Where does my pet get fleas from? Flea control advice by Clondalkin Animal Clinic.
The most common flea found on cats and dogs is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis). Rarely rabbit fleas or hedgehog fleas are found on pets.
The most important source of fleas is newly developed adult fleas in pupae in your house. Adult fleas live and feed on animals but the female lays eggs which fall off into the environment. Under favourable conditions, these eggs develop first into larvae and then into pupae. The pupae contain adult fleas which lie in wait for a suitable animal host. Modern carpeted centrally heated homes provide ideal conditions for the year-round development of fleas. The highest numbers of flea eggs, larvae and pupae will be found in areas in the house where pets spend most time such as their beds, the furniture and so forth. Even though fleas may be in your house you probably won’t see them; the eggs are too small to see without magnification and the larvae which are just visible migrate deep down into carpets, furniture or cracks in floors away from the light.
What effect do fleas have on my pet?
Many cats and dogs live with fleas but show minimal signs. The following problems can occur:
Some animals develop an allergy to flea bites. If these cats are exposed to fleas they groom or scratch excessively and develop skin disease.
Adult fleas live on animals and feed on blood. In puppies, kittens and debilitated animals this may cause anaemia.
The flea acts as the intermediate host for the tapeworm ( Dipylidium caninum). Tapeworm eggs which are shed within tapeworm segments in faeces are eaten by flea larvae which develop into infected fleas. Pets become infested by eating infected fleas during grooming. Any cat with fleas is likely also to have a tapeworm infestation.
How can I get rid of fleas on my pet?
This can be a demanding task and requires a three-pronged approach. Fleas need to be eliminated from your pet, from any other cats and dogs that you own and from your home. Even this rigorous approach may not give 100% control as there are other sources of fleas that are not amenable to your control such as other people’s pets, wild animals and infested environments which your cat may come into contact with outside your house.
What products are available to treat my pet?
Insecticides applied to pets are designed to kill adult fleas. Many products have limited effectiveness because they only work for a few hours after application. This is particularly a problem with flea shampoos and powders; they kill fleas present on your pet at the time of application but have little residual effect so the day after use the cat may again have fleas. There are now some newer products available from your vets (spot-on) which have good residual action.
ALWAYS READ THE LABEL CAREFULLY – apply the product as instructed and repeat at the intervals stated. Please note that the flea of the dog and cat are the flea of man and are easily transferred to us resulting in all sorts of problems itching, bites and allergy.
How can I treat my home environment?
A number of different products are available which will kill the stages of the flea lifecycle present in your home such as:
- Insecticide sprays for use on the house
- Sprays containing insect growth regulators for use in the house
- Insecticides applied by professional pest control operatives to your house
Sprays for use on the house should obviously be used in places where the flea eggs, larvae and pupae are likely to be. It is worth initially going over the whole of the house and then concentrating on the hot spots – your pet’s favourite dozing spots – such as soft furniture, beds and carpets. Once they hatch from the egg flea larvae move away from the light deep into carpets and into other nooks and crannies and it can be difficult to get insecticides into these places. So be sure to move cushions and to move furniture and beds to spray underneath. Other places liked by larvae are skirting boards and the cracks in wooden floors. Don’t forget out of the way places to which your pet has access, such as the airing cupboard.
Your pet’s bedding should be regularly washed at a high temperature or replaced. Regular and thorough vacuuming of your carpets, floors and soft furnishings can remove a large proportion of the flea eggs, larvae and pupae which are present in your home. You will need to throw away and preferably burn the dust bag to prevent eggs and larvae developing in there. Vacuuming prior to the application of a spray to the house is recommended because the vibrations will encourage newly developed fleas to emerge from pupae which will then be killed by the insecticide.
ALWAYS READ PRODUCT LABELS CAREFULLY – apply as instructed, use the quantity suggested and repeat at the intervals stated.
How do I choose which products to use?
A flea control programme needs to be individually tailored and take into account your reasons for doing flea control and the lifestyle of your cat and other pets. Your vet with his knowledge of the advantages and limitations of the products available is the best person to advise you about this.
Are insecticides safe for my cat and my family?
Insecticides for flea control should be safe both for animals and humans provided the manufacturer’s instructions are carefully followed. One should be particularly careful to avoid combining insecticides with similar modes of action. Always seek your vet’s advice if you are unsure about this and always tell your vet about any flea control products you may be using other than those which he has prescribed.
Certain types of pets (e.g. fish, amphibia, reptiles and invertebrates) may be particularly susceptible to some products. Do not use any flea control products in the room in which these pets are kept without first consulting your vet for advice.
I have not seen any fleas on my pet. Why has my vet advised flea control?
Fleas are easy to find if a pet is heavily infested. If fleas are present in smaller numbers it can be harder to see them and they move fast. Try looking on the pet’s belly, around the tail base and around the neck. Sometimes adult fleas cannot be found but “flea dirt” can be seen. This is faecal matter from the flea which contains partially digested blood and is a good indicator of the presence of fleas. Flea dirt is small black specks or coiled structures; if you are not sure, place them on damp white tissue and they will dissolve leaving a reddish brown blood residue. Flea dirt may be found in pet’s bedding even when they cannot be found on the pet.
In cats and dogs that develop an allergy to fleas one of the symptoms is excessive grooming and scratching. Cats are very efficient at removing debris from their coat’s using their tongues and may succeed in removing all evidence of flea infestation i.e. adult fleas and flea dirt. One of the commonest causes of feline and canine allergic skin disease is a flea allergy. To investigate this possibility your vet may advise rigorous flea control even though no fleas can be found. If the pet’s skin problem improves with flea control then it suggests that flea allergy is involved.