Flea problems are of ever-increasing significance to all dog and cat owners. When your pet has fleas, it doesn’t just cause them a lot of discomfort, but they can also cause anaemia and other life-threatening diseases if left untreated for too long.
This is why it is vital to both tackle fleas when you spot them and also prevent them in future. Flea treatments are available for both dogs and cats, in various forms, and you will also need to get rid of them from your home and soft furnishings.
In order to deal with this parasite, it helps to have some understanding of the facts behind the problem:
- There are over 2,500 varieties of flea in existence
- Cat and dog fleas are two separate species of Ctenocephalides, but it is the Ctenocephalides felis (cat flea) which your dog or cat probably has
- Fleas actually spend much of their life off the animal and are happy in a well heated and carpeted house. In fact, 95% of those in your home are probably not even on your pet
- Fleas move quickly throughout the house and populate it thoroughly, loving all forms of soft furnishing
- They are the capable of jumping up to 7 inches (18 cm) vertically and up to 13 inches (33 cm) horizontally – akin to a human leaping 300m
- Fleas occasionally visit the pets for a ‘feed’ – essentially, biting them for blood
- Fleas are an all-year-round pest, but there are more of them in the summer months. Ideal conditions are 35°C with a relative humidity of 70%
- There are several signs to look out for to tell whether your pet has fleas, not just itching
- Treating animals alone will not solve the problem. Unless you deal with the household problem too, the pets will quickly become reinfested. Approach the problem from 2 angles:
- The pets
- The house
How To Tell If Your Pet Has Fleas
Fleas bury deep into fur for skin contact, so can be hard to see by eye. You, therefore, have to rely on your pet’s behaviour to be able to tell.
Symptoms can differ from animal to animal and case to case, but in general, there are some telltale signs:
- Constant itching
- Chewing their fur or skin
- Red or flaky, dry skin
- Head shaking and ear itching
- Small black dots on their skin
- Visible movement in fur (easier to spot on short fur breeds)
To better inspect your animal, you can turn them on their back and inspect areas such as the groin and armpits. These are warmer and closer to bare skin, so fleas like to thrive there. Even spotting one single flea is a sign there could be dozens or hundreds more.
A flea comb works as a human nit comb, and when brushed through fur, will capture some fleas or their eggs or flea faeces.
Treating Your Pet
The pets should be regularly treated with an appropriate insecticide, which can both kill existing fleas and then stop further infestations.
No product stops fleas jumping onto your pets. It is normal to see a few fleas on your pet after treatment as new fleas continue to hatch out from infested environments. The treatment will kill them within the first 24 hours of their life, though
If your dog or cat is currently suffering from fleas, tablets are a great way to quickly and powerfully get rid. They can usually be taken daily, and go into the bloodstream so that when a flea bites, they consume this and die. This stops the life cycle on your pet, and they can last for up to a month so further infestations are halted too.
Spot-on/Topical preparations on the neck such as “Frontline” or “Advantage” are excellent. They are easy to apply and are thoroughly effective if applied correctly. However, they must be repeated at the recommended intervals. This is often once per month, and leaving this to overrun can see your pet unprotected. These are often best recommended as a preventative medication as opposed to being able to tackle very serious infestations.
You can also buy shampoos, which contain ingredients that kill the flea on contact. This, combined with the water, can remove a good chunk of the fleas on your animal. However, it isn’t a long-term solution, and there is a chance you could miss body parts such as under the tail or around the ears where fleas have scrambled for safety.
Flea collars are also available, although if you do choose this route, talk to your vet first. Always buy a vet-approved model, as cheaper options online can cause skin issues and can not be as effective as needed. The real plus point of a flea collar is that most vet-standard options can last for up to a year, so while they’re expensive to buy, they are less hassle in the long-run.
Another alternative is flea sprays or powders for your pet. But these are not recommended by many professionals. Not only are they short-lived, but they can contain many chemicals which are not safe to breathe in or have around your house. “Nuvan Top”, which was once the most effective option by far, was banned on safety grounds, for instance. You don’t want to risk your or your pet’s health.
Treating Your House
This is where the real problem lies. Fleas can really spread around your home and become a pain to fully remove.
Firstly, vacuum the whole place thoroughly.
We mean carpets, rugs, beds, curtains, cushions and sofas, too! This does two things – it mops up the majority of the infestation, and it also vibrates the eggs and larvae left behind, which encourages their development into adults. Try to use a really powerful vacuum, with attachments which can get into all of the cracks and corners.
In adult form, fleas are more vulnerable to insecticidal attack. When you have finished vacuuming, empty the vacuum cleaner, and dispose of the contents – preferably by burning them. A bin bag full of fleas is a potent flea bomb! Vacuums with bags are a great idea as the whole thing can be gotten rid of and none remain behind.
Secondly, wash and steam it all.
Clean what you can in the washing machine on as high a heat as possible, and dry ASAP so it doesn’t become infected again. High heat and soap are a fleas enemy. Steam clean anything you can’t physically wash, such as carpets or curtains, paying attention especially to where your pet likes to lie down.
If the problem is particularly bad and you have items which are replaceable, such as bedding, you may wish to do this.
Then, use chemical treatments.
You will need to spray the whole place with a long-lasting insecticide. Products such as “Staykil”, “Acclaim”, and “Indorex” will all be suitable. And when you spray the house, spray every square inch of every carpet in every room of the whole house. Under the sofa, under its cushions, on top of them, the bottoms of the curtains, under the mattresses of the beds, in the pet beds, and everywhere else that’s made of fabric. If your pet(s) go in the car, then spray inside the car too.
There are various other forms available, such as flea bombs which can be left to disperse in a room over time by themselves, or heat lamps with sticky pads which can mimic a pet’s warmth and attract them from carpets before killing them on contact. With some of these, you won’t be able to breathe anything in or go near the room for a certain amount of time, so choose one which suits your lifestyle.
After using these, always vacuum, wash your dog and clean everything again to double-check.
The Flea Treatment Is Suddenly Not Working!
Has the treatment you chose a few years ago seemed to suddenly become ineffective? It could be worth switching to another brand with different chemicals.
You will likely see the same chemicals used over and over again between brands, but many use different combinations. It could be a case that the fleas have become immune to a certain chemical, so it will take another type to clear everything up.
If The Problem Persists
Finally, if you have tried everything but your pet is still sore, itchy, and fed up with fleas, take it to the vet.
Under these circumstances, your pet may be showing an allergy to fleas so treatment is not as effective. They will probably need short-term treatment with steroids and perhaps antibiotics, to relieve the acute symptoms, while you attack the long-term problem with proper flea control. Vets can also prescribe higher-strength treatments, and you may need to get in some professional help for the home issue.
If they are displaying symptoms listed above but you see no sign of fleas, also take them to a vet. They could have other health issues which topical flea treatments could inflame, so check before you start to use them.
Treating Other Animals
Wondering how to get rid of fleas on your rabbit, guinea pig or other small pet?
Firstly, never use treatment only suitable for dogs or cats. Small pets have very fragile immune systems, so using something too strong can be fatal.
Most animals can also have topical treatments or tablets but always talk to your vet before buying anything to see what would be suitable for your pet and ensure that they will be able to handle the dosage. Clean their cage/house fully, and keep them separated from other pets until the problem has gone.
Prevention isn’t always possible with these animals, so keep any other pets in your home flea-free and regularly groom your small pet.