Fleas are most often seen during the warmer months but as we keep our homes nice and warm throughout winter, we see fleas all year round. Only a small part of the adult flea population actually lives on your pet. Incredibly, only 5% of the flea population is found on your dog or cat, with the remaining 95% hiding in the surrounding environment - both indoors and outdoors, basically anywhere your animal spends time.
The fleas’ eggs and larvae live in the environment and can survive for up to a year, so it is important to not only treat your animal directly for fleas but also decontaminate the environment as well. Wash your pet’s bedding using the hottest cycle and regularly vacuum/clean carpets. We do not recommend flea collars or flea shampoos alone as they fail to address the environmental flea infestation.
Fleas will tend to jump onto your pet only to feed and then jump off again. Dogs and cats can have a reaction to flea saliva resulting in a skin condition called Flea Allergy Dermatitis or FAD. Treatment of FAD can be complicated and veterinary consultation is recommended.
Some signs that your pet may have fleas include:
Scratching, biting and hair loss, especially at the base of the tail and rump
You may see fleas (especially over the rump and in the groin region)
It can be difficult to find the fleas, but is relatively easy to check for flea dirt. Simply moisten a cotton ball, part your pet’s fur and place the cotton ball on the skin over the rump. If the cotton ball takes on black specs surrounded by a reddish area, this may be flea dirt and can indicate that your pet has fleas.
Stages of the flea life cycle
To make our pet’s lives more comfortable we need to;
1. Kill the adult fleas (on and off your animal)
2. Eliminate the developing stages in the environment
Flea control on your animal
There are so many products on the market it can be difficult to know what to use.
We advise regular treatments with any of the new generation products (Frontline Plus, Advantage, Revolution, Advocate, Advantix (dogs only), Permoxin rinse (dogs only) and Capstar tablets), to kill the adult fleas on your dog or cat. It is very important to continually reapply as directed, as their effectiveness will diminish after a period of time allowing the fleas to build up again.
If possible, it is best to apply these products all year round to prevent sudden population explosions as the weather warms up (indoor heating during winter allows continued flea development throughout the year).
It is important to note that these products are not repellents, they are contact insecticides that will kill the adult fleas on your pet before they start to lay eggs (< 24 hours). You may occasionally see the odd flea on your pet, but these fleas are likely to be dead the following day. The fleas that you might see subsequently are new fleas (from eggs laid last month) that are emerging daily and jumping onto your pet (i.e. different fleas).
Some fleas may slip through the system (eg if it has been 3 - 4 weeks since treatment and your pet has been bathed a lot, gone swimming or been accidentally under dosed), so it is important to stop these fleas from breeding as soon as possible by reapplying a flea treatment.
Flea collars and shampoos are poorly effective. Fleas in contact with the shampoo are killed but after rinsing off, fleas in the environment will jump straight back on. Flea combing is also ineffective - unless you comb 24 hours a day!
Flea control in the environment
Since 95% of the flea population lives off your pet, treating the environment is absolutely essential. Pets acquire fleas primarily from infected premises (house or garden), so by using a combination of monthly topical treatments that kill the adult fleas on your pet, as well as products to stop the fleas from breeding in the environment, you will be rapidly clearing the flea infestation.
Things you can do to get rid of fleas in the environment faster
Regularly vacuum the entire house (carpets, floor-boarded areas especially) and furniture (both above and below). This may mean up to 3 times a week in bad infestations
Wash pet’s bedding in HOT water (>60°C) weekly (laundry detergent is adequate)
Block off under the house to prevent dogs and cats from getting under there
Identify the favourite spots your animal likes to spend time and concentrate there
Treat all pets at the same time; try and limit stray dog/cat access to your property or treat the stray as well if possible
Pest control sprays on soil/garden areas (make sure an Insect Growth Regulator (IGR) is used which will destroy the developing stages not just the adult fleas)
Supermarket sprays for the house containing IGRs such as methoprene or fenoxycarb can also be effectively used around the house for mild to moderate flea infestations. Remember to spray anywhere the animal goes especially beneath furniture! Never spray your animals with these products.
Fleas hatch with carbon dioxide (from us breathing), vibrations (us moving around) and warmth so flea bombing the house before going away is a waste of time - they’ll lie dormant and protected until you get back!
Flea Bite Hypersensitivity
Fleas cause flea allergy dermatitis which is a very common skin disease of dogs. It only takes one flea bite to expose a dog/cat to flea saliva and which can then set off an allergic reaction, causing scratching, redness and loss of hair, particularly near the tail base. Sometimes not a single flea can be found on these animals as your pet has spent a lot of time searching for it and removed it already!
If you are still having problems with fleas or want more information about products, please ask one of our friendly staff - we will endeavour to find the most suitable flea control for your household.
Warning: Some non-veterinary brands of flea treatments for dogs are potentially lethal when applied to cats. Always seek veterinary advice about the best flea treatments for your pet.
Please call us to discuss an appropriate flea control program for your pet.