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COPING WITH FLEAS

Dog Scratching

Fleas are a very common parasite among our dogs and cats; in fact most which go outdoors get fleas from time to time, often without their owners ever noticing. The fleas that infest our cats and dogs DO NOT infest humans as well, although some people can receive very itchy bites.

The adult flea spends all its life on the host animal, rarely venturing off. Eggs (up to 27 per day or 2000 in a lifetime from each female) are laid in the coat, but the majority fall off into the carpets, bedding etc. where the pet lies. The eggs and larvae can remain dormant in houses for over a year if no suitable animals are available to feed from.

The effect of fleas on an animal varies from mild to severe irritation. The worst affected individuals suffer from an allergic reaction to the flea saliva! In this case it needs only a very few flea bites to produce a severe skin reaction. There are a variety of symptoms of flea infestation:

  • tiny black specks of flea 'dirt' in the coat, especially around the rump.
  • small spots and scabs on the skin, especially on the rump, but also elsewhere on the trunk.
  • larger areas of 'eczema', scabs and infection
  • in summer, "wet eczema", "hot spots" etc. are often caused by fleas.
  • scratching can be mild, or there may be intense irritation.

Fleas can also spread disease from one animal to another, and can spread tapeworms.

Treatment
Fortunately, we have many highly effective prescription products available to deal with the problem. When choosing a treatment, you need to consider a number of factors such as ease of use, cost, effectiveness, and safety (for both pet and you/your children). Many remedies are not safe for young animals so you must read the label carefully. Also, some treatments for dogs are highly toxic to cats, so make sure you buy a product right for the pet you are treating. If you get your flea control from the surgery, you can be sure it is correct for your pet. However, it is important to remember that prevention is better than cure, and we would always recommend that you adopt an ongoing preventive regime to ensure fleas never become an issue for you. The easiest way for cats is probably a six-monthly injection that prevents fleas from breeding. For dogs, the same drug is given as a monthly pill (and this formulation also controls roundworms).

Alternatively, there are safe and effective insecticides that are applied as a spot-on liquid to the back of the pet’s neck every month or so.

There are many other products (shampoos, sprays, collars, powders, spot-ons) available in the shops, but you may well find they are much less effective than the prescription treatments you can get from us.

Ask our advice and we can find the right treatment for you and your pet.

Environment Treatment
Flea infestations invariably arise from eggs hatched in the animal’ home environment. Removal of flea eggs and larvae is a very important step in dealing with an outbreak.

Thorough and frequent vacuuming is necessary, but to augment this we recommend the use of long-acting household sprays. These prevent development of eggs and larvae by a hormone effect for twelve months, and also have a short-lived action against adult fleas. They should be used on all the soft furnishings with which the pets come in contact: carpets, cushions, bottom of curtains, etc. – paying particular attention to the edge of the room. Follow the directions carefully, and be sure not to apply too sparingly. These are very safe products, even when there are young children around, but they are toxic to fish so you must take great care if you have a fish tank.

Breaking The Flea Life-Cycle And Preventing Recurrence
Over recent years one particular treatment has proved very effective in  preventing fleas ever becoming established in your home. If given regularly to the pet, the drug is taken up by the fleas when they bite and it interferes with the ability of the flea egg to hatch, effectively sterilising the fleas. Cats can either be given a monthly oral dose, or injected by the vet just once every six months. Dogs are treated with a monthly tablet (which also prevents roundworms). The few fleas which your pets may be pick up during social contact outdoors are not killed, but they die off naturally quite quickly, or are removed by normal grooming.

The treatment is quite safe for any age of pet, even in pregnancy or during illness, and can be given alongside any other medication. It has no harmful properties for mammals or for the environment. If it is used regularly, through the winter as well as summer, there will never be a problem with a household flea infestation.

Click here to find out more about flea control