By David Brooks MRCVS of Pet Insurance Expert.
There are several different types of flea, but by far the most common is Ctenocephalides felis, also known as the cat flea. Though it is called the cat flea, it is the species most often found on dogs as well. Unless your pet has a severe infestation, he/she is probably not bothered by the odd flea, unless he/she has a flea allergy. However, since these unpleasant insects also bite humans we are, not surprisingly, somewhat intolerant of them. This article discusses how to tell whether your pet has fleas and, if they do, how to eliminate them from your house.
It is not always obvious when your pet has a flea problem. You may see an adult flea crawling around on your pets skin, especially if they have a pale coat. However, the easiest way to check for the presence of these pesky critters is to look for flea dirt. This is actually flea feces, and appears as tiny black specs near the base of hairs on certain parts of your pets coat, particularly around the rump (on the back, in front of the tail). Since fleas feed on blood, their feces is basically dried blood. When these little black specs come into contact with water, they turn reddish brown. So, try this: moisten a piece of white paper kitchen roll thoroughly and place it on a hard surface. Then, lift your pet above the paper and vigorously rub and scratch his/her back, going against the direction of hair growth, so that as much scurf and debris falls off you pet as possible. Afterwards, examine the wet paper closely. If your pet has fleas, the dried black flea dirt will have fallen onto the wet paper and turned into little red spots.
If you have seen a flea on your pet, or have found flea dirt as described above, then you have a flea infestation to deal with. Do not fear, the problem can be easily resolved by following these simple steps.
- All pets in the house must be treated with an effective flea treatment.
- The house must be sprayed to kill any fleas and flea eggs in the environment.
It sounds simple. However, I have lost count of the number of times clients say to me that they have done that already, when in fact they did not do it quite properly and so their flea infestation continued.
1) If one of your pets has fleas, you need to treat them all simultaneously. Your goal is to wipe out every flea in the house, so make sure there is no safe host for them to live on. Remember dogs and cats require different doses of flea treatment products.
Many owners believe that applying a flea product they have bought in a pet shop or supermarket will kill all the fleas in their house, or that a flea collar will provide adequate protection for their pet. Wrong. Purchasing these products is certainly better than doing nothing, but they are nowhere near 100% effective. They are comparatively weak compared to the products you can get from your veterinarian. There are many veterinary recommended products, here is a list of some of the best: Frontline, Advantage, Advocate, K9 Advantix, Program, Revolution, Stronghold. Most of these are prescription only medicines, meaning they can only be obtained from your veterinarian or with a prescription from your veterinarian. However, Frontline? has recently been granted a general sales license and so can be bought over the counter, or ordered via an internet store.
Once you have purchased one of these recommended products, it is important to apply it correctly. Part the fur on the back of your pets neck and empty the contents of the pipette onto the skin, to form a small puddle of liquid. Applying it to the back of the neck prevents your pet from ingesting it as this is the one place they cannot lick at whilst grooming themselves. Once it is applied, do not wash or bathe your pet for several days and do not let your pet go out in the rain or go swimming, or the product will wash off and be wasted. The liquid is absorbed through the skin and distributed around the body.
Generally these products provide protection for 1 month from the time of application. Frontline? for cats provides 1 month protection vs fleas whilst Frontline? for dogs provides 2 months protection vs fleas, but only 1 month protection vs ticks and so is often applied monthly nevertheless.
2) Spraying the house. This is equally as important as treating your pet, as the major part of the flea life cycle develops off the host, in the environment. Though adult fleas will spend most of their time on your pet, the flea eggs and flea larvae live in the environment, often being concentrated in or near pet sleeping areas. To eliminate the next generation of fleas, the environment must be sprayed thoroughly with an effective spray.
The commercial introduction of Insect Growth Regulators (IGRs) represented a major breakthrough in flea control. These chemicals are highly effective at destroying flea eggs and larvae, and so complement the spot on treatments very well. They are readily available over the counter in many forms, and do not wash off the floor with water so have considerable residual activity; application is required only once every 6-12 months.
So, where and how should you use this household flea spray? The various stages of the flea life cycle are not found on tiled floors, or floors covered with linoleum. They are mainly found in carpets and in cracks of wooden floors. First of all, shut all of the windows in the house. Make sure the house is empty, if this is difficult then shut all of the pets in a room where they seldom go, which you can spray separately later. If you have an aquarium, move it outside or make it airtight as the flea spray can get into the water and kill the fish. Then, go round the whole house spraying anywhere where your pet(s) spend time, concentrating on where they sleep and their favorite lying spots. Remember to move furniture and spray underneath too. Hold the aerosol about 30cm from the surface you are spraying. Once you have sprayed everywhere, leave the house, with the windows closed, for 3 hours. On your return, open all the windows and leave again for a further 30 minutes. Then go back and vacuum clean the entire house thoroughly. Remove the vacuum cleaner bag or empty the container immediately.
Following this technique will ensure swift eradiation of the fleas both on your pet and in your house. Good luck!
David Brooks MRCVS is part of the veterinarian team at Pet Insurance Expert, the most comprehensive resource on pet insurance in the UK. Learn about the different pet insurance options and find the best pet insurance for your pet.