Gianluca Barbato

Doctor Veterinary Medicine

Fleas are the most common parasite in dogs.

They are small, reddish-brown insects that eat blood of your pets.

Only the adult fleas live on your dog drinking its blood; the early stages live free in the environment, ie your home.

For every flea that you see running through your pet’s fur, there may be hundreds of young fleas waiting to jump aboard a passing pet – or if you are unlucky – onto you.

Life cicle of fleas

Adult fleas lay eggs in the pet’s fur. Each female flea can produce dozens of eggs every day. The eggs of fleas are pearly white in colour and about the size of a grain of salt. The eggs do not stick to the fur and soon fall off onto the floor.

After a few days, the eggs hatch into maggot like larvae which hide in your carpets, cracks in the floor or in your dog’s bedding. The larvae feed on dust and the droppings of adult fleas, which mostly consists of undigested blood.

After a time, the larva spins a cocoon in which it develops into an adult flea. They may stay in this resting stage for several months but finally the adult flea breaks out of its cocoon and crawls out of its hiding place to look for food. If it cannot find a dog or cat it can hop on to any warm-blooded animal that passes by, including humans.

Centrally heated homes provide ideal conditions for a flea to grow from an egg into an adult. The minimum time for the cycle is two and a half to three weeks, but young fleas can live for over a year before reaching maturity and getting back on your pet. Most adult fleas live for 2-3 months feeding – the females feed on blood from biting your pet.

Diseases related to fleas

Fleas are the most common cause of skin disease in cats and dogs. Fleas spit contains chemicals which stop blood clotting until the flea has finished feeding and these chemicals may cause an allergic reaction in your pet. Most animals are not affected by this allergy, but those which are suffer severe itching.

Dogs affected from allergic reaction lick and rub themselves, wearing away their fur and making their skin red and sore. Sometimes a crusty rash will develop. Allergies appear most often in summer when the flea population is greatest. Skin problems may continue long after the flea which caused it has gone but they should eventually disappear if you treat your pet to remove fleas and continue treatment to stop the fleas returning. In the short term your vet may prescribe drugs to stop the itchiness.

How can I get rid of fleas?

The secret of successful flea control is to treat both your pet and its environment with effective products which kill the adult and the immature fleas. There are a range of tablets, powders, sprays and shampoos to destroy the fleas in your pet’s fur. Not all products are equally effective and those you can get from your veterinary surgeon are usually much better than those sold in pet shops or supermarkets.

What is environmental flea control?

Treating the areas where your pet spends most of its time is also important – particularly the places it lies down to sleep. Washing your pet’s bedding in hot water will destroy the young fleas (but not the eggs) and vacuuming your carpets also helps keep the numbers down. Some products kill the flea itself and some prevent immature fleas from developing and reinfecting your pet in the future. Your vet can advise you on which product, or combination of products, to use. You must continue to treat your pet and your home all year round, even if you do not see fleas.

Conclusion

Fleas can be a real menace in centrally heated homes, particularly if you have more than one pet. Regular treatment with the products recommended by your vet should keep fleas under control all year round. Use your diary or calendar to note down when the next flea treatment is due and you don’t rely on your memory.