Fleas are probably the best known parasites of cats and dogs and are incredibly common with most pets suffering from a flea infestation at least once in their lives. Although there are over 2000 species of flea in the world, only 2 commonly affect dogs and cats – and so called dog and cat fleas . Fleas live on blood sucked through the skin of their hosts using sharp probing mouth parts, and while the amount of blood lost is usually insignificant except in very young or infirm animals, fleas can cause a range of health problems for their hosts.
The most obvious and common problem is skin disease and this is often caused by an allergic reaction to the flea’s saliva (which is considered one of the most allergenic substances on earth!) which makes their host itchy – and itching then leads to skin damage, hair loss and secondary infections. In the worst cases animals can be left practically bald and covered in sores if flea infestations are left unchecked.
As well as causing skin problems fleas can also transmit other parasites, specifically one of the most common species of tapeworm which is passed onto the host when they eat the fleas which contain the larvae of the tapeworm.
Controlling and preventing fleas is an important part of looking after your pets and there are many ways to do this including sprays, drops and tablets. Here are my top tips for keeping your pets flea free:
- Check your pets regularly for fleas – look in the fur at the base of their tale for the tell-tale black specs (flea dirt) and the fleas themselves (tiny brown insects that move very fast!)
- Prevention is better than cure – so use a flea control product regularly to prevent infestations
- Don’t let your guard down in the winter – in modern centrally heated houses, fleas can breed and flourish in the winter as well as summer so you need to protect your pet all year round
- Treat the house as well as the pet – if you do have a flea problem you need to treat the house with an insecticidal spray as well as your pet as up to 90% of the problem can be in the carpets and bedding which is where the larvae and eggs will be
- You get what you pay for – avoid cheap and cheerful flea preparations from pet shops and supermarkets as they won’t work. It’s better (and cheaper in the long run) to use proper products from your vet