What are fleas?

Fleas are the most common external parasites for both cats and dogs. Adult fleas can live for seven to 14 days and will divide their time between living on your cat to feed and returning to the carpet to lay eggs. Females lay a large amount of eggs every day, which fall to the ground and hatch into tiny larvae that burrow into carpets and upholstery. They then develop into pupae, remaining dormant for many months. When they sense warmth and vibration, the adult fleas emerge and jump onto a passing host - your cat - to start the life cycle again.

How do I spot fleas?

The most obvious sign is persistent scratching. Fleas are dark brown and 1mm or 2mm long. You may find them - as well as tiny black specks of flea dirt - in your cat's coat during combing. High humidity and temperatures make late summer the peak season for fleas, but central heating in winter means you need to de-flea throughout the year.

Treatment

Use a combination of topical products to kill adult fleas (adulticide) and an insect development inhibitor (or growth regulator) to prevent the eggs from developing into adults.

Oral suspensions are very effective and generally safe for both weaned kittens and pregnant cats, but please check with your vet. These involve a liquid dose containing an insect growth inhibitor, which is fed to your cat once a month. When a flea bites your cat, it ingests the compound and becomes sterilised, stopping the flea life cycle. This is an environmental control only (the flea still lives on for seven to 14 days). You may also need to use a topical insecticide before starting the treatment.

Drop-ons are more immediate and easily applied in liquid form to your cat's neck once a month, via a small pipette. The liquid spreads over the body surface, killing fleas before they can lay new eggs. Other effective products include pumps, and sprays. We highly recommend Frontline, Advantage, Advantix, Advocate for the treatment of fleas, however you should consult with your vet on your pets condition first. There are number of products from Johnson’s Pet which can aid with the treatment too.

Always follow the manufacturer's instructions when using any anti-flea product, checking that it's safe for kittens, elderly, ill or pregnant cats where relevant - and never use a dog product.

Due to the nature of the problem, you'll need to treat your home as well as your cat or dog. For example, flea eggs can survive for long periods in carpets and cracks between the floorboards. Use a household flea spray, recommended by your vet, at least once a year. If you suffer an infestation, use your vacuum-cleaner to bring the eggs and immature fleas in your carpets and upholstery to the surface. Kill the fleas with a household spray so they stop hooking onto the carpet, and then re-vacuum. When you're finished, spray the vacuum cleaner with flea spray and throw away any vacuum bags. If you don't spray the vacuum cleaner, you run the risk of redistributing the same flea eggs back onto the carpet through the exhaust of the vacuum next time you use it.
 

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