These creatures can be a real nuisance, and unfortunately if they are left too long, you could be dealing with an infestation. It is a good idea to know how to effectively manage fleas and successfully get rid of them if you are dealing with an infestation.
So what are fleas?
Fleas will latch onto animals of all kinds, e.g. rabbits, hedgehogs, cats and dogs. Cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis) and dog fleas (Ctenocephalides canis) are the most common types of fleas, however there are also rabbit fleas (Spilopsyllus cuniculi).
They are small insects with very strong high legs modified for jumping. Fleas will burrow themselves in your pet’s hair, and bite and feed on your pet’s blood, multiplying until there is an infestation. An infestation of fleas can be very detrimental to your pet’s health, as well as being an annoyance in your home as they will also often bite humans.
What would a flea look like?
You are likely to spot a flea within the adult stage of the lifecycle. These very small, wingless insects have six legs and are just a few millimetres, and typically look like a brown spot within your pet’s fur. Their strong hind legs mean they can jump at least 8 inches, more than high enough to jump onto your pet.
Pets can catch fleas in a number of ways – from the environment while outside on walks, from other animals and wildlife, from other pets in the home, or from fleas that are hatching within their home environment.
Let’s look at the Flea Life Cycle
Fleas are active all year round from January to December. They thrive in warm conditions during the summer months, but also in winter months due to central heating in homes.
The life cycle of a flea consists of four stages
The Flea Eggs
The female flea will typically stat laying eggs within 24-48 hours of finding their new host, and can lay anywhere from 25-50 eggs per day! Any eggs that are laid will drop off the hosts and land into surfaces such as carpets, rugs and your pet’s bedding. Once they are laid it can take around 2-5 days for them to hatch. These eggs are very hard to notice with the naked eye as they are incredibly small, but will look like small and white specks, typically found near flea ‘dirt’ which is dropped by the adult fleas.
The Flea Larvae
When the eggs are ready, they will hatch and begin feeding on the flea dirt left behind by the adult flea. This will occurs within carpets, rugs or your pet’s bedding. The larvae will appear maggot-like, and grow anywhere between 1-5mm in size. This part of the lifestyle depends on the right conditions and nutrition, and can vary from 5-21 days.
The Flea Pupae
When the larvae have developed, they will enter the pupae stage by spinning a cocoon around themselves. In the most ideal conditions, they can stay in the phase for 8-13 days. However, they can also remain in the stage of the lifecycle for up to around 30 weeks within carpets and soft furnishings. This is why many pets may find flea infestations returning despite treatment, as each stage of the life stage needs treating to stop the infestation.
The Adult Flea
When the flea emerges from the pupae stage, a new host will need to be found within a week or they will die. When fleas are present on your pet, they will begin feeding and you will notice small brown specks in your pet’s hair which is flea dirt. Typically, an adult flea can live for up to 100 days on a host.
Then the flea cycle begins again – so you can see how easy it is for an infestation to start if not treated quickly.
Environments which are warm and moist help the life cycle to develop much faster. The whole life cycle from egg to adult can take as little as two weeks and only 5% of the flea cycle is found on the pet alone.
Signs your pet has fleas
Fleas love to crawl to the base of your pet’s hair so they cannot be easily seen. Signs you may want to keep an eye out for may be itching, chewing, scratching, hair loss and irritated skin.
You can also look for flea dirt, which appears as tiny specks of brown. This can be easily confused with muck or dirt, so to determine if it is true flea dirt, use a damp paper towel and ruffle your pet’s hair near it so the specks fall onto the moist surface. If the dirt smears left are red, then it is flea dirt – this is only present with fleas around.
Should your pet be protect against fleas?
Yes! Fleas are a big nuisance and can greatly affect your and your pet’s life. As mentioned within the flea life cycle it can take as little as two weeks for the egg to hatch to an adult flea. With so many eggs hatching, you can imagine how quickly they can cause serious health issues.
Fleas will prefer an animal host, but they are more than happy to also bite humans. Fleas can carry tapeworm, so not only is your pet at risk of flea infestation but also tapeworm infestation. This is why pet should be treated not only for fleas but also worms as well. Speak to a member of our team to discuss the most appropriate parasite plan for your pet.
Prevention is better than cure when it comes to these pesky fleas.
Another consideration – ‘Flea Allergy Dermatitis’
This condition occurs when pets have an allergy to flea saliva, which flares up when your pet is bitten by fleas. In severe cases, this can occur from just one bite.
When the condition is left untreated, the pet will continue to scratch and bite at affected areas which will cause skin damage which can lead to fungal or bacterial infections. Symptoms can include discomfort, skin inflammation, hair loss, scabs and excessive scratching, biting and licking at inflamed areas. If you pet is experiencing these symptoms, please arrange a vet appointment for guidance.
The condition can be managed with an effective treatment and prevention plan.
So how can you tackle the problem?
Yes, flea infestations are not nice and not something anyone wants to have to deal with, however it can be treated and resolved with the right management. Typically, when there is a flea infestation, only the pet tends to be treated, but remember only 5% of the flea lifecycle occurs on the host.
How should I treat my pet?
Treating the host is considered the easy part of the eradication plan. There are many flea treatments available, and we understand this can seem very daunting. Products vary between spot-on, tablets and collars.
Certain products also have different a different legal category – meaning some can be sold at a local pet shop without prescription, while others need a prescription or must be purchased from your local vet practice. Products sold by veterinary practice contain active ingredients that need to be sold by vet, or sometimes a higher content of active ingredients. These products tend to have a quicker onset and in line with veterinary regulations a pet must be examined to ensure they are in good clinical health for them to receive an appropriate product. Our team are always happy to advise an appropriate product for your pet, so please do give us a call.
A single dose of a preventative product is unlikely to remove the issue permanently. We recommend that you continue to treat at the appropriate intervals as required for the product you are using to keep fleas at bay. Always make sure that you are treating all animals in the household, otherwise the fleas will continue to jump from one pet to the other.
How do I treat the rest of the flea lifecycle?
As mentioned, flea pupae can remain dormant for up to 30 weeks in soft furnishings, so it is important to treat the environment when an infestation occurs. It is also sensible to do this as a prevention, the frequency will depend on the household spray you are using.
A household spray works by killing fleas and stopping flea eggs and larvae from developing any further into the lifecycle. You need to treat every area of your house where fleas could be hiding to completely eradicate the problem as well as spraying areas such as your car if you pet travels in there regularly.
Your pet’s bedding should also be treated by washing it on a high heat. This will remove any fleas, eggs or larvae that have dropped into their soft beds or blankets.
I have treated my pet and there are still fleas!
Flea prevention products only work by the flea coming into contact with the skin or blood of your pet so they can be effectively treated. Meaning if you pet picks up any more flea friends, they will jump on your pet and still survive for a short time without feeding straight away, but they won’t be able to lay any eggs. Additionally, depending on the product you are using, they will likely have a kill time once a flea has ingested the active ingredient and therefore fleas could be seen within this time period.
Pupae as mentioned can lay dormant where an infestation is present and therefore you may feel like this issue has been resolved until these start hatching again.
Other considerations could be that your pet has not received the full dose of the flea treatment so they are not adequately protected, or they may need a stronger product to eradicate the problem.
How long does it take to resolve a flea infestation?
There is no easy fit unfortunately. Based on the flea lifecycle, it can take a minimum of three months to completely get rid of an infestation as you need to break this pattern. Within the pupae stage, the cocoon protects the larvae so flea treatment cannot take effect – remember this is the stage that can lay dormant for as long as 30 days. Therefore, after an infestation it is important to ensure you do not miss any repeat treatments your pet needs.
The best prevention plan
The best course of action is always prevention to minimise the likelihood of a flea infestation, as you have read by now infestations are hard to tackle and often take a long time to resolve.
Therefore, it is best to ensure that fleas cannot develop in your home, by ensuring your pet is treating frequently as advised by the flea treatment manufacturer, wash your pet’s bedding on a high heat regularly, bathe and brush your pet regularly and check routinely for any evidence of fleas.