- What are fleas?
Fleas are small, brown insects the size of a pinhead that live in your dog’s fur, feeding on their blood. They cannot fly but have large back legs and jump impressive distances. They are flattened in shape standing tall and narrow on six legs, allowing them to run through the hair coat. There are many species of flea, some very specific in their choice of host animal to feed from. Believe it or not, the most common flea we find on dogs is the cat flea.
- Where do they come from?
Fleas breed & develop in nests, beds and anywhere animals lie down. Adults live on the animal with juvenile stages (eggs, larvae, pupae/cocoons) normally scattered throughout the environment. Dogs pick up fleas directly from other animals or from areas where infested animals have been lying. If they bring home even a single adult flea, you can rapidly have a huge infestation to deal with.
- When is my dog most at risk?
Fleas can turn into a big problem for dogs in summer as they reproduce rapidly in warm, humid conditions, although it is possible to have a flea infestation at any time. With central heating and milder winters, fleas can survive and infest your home all year round.
- How do I know if my dog has fleas?
Your dog will usually start to scratch as flea bites are itchy. There are many reasons for itching though so how do we know fleas are the cause? You may see little insects scurrying through the coat when you part the hair, particularly around the back of the ears, groin, inner thighs and base of the tail. You may also see ‘flea dirt’ or faeces which appears as tiny black crumbs like black pepper. If you comb this out of the coat and place on wet cotton wool, it will ‘bleed’ into the surrounding area as it is made up of digested blood.
- How do I treat a flea infestation on my dog?
There are many products on the market for treating fleas, some more effective than others. Some products only kill or repel adult fleas whereas others are also effective against the juvenile stages in the environment. The best advice is to seek a prescription product from the vet suited to your dog’s needs. Because fleas also transmit tapeworm it is important to use an effective prescription wormer against tapeworms at the same time.
- Do I have to treat my home as well?
Because a single female flea can lay over 500 eggs in her lifetime and eggs can result in adult fleas within 14 days, the potential to develop an infestation is huge. Often by the time you notice adult fleas there may already be hundreds of eggs and larvae developing in your home on bedding, soft furnishings, carpets and flooring. It is crucial to treat the home environment at the same time as your dog to reduce the chances of another infestation several weeks later. Vacuuming the entire household, discarding the contents of the vacuum cleaner immediately in a sealed plastic bag, washing bedding on a high heat and using a spray in the home are vital to prevent reoccurrence.
- What products are effective?
Most flea products are a liquid spot-on medication applied to the skin on the back of your dog’s neck. There are many over the counter spot on products that are not as effective as prescription medicines. There has also been discussion recently about fleas becoming resistant to prescription medicines but it’s unclear if there truly is a resistance issue, as sometimes spot on treatments can fail for other reasons. Application error can be at fault, where the spot on solution isn’t applied to the skin but rather to the dog’s coat and wash off can also occur if the dog is bathed or gets wet soon after application. There are also oral products which have a rapid kill effect and are useful in heavy infestations or dogs that are experiencing allergic reactions to flea bites.
- How do I prevent my dog from getting fleas?
The best approach to prevention is the use of a reliable, monthly flea product from your vet. There are lots of anti-parasite medications available so it’s best to discuss your dog’s risk factors for other parasites such as lungworm and ticks and ensure your dog has full protection.
- I treated my dog for fleas several weeks ago, but now they are back. Why has the medication not worked?
Although sometimes medications can fail through resistance, incorrect application, under-dosing and so on, the most common reason to see fleas several weeks after initial control of an infestation is that environmental stages of the flea life cycle were not eliminated. New waves of flea emergence can occur many weeks later if eggs, larvae and pupae (cocoons) are left in the environment. This is why it is crucial to treat your dog and home at the same time with proven effective products.
- What problems can fleas cause if left untreated?
If fleas are left uncontrolled they will rapidly breed and cause a heavy infestation. They not only irritate your dog, causing itchiness, but suck their blood and can result in anaemia. In puppies and smaller dogs, flea bite anaemia can even prove fatal. Many dogs will develop a hypersensitivity or allergic reaction to flea bites, suffering from intense itching, hair loss and skin infections. Fleas prefer not to live on humans but can still bite us, so prompt treatment and ongoing preventive measures are strongly advised.