The mighty flea.
Fleas are quite like fugitives, sneaking around and hitching a ride whenever they can. They are the bane of many a pet owners life, and of course the pet themselves. While they are often merely a nuisance and nothing more, they can become a very serious problem. Prevention is better than the cure, so they say and when it comes to fleas this really is the truth.
Contrary to popular belief, fleas cannot fly. They have very strong back legs so they can hop from animal to animal with ease. Your pet can pick up fleas in many ways, the athletic legged jumpers can just hop right in to your home, hitch a ride on your pet or even on you. Fleas can live on as many as 50 different species worldwide, so your precious could even pick them up from the local wildlife.
The flea has a four-stage life cycle and in fact the adult fleas, which drive our pets to distraction, are only 5% of the problem. The real battle is with the immature fleas; eggs, larva and pupa. Eggs are laid in their hundreds, a female flea can lay 15-40 per day and for every flea you see on your pet you can be sure there are 100 more. During a flea invasion eggs are everywhere; they easily fall off your pet and get into the carpets, floorboards and furniture. Anywhere where your pet spends a lot of time is bound to have a large stash of eggs hidden away. An even bigger problem is that eggs and pupa (the cocoon stage) can lay ‘dormant’ for several months.
The best way to tackle fleas is to try to prevent them. It is impossible to shield against all possible flea encounters but measures can be taken to reduce the risks dramatically. Frequent hovering is the obvious first step, especially when you have carpeted floors. It is very important to pay particular attention to high traffic areas and spots where your pet spends a lot of time dozing. The pet bedding also needs washing every couple of months at least, this is well advised not only as a flea tackling method but it also reduces any pet odour and lessens the amount of fur flying around.
A regular (monthly) anti-flea treatment is often suggested although is not a necessity. It is really a personal choice. You may chose to give your pet a monthly anti-flea shampoo or use a spray on your carpets: a thorough application of NorShield, which is designed for furnishings, can assist flea prevention in the home for up to 6 months. There are even natural anti-flea solutions. The simplest are garlic and bread soda. A little bit of either in your pet’s diet will make them less tasty for the fleas. While garlic is good for a dog in particular, it should be given in small amounts, as large amounts can be toxic.
Eek, is that a flea?
Your pet is likely to have fleas at some stage; the infestation may be so light that you aren’t even aware of it. Although itching is considered to be the main symptom of fleas, a pet does not always scratch! A sure-fire test to see if your pet is currently with flea is have him stand on a sheet of white paper, run your fingers through his fur in a ruffle motion and see if any ‘dots’ fall onto the paper – fleas are the size of a pin head and are dark brown or copper in colour. You may also see fleas on your pet if you check under his legs, as you part the hair you may see little dots scurrying away – fleas hate the light.
Get it away!
So, Fluffy definitely has a flea or a thousand, what to do? Fleas are a battle and a half but it is a battle you can win. The key is to break their life cycle. It makes sense to cleanse the environment before you tackle the fugitives on your pet or they will only pick them up again very quickly. The house and the outdoor areas both need to be tackled. A good Hoovering will remove approximately 50% of the eggs from the house, making sure you pay attention to hidey areas and as fleas like shade and moisture they tend to cluster under long curtains, furniture and pet bedding. Pet bedding will need a thorough hot wash, as will the crate or pet carrier.
You can then follow up with a good anti-flea spray that contains an insect growth regulator. What anti-flea products you use will depend on the extent of the flea problem, the breed, age and health of your pet, other pets in your household (birds can be quite delicate!) as well as health considerations of the humans living there (asthmatics and small children). Even if you have no children or sensitive pets to consider, research has shown that many anti-flea products can be toxic not only to the pet but to humans as well. Many of these products contain organophosphates (OP’s), which are insecticides. There are not yet strict rules as to what these products cannot contain so it is up to the consumer to read the labels and make their choice. That is not to say all anti-flea products are toxic, demand for safer products is leading manufacturers to rethink their recipes. As with any chemical, you need to take care when using an anti-flea product, we often forget to remove the flowers, bird cages and fish bowls from the room when we use a spray.
To treat the outdoor areas (the garden) you can buy sprays and ‘crystals,’ care should be taken when using these so that they cannot contaminate a lake, pond or river. Special attention needs to be paid to the doorstep, patio and driveway and any spot where your pet dozes outside. The car is often overlooked, if you often have your pet in the car there may well be flea eggs in there, either way it is better to be safe than sorry! A good Hoover, spray and fumigation should do the trick just nicely. Plus it’s a great excuse to give the car a spit-shine!
Now we are ready to tackle the little wretches themselves. There are many de-flea options: collars, tablets, sprays, shampoos and powders. Critics say that the collars are pretty useless as a flea killer and it has been shown that they are toxic to humans and even pets. Many opt for anti flea medication, sprays and shampoos. Advantage and Frontline products are often highly recommended by pet owners and vets alike. It is important to note that battling fleas takes time, the fleas on your pet must come into contact with the anti flea product and absorb it. You may well see fleas on your pet several hours after you used the product. A thorough cleansing of the environment may also take several sweeps with the Hoover.
Why treat for fleas?
Apart from the allergy many pets have to fleas, if they are left untreated it can lead to very serious problems. Fleas multiply quickly, a mild infestation soon becomes a full on invasion which is anything but fun for the pet. Excessive flea biting can lead to over scratching as your pet tries to ease the pain/itch. This can then lead to sores, loss of hair and a severe skin infection. The flea is an important part of the tapeworm lifecycle, if your pet swallows a flea which contains an immature tapeworm your pet will have a new problem.
Anaemia is the lack of red blood cells which carry oxygen around the body and there is a very real risk of it developing if a flea problem goes untreated for a long time. It can cause breathlessness, weakness, high blood pressure and even heart failure. Anaemia is very dangerous in young kittens and puppies, it can kill within hours of first developing. As you can not use regular anti flea treatments on such young animals they must be brought to the vet as soon as you notice they may have fleas.