Know your enemy - what are fleas?

Fleas are tiny insects that survive as parasites on animals like cats and dogs, living off the blood of their hosts. They’re flightless but nimble enough to leap from animal to animal. Fleas can really make an animal’s life miserable due to incessant itching and discomfort.

A flea can make its way into your home via an unsuspecting animal or person. Then, as long as there’s something to feast on, they’ll make a home for themselves, laying eggs on their host (which will fall off onto the carpet or soft furnishings) or in the surrounding environment. From that egg, a larva and then flea develops.The larvae crawl into or under carpets and will hide themselves in little cracks and small openings. The larva pupates and a few weeks to a year later (depending on temperature and other factors), an adult flea will emerge.

How to spot if your dog or cat has fleas

Edgard in garden

Some dogs and cats won’t be that bothered by fleas and will only itch a little bit around their lower back & tail base. However, other pets may develop very strong red, inflamed skin reactions, which can be the product of a flea allergy (mostly to the saliva of the fleas). It is important to note that those pets who are not so troubled by bits, can be an important source of fleas for your other pets. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to every pet in your house, not just those exhibiting symptoms.

If your pet isn’t allergic to fleas, it may be difficult to spot the signs of an infestation. Fleas themselves are hard to see – they’re light shy and tend to crawl deep into an animal’s coat as quickly as they can. The best way to check if your pet has fleas is to use a flea comb to brush your dog or cat’s coat onto a damp tissue or a kitchen roll. You’ll quickly expose hidden flecks of flea poop, which will turn reddish brown when it dissolves.

How to prevent fleas

Prevention is obviously preferable to treatment when it comes to fleas, so it’s well worth taking a rigorous approach to protecting your pets and your home from the threat of an infestation. Ultimately, it’s a lot less hassle that tackling a resident population.

There are plenty of flea prevention products on the market, including collars and topical treatments that are applied to your pet’s back. It’s a good idea to ask your vet for advice on the best product for your pet. It’s important to choose a pipette or collar that kills fleas within 24 hours, which is all the time a flea needs to lay eggs again. In addition, dogs or cats allergic to fleas only need one bite to show an allergic reaction, so these animals will benefit greatly from fleas being killed as soon as possible!

Treat the environment as well as your pet

Edgard & Charlie in basket

Given that 95% of fleas live in the environment rather than on pets, it’s just as important to treat your home for fleas. Particular focus should be given to the areas your pet spends most time in. For example, make sure to regularly wash their bedding on a hot wash to take care of any lurking flea eggs. This also applies to any soft furnishings, rugs or carpets your pet likes to settle on - regular vacuuming and washing is an essential step.

Regular vacuuming is also important because the vibrations can cause flea larvae to emerge from the carpet, leaving them prone to a blast of household anti-flea spray, which should be used when there’s an infestation. The war against fleas is a year-round battle, so it’s important to protect your pet throughout the year, even during the colder months. Fleas prefer warm environments but, unfortunately, central heating provides the ideal temperature for the larvae to develop into fleas.