Fleas are the most common ectoparasite affecting dogs and cats. Fleas are bothersome for our pets, however importantly, they can transmit parasites and other pathogens that cause disease, lead to skin irritations and secondary infections. In severe cases, pets may develop anaemia secondary to severe flea infestations. Effective year-round flea control for dogs and cats is essential.
The most common flea affecting dogs and cats is Ctenocephalides felis.
Adult fleas spend the majority of their time living on dogs and cats. Within 24 hours of infesting a pet, a flea will begin to lay eggs which then fall off the hair coat of the pet and into the environment. Female fleas can lay 40-50 eggs per day! Within 3-8 weeks, under the right environmental conditions, these eggs develop into adult fleas. Fleas thrive in mild weather and prefer temperatures between 20C and 30C.
Pets acquire fleas via contact with other dogs and cats, or through exposure to an infested area (inside the house or the outdoors!).
By the time you notice fleas on your pet, it is likely that the immature stages have been present in the environment for at least 4 weeks.
Who is affected?
Any breed of dog or cat can be affected by a flea infestation.
Signs of flea infestation
It may be possible to visualise the fleas on your pet.
As many pets have dense hair coats, or in the case of cats are fastidious groomers, it can be difficult to visualise fleas on pet. You may notice “flea dirt” which appears as black specks and is actually flea faeces!
Other signs of a flea infestation may include:
- Scratching, licking and chewing particularly around the rump and tail base. This can lead to hair loss, secondary bacterial and less commonly yeast infections. Pets may also be allergic to flea saliva and this may cause a condition called flea allergy dermatitis
- Anaemia: when fleas feed they ingest the pets blood, with severe infestations this can lead to anaemia. Clinically your pet may have pale gums or they may become lethargic. Prompt veterinary attention is required
- Transmission of other parasites: fleas are intermediate hosts for other parasites including Dipylidium caninum (tapeworm). Tapeworm segments can appear as small grains of rice in your pets stool.
- Disease transmission: fleas are capable of transmitting other organisms that may results in Murine Typhus or Cat Scratch Disease
All dogs and cats in the household should be on regular flea prevention.
There are numerous flea control options available on the market and these can be applied topically or orally. Depending on the product chosen the application or administration frequency will vary.
It is important to note that not all flea preparations are safe for cats, you should always check with your veterinarian about which flea prevention is best for your pet.
Eliminate premises infestation
If your pet has fleas, you may wish to consider environmental decontamination, this process should be focused on where your pet spends most of their time (their bed, kennel etc). Some helpful hints include:
- Regular vacuuming- make sure you empty the vacuum cleaner cannister or bag – this will assist with discarding immature fleas
- Bedding- wash bedding weekly, preferably with hot water and after washing, the bedding should be dried in the dryer
- Carpets- steam cleaning will help to eliminate immature fleas
- Consider a pest control professional for the exterior of your property
- “Dr Flea” Accessed on 25.11.20
- Purina, “Flea and tick prevention”, Accessed on 25.11.20
- DVM 360, “ How to conquer these blood-feeding, egg-laying machines” Accessed on 25.11.20
- Vet Derm, Allergy Ears and Skin Specialists, “Flea bite pet allergies, what to be aware of”, Accessed on 27.11.20
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