Fleas are the most common external parasite found on pets, ticks can still be a problem throughout the year and still need to be considered in parasite treatments.
Ctenocephalides felis, the cat flea, is the most prevalent species of flea found on both cats and dogs. An infestation of fleas is both unpleasant and potentially dangerous for pets and their owners.
Did you know that in a flea infestation only 5% of fleas live on your pet, the other 95% of the flea population will live in your home.
Most people would assume that as the weather gets colder, flea numbers will fall with the temperature. However, as our thermostats go up, our houses become the perfect home for fleas in our carpets, sofa’s, soft furnishings and under skirting boards.
Parasite control is paramount to prevent infestation of your home which can be very difficult and time consuming to clear.
A flea‘s life cycle lasts anywhere from a few weeks to a month, though under the right conditions it can continue for much longer. During the life cycle fleas go through a complete metamorphosis in three main stages:
- Adult fleas jump on to a host (e.g. cat, dog or human) and within minutes begin feeding on the host’s blood. The flea bites lead to itching and irritation and may also transmit serious diseases.
- In less than 48 hours fleas begin laying numerous flea eggs that quickly fall off the animal into the environment.
- In a few days these eggs hatch into flea larvae. These larvae dislike light and immediately crawl deep into carpets and cracks in floors making them hard to spot. The larvae spin cocoons in which they develop into pupae and when conditions are right they emerge as new adult fleas ready to jump onto a warm-blooded host and perpetuate the cycle.
A single female can lay up to 50 eggs per day. In one month, 10 females could lay up to 15000 eggs. The pet spreads flea eggs everywhere it goes, leading to a massive infestation in the home environment. A flea can jump as far as 33 cm in one leap, so infestation of other pets and humans is easy. Fleas measure 1-2 mm making them hardly visible. For every 5 fleas on the animal, 95 are invisible in the environment (eggs falling off the animal, existing eggs, larvae and pupae in the environment).
The whole home, including carpets, sofas, beds and the entire environment of the pet can be heavily infested by flea eggs and larvae, which are the seeds of future pet re-infestation. Vacuuming will only remove a small number of eggs and larvae because they are hidden deep in floors and rugs, and entwined in the fibres. Fleas can survive up to 6 months in the environment.
A single flea will bite its host around 10 times a day and ingest up to 15 times its weight in blood. Fleas also start to feed very shortly after landing on their host; 25% of fleas take their first feed within 5 minutes and 97% within an hour. This means that in cases of heavy infestation, fleas can produce anaemia in otherwise healthy animals, and in extreme cases, even death in smaller animals.
One of the main factors that allow fleas to rapidly complete their life cycle is warmth, central heating therefore means fleas can reproduce all year round.
Wherever you live in the UK there is a risk that your dog could pick up ticks. Ticks can be found in long grass, parks, meadows, woodlands and kennels. Often they will attach to your dog’s skin where the coat is thin such as around the ears or close to the ground such as on the paws. When they’ve attached they will engorge themselves on your dog’s blood causing their body to swell. During feeding ticks can transmit disease, including Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis and Ehrlichiosis. These can be a serious risk to your dog’s health. Checking your pets regularly for ticks is ideal, but ticks begin life at less than 2mm so can be very difficult to detect in fur.
There are many parasiticide treatments out there: some good, some not so good. As is so often the case, you tend to get what you pay for. Seek professional veterinary advice over which product best suits your situation, your lifestyle and your dog. When choosing a treatment you need to consider one that:
- Kills both fleas and ticks fast
- Continues to kill fleas and ticks right through the treatment period
- Kills the common ticks found in the UK
- Minimises the risk of a gap in protection, and stops fleas and ticks taking advantage.
Killing ticks fast can also reduce the potential risk of tick-borne disease transmission. However, not all treatments are indicated to kill the most common ticks. Ask your vet and they will advise you what treatment is most appropriate for your dog.
To stay on top of fleas and ticks, dogs should be treated regularly as this can considerably reduce the chance of flea re- infestations. Being proactive about prevention is important with any health condition. Fleas and ticks can be found all year round and can multiply rapidly, so it is important to treat your pets on a regular basis – usually monthly. You should ask your vet and the practice staff for advice.