was caused by a bacteria spread by rat fleas and was responsible for millions of deaths in the Middle Ages. This disease still occurs in some parts of the world today (not in the UK, we hasten to add!), but thankfully the advent of antibiotics means that it’s now treatable (though still best avoided!).
Closer to home, fleas can transmit other diseases to our pets, and some can affect us, too. A bacteria called Bartonella henselae, transmitted to pets via fleas, can cause a condition called “Cat Scratch Disease” in people. Cats that are carrying infected fleas can get the bacteria trapped under their claws, and a swipe from your feline friend can transfer the bacteria to you. Symptoms can include enlarged lymph nodes, headaches and fever. Fleas can also transmit a bacteria called Mycoplasma to our cats- which can cause severe anaemia.
Our furry friends aren’t the only ones to be affected fleas! Fleas can’t complete their life cycle on us (we’re just not furry and warm enough for them to set up a permanent home, thank goodness for small mercies!), but if we happen to be the nearest thing around when they hatch from their cocoons, they’ll have no qualms about biting us for a little snack to keep them going while they wait for our pet to pass by. So, if you’re noticing itchy bites on your skin, especially on your ankles or lower legs, fleas could be the culprits!
When faced with a flea infestation in your home, it’s completely understandable to feel a mixture of disgust and despair; but don’t panic, it can happen to anyone, and help is at hand!
The first step, as you’d expect, is to treat your pet with an effective flea product. Fipnil Plus kills both fleas and ticks, and has the added benefit of stopping the development of flea eggs, larvae and pupae within your home. Imidaflea kills adult fleas on your pet, and flea larvae in the home. These spot-ons are highly effective, easy to apply and are available for both dogs and cats.
You might hope this would be job done, but as we mentioned earlier, the problem with fleas, is that it’s only the adults that live on your pet- the rest of the gruesome creepy crawly life stages are hiding all around your home. This is why you may also need treatment for your home, in the form of a veterinary-approved household spray, to target these additional stages. Remember to treat everywhere your pet goes, which may include your car!
Getting on top of a flea infestation can be tricky. Even when you’ve done absolutely everything right, fleas hiding out in cocoons can continue to emerge for many months, even after treatment. Once you’ve got on top of the problem, ongoing prevention is crucial to stop these pests paying you another visit!
Thankfully, preventing these creepy crawlies from taking over your home is very straightforward. By using a flea preventative on your pet on a regular basis you will keep your pet (and your home!) protected against these biting pests! Fipnil Plus or Imidaflea can be used on a monthly basis, for ongoing protection for both cats and dogs; a simple monthly spot-on treatment is all it takes.
Top tip: Remember to keep up the treatment year-round; as our centrally heated homes mean every day feels like a summer’s day to fleas!