It goes without saying that flea bites are itchy but did you know fleas can also transmit tapeworm to your pets, be responsible for Flea Allergic Dermatitis (FAD) and even cause anaemia in young animals.
Read on to find out more about fleas and what you can do to keep your beloved pet happy and healthy.
Fleas and Their Lifecycle – It might make your skin crawl…
The lifecycle of a flea can be separated into 4 stages - see illustration below
Eggs, laid by the adult female, can be produced in very high quantities – up to 50 per day. (Meaning that your average adult female flea could lay up to 2000 eggs over its lifespan!!!) These eggs end up in your house (carpets, bedding etc.) – don’t think you’re safe with floorboards – fleas can develop in cracks between floorboards too!
Larvae and pupae mostly develop in the home environment. Pupae can hatch in as few as 14 days but may lie dormant for many months if conditions aren’t right. Dormant pupae can be awoken by vibrations or change in temperatures which is why a seemingly empty house can suddenly have a raging flea problem when people move in.
Unfortunately, the fleas that we can sometimes see on our pets only account for 5% of the flea population… The other 95% are the eggs, larvae and pupae developing in the house.
Treatment Options – Not all flea products are created equal!
Treatments vary in how they work from repellants (least effective) to growth regulators and insecticides (flea killers – most effective).
• Safety first! Only use products that have good proven safety margins and follow the packet instructions (i.e. don’t use products designed for dogs on cats). Please never use products containing permethrins on cats.
• A flea products active constituent(s) varies from brand to brand, as can the efficacy. The best products (below) break the flea life cycle.
• Some flea products treat more parasites than just fleas (see below)
• A lot of flea products help to kill fleas in the environment as well (e.g. Advantage and Advocate)
Here’s a table of reliable, effective and very safe flea products commonly used on cats and dogs, and what they’re effective against.
Broadline Comfortis Frontline plus Revolution Seresto (Flea collar)
Adult flea ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓
Flea egg ✓ ✓ ✓
Flea larvae ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓
Ticks ✓ ✓ ✓(dogs)
Lice ✓ ✓ ✓
Hookworm ✓ ✓
Roundworm ✓ ✓ ✓
(The active ingredients in each are at the bottom in case you’re interested)
These are very easy to use as either a spot-on application, chewable tablet (Comfortis) or collar (Seresto) and are rapidly acting.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of products available but in my opinion these are the best currently available. Some others are available but may be unsuitable for cats AND dogs, more difficult to administer and may be less effective or less safe.
Prevention - Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do…
Because of the flea lifecycle, it could take 6-8 weeks or more to go from picking up a flea or two to seeing a significant flea problem. Regular thorough vacuuming has been shown to help significantly in reducing the numbers of all flea life stages.
Regular use of safe, effective flea killers (table above) will help to keep flea problems at bay. It is worth sticking to the manufacturers recommendations for repeat dosing because this keeps an optimal level of efficacy. If you have more than one pet (cats, dogs or a mix), it’s important to keep all them treated because fleas aren’t picky about a host (& remember to buy a species specific treatment).
As vets, we commonly hear from pet owners they will only treat when they see a flea… Whilst this is an option, it is definitely not recommended. Bear in mind how advanced the flea population is likely to be at that stage, more often than not it’ll require more than just animal flea products to control it (see house treatment below).
Treating the House – Remember all those nooks and crannies…
The most effective house treatment I have found is Indorex, which comes as a spray or a fogger (bomb). This is by no means the only one but it is the one I have used personally and that I have recommended for the last 7 years in practice. The whole house must be treated. Always follow the manufacturers instructions when using these, especially taking care with fish, birds or if you or someone in the house has asthma.
A few other steps you can take:
• Vacuum thoroughly and regularly especially areas where pets sleep, jump down onto and under furniture
• Wash pet bedding regularly on as high temperature as you can
• Use dehumidifiers as most lifecycle stages rely on higher humidity to survive
Flea Myths – I like my old wives tales with a pinch of salt…
I’ve heard a few misconceptions from some pet owners regarding fleas in my 13 years in practice. Some are odd, some silly and some are plain dangerous. Be cautious with what you hear and believe. Ask your veterinarian if you are concerned.
“I give them garlic” – NOT RECOMMENDED – garlic, along with onions and anything else from the Allium family are potentially toxic to dogs and cats. Oh, and it doesn’t work
“No fleas, it’s winter” – whilst its true that fleas prefer temperatures in the 21-30˚C range, most people use heating in winter which means fleas can be a problem year round
“He’s not got fleas, I would’ve seen them” – Maybe if your pet is a furless species you could say this with confidence… then again, at that time there may just be no visible fleas. Remember 95% of the flea population live in the environment!
“No fleas, I’m usually the first to be bitten” – Whilst fleas aren’t very host specific, generally they will stick to dogs and cats unless there is no room at the inn
“We use a flea collar” – Most flea collars contain flea repellants, not killers. The only flea collar that I would recommend is Seresto by Bayer
“My cat/dog mainly lives outside so wont get fleas” – whilst certainly there may potentially be more fleas inside they do live outside as well
Active Ingredients by Product:
Advantage – Imidacloprid
Advocate – Imidacloprid + moxidectin
Broadline – Fipronil + (S)-methoprene+Eprinomectin+Praziquantel
Comfortis – Spinosad
Frontline Plus – Fipronil + (S)-methoprene
Revolution – Selamectin
Seresto – Imidacloprid+flumethrin