Itchy and Scratchy: I Think My Pet has Fleas!
Being itchy is one of the most common reasons for pets to visit the vets in the UK. Dogs and cats demonstrate itching by biting, chewing or licking the affected areas which can cause hair loss and damage to the surface of the skin.
Although there are many causes of itching in pets, fleas are an important and common cause; the first thing vets will look for in itchy animals. These parasites are small, red-brown in colour and are compressed giving them tall, flat bodies. They tend to infest the lower parts of the body, including the tail head and rump of dogs but cats can have signs elsewhere on the body, such as the lip. Some individuals are allergic to the saliva of the flea which is introduced when they bite to feed. This means these pets are less tolerant of the presence of fleas and even one flea can cause a dramatic skin reaction and severe itching. Cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis) are the most common species and can be found on dogs, cats and rabbits.
Fleas act as vectors for some diseases which can affect humans.
- Dipydium caninum: This is a tapeworm which can be acquired by cats, dogs and humans (usually children) by ingesting an infected flea.
- Bartonella henselae: This is a bacterium which causes “Cat scratch fever” in humans. The flea transmits the bacterium betweencats. Humans are infected through a bite or scratch from an infected cat, although this is usually only a serious problem in immunocompromised individuals.
The Life Cycle of a Flea
Fleas spend 95% of their life cycle in the environment as eggs, larvae or pupae before turning into adults which can jump onto your pet and feed. Once an adult flea has had a blood meal they can start to lay eggs which fall off your pet and into your home. The life cycle can take anywhere between 12 days and 6 months to complete. An adult flea can lay up to 2000
eggs in her lifetime! Eggs and pupae are resistant to all flea treatments. Flea products for your pet (both tablets and spot-ons) target the adult fleas and household flea products target the larvae.
Treating Your Pet when they have Fleas
It is essential to treat your pet once they have fleas to stop the itching and to prevent more eggs being laid. An adulticide treatment, by a tablet or spot-on, must be administered to all in contact animals, this usually means all pets (cats and dogs) living in the same house. This can be combined
with an environmental treatment to get quicker control of the fleas which is useful in cases of flea allergy or if yourself or family are also being bitten. It is important to treat the home, car, shed and anywhere else your pet goes.
We recommend a veterinary prescription flea product prescribed for the correct weight of your pet. These can be tablet / chew or spot-on formulations which treat fleas, and often ticks or worms in combination, lasting up to three months. Talk to one of our vets or nurses about the best flea control strategy for your pets.