Fleas are common in households with cats and dogs, or in homes where pets used to live (as flea cocoons can remain dormant for over two years). Fleas live in bedding, upholstery and carpets and will jump on pets or humans to feed on their blood. The most common flea in both cats and dogs is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis). Most cats and dogs will suffer from a flea infestation at some point during their lives.
- Irritation particularly on the lower back area above the tail
- Small specks of grit (flea dirt).
What causes flea bites?
There are many species of flea - most are 2-3mm long and red or brown in colour. Flea larvae feed on organic matter in upholstery and carpets while adult fleas feed on blood which they get by piercing the skin of animals or humans.
Cat fleas are the commonest kind of fleas in the UK and are often found in carpet and pet bedding. These don't live on people but will jump up and bite humans who get close enough. This is why most flea bites occur on the feet or lower legs, or sometimes on the hands if you get bitten while stroking a pet.
Fleas survive by ingesting the blood from your pet several times a day.
To effectively treat fleas you need to treat both your pet and the immediate environment (such as pet bedding). There are numerous flea preparations. These come in the form of aerosols, powder, pump action sprays, insecticidal collars, spot-ons, tablets and shampoos. Some "spot-on" preparations will also kill ticks. It's best to ask your vet for the one that will suit your pet's needs.
Generally, topical products are used to kill adult fleas (adulticide) and an insect development inhibitor (or growth regulator) is used to prevent the eggs from developing into adults. Oral suspensions are very effective. 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).
Drop-ons are more immediate and easily applied in liquid form to the 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.
To treat the immediate environment use a designated aerosol spray and vacuum thoroughly including under skirting boards, under sofa cushions and your pet's bedding.
As fleas often carry tapeworm it is important to also treat your pet for tapeworms at the same time.
Vacuum carpets and furnishings thoroughly especially where your pet sleeps. Empty the vacuum with care as the fleas may still be alive. Wash pet bedding weekly in temperatures above 50°C to kill the fleas. Groom your pets regularly with a flea comb and consider replacing carpets with woods or laminates.