Preventing a flea infestation

Fleas are the most prevalent external parasite infesting dogs and cats. At any given moment in time around 1 in 10 dogs and 1 in 5 cats will have fleas living and feeding on them. However the fleas that are feeding on our pets are actually only the tip of the iceberg. A single adult flea can lay up to 2000 eggs so even one flea that gets into the house can lead to a major problem within weeks, the flea life cycle of egg to larvae to pupae to flea can take as little as 12 days in optimal conditions so being late with your flea control by even a few weeks can potentially trigger an infestation.

Flea bites are an irritation to most dogs and cats but some pets are actually allergic to flea saliva and end up with allergic dermatitis from a single bite. This most commonly presents as a severe skin irritation along the back of cats and over the rear quarters of dogs. It’s even possible for puppies and kittens to become anaemic from the blood loss caused by a heavy flea burden. Fleas can also carry blood-borne infections and can host an intestinal parasite – the tapeworm. Some of these infections are transmissible to humans and children.
As scary as all of this sounds flea prevention is relatively straight forward. There are a number of treatments available that can be safely given to dogs and cats. Several topical treatments are available that are applied to skin on the back of the neck (to avoid animals licking the treatment off). Not all are equally effective so it’s always a good idea to speak to your vet as to which product they recommend and remember some dog treatments are poisonous to cats so make sure you have the right product for your pet and for its size. You can also give your pet a chewable tablet treatment that works extremely quickly to kill fleas off before they can bite and are particularly useful for pets who are very sensitive to flea bites. Most flea treatments will last for 1 month although there are some longer laster preparations also available now. Make sure you reapply or re-administer your flea control regularly to avoid any lapse in treatment. If fleas do get into the house it is important to treat all the areas where your pet has access to. House sprays, flea bombs or foggers are available for environmental control. It is important to follow the safety instructions closely and remember that even these will only kill 80-90% of the flea life stages so ongoing pet treatment is essential to get on top of a flea problem. I usually advise that it will take at least 6 weeks to get on top of a house infestation which is why preventing them coming in by regularly treating your pet is a much better option.