Itch-Festation – The Gruesome Truth About Fleas

Flea season is well and truly upon us. As the temperature starts to drop, households all over the UK will turn on their central heating which could prompt an ‘itch-festation’ to erupt in households across the nation. 

Lockdown was the perfect breeding ground for fleas. We enjoyed longer ­periods of time outdoors with our pets and vets were understandably prioritising emergency service treatments over routine flea and worming appointments. This meant that the risk of flea eggs being carried into our homes was very high.

And once hatched, those fleas are busy laying up to 50 eggs every single day all over our pooches and possessions…

Our visualisation shows just how quickly an Itch-Festation can take hold. Once you’ve got fleas within your home, it can take upto 90 days to get rid of them, based on the egg/pupae/larvae life cycle of the flea.  

Did you know: More than 95% of fleas don’t live on animals, but in wood floor crevices, carpets and soft furnishings. And they can remain alive in the cracks for up to two years.

And we’re only just scratching the surface 

The researchers here at tailored dog food company tails.com have crunched the numbers to reveal just how many of these little blood-suckers you could have lurking in your carpets, curtains and your poor pooch’s fur.  

Did you know that after just 38 days there could be 74,132 fleas living in your home. The total of blood sucked by this number of fleas amounts to 516ml just over the average size of a bottle of pop.

In just 43 days over seven pints of blood will be sucked by 514,332 fleas. Fast forward to 55 days an astonishing 5,412,732 fleas could be living in your home, slurping 37.7 litres of blood.

Spotted a flea? There’s 100 more where that came from

Only one in every 100 fleas ever is seen by a pet owner, so whilst you might say you have seen between 10-15 on your pet – there’s likely to be many more lurking.

Although you may have spotted just one flea on your pet, this one flea could lay up to 2,000 eggs. As research suggests that only one in every 100 fleas are ever seen by pet owners there could be so many more fleas lurking in your home. For example, 100 fleas could lay up to 200,000 eggs. 

A warm summer has made matters worse

The flea population has spiked in ­recent years, with warm weather creating the ­perfect breeding ground. The warmer the weather, the faster flea eggs develop into adults. At a cool 13C it could take a flea egg 140 days to hatch, but when temperatures hit the mid-twenties (or when we turn the central heating on), it can take as little as 22 days.

Using temperature data from the Met Office, we’ve analysed when your pet could be most at risk of fleas, and it’s not just the middle of summer when you need to keep an eye out. 

Between December and February your pet will be at low risk of fleas, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be vigilant with their flea treatments as from March to June your pet will be at a medium risk of fleas. When summer arrives in July through to November this is when your pet is most likely to be at high risk of fleas. 

UK’s most-searched questions about fleas

We’ve made an appointment with Google to reveal the pet owners in the UK making the most flea related searches. From flea bites to flea treatments, this map reveals the cities worried most about fleas. 

According to Google, these six flea related questions are the most searched in the UK, with a combined total of 51,500 searches every month. Flea bites top the list, followed by dog flea treatment and flea eggs.

Based on our findings it’s apparent that the South West parts of the UK are turning to Google for answers on how to treat fleas. Liverpool is the number one city in the UK with a crazy 35,000 searches for ‘flea bites’ each month. This is followed by Cardiff searching for ‘Flea Spray for Home’ with 27,200 searches. Birmingham has the lowest searches with 5,700 on ‘Dog Flea Treatment’ every month. 

Top vet explains how to get rid of fleas for good

Tails.com Head Vet Sean McCormack warns that missed flea treatments in lockdown could be leading to a bigger problem as we spend even more time keeping warm indoors over the winter. 

There are many reasons for itching so how do we know fleas are the cause? 

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. 

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 it on wet cotton wool, it will ‘bleed’ into the surrounding area as it is made up of digested blood. 

Top Tip: If your pooch has itchy or sensitive skin and you’re sure it’s not fleas, then it can often be caused by environmental allergies (e.g. pollen, mould, dust mites)  and/or food allergies,  which are the least common cause. Look for hypoallergenic food blends or dog food for sensitive skin to see if that can help solve the itchy issue.  

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 fully-grown adult fleas, whereas others are also effective against flea eggs too. The best advice is to speak to your vet who will be able to suggest a product suited to your dogs needs. 

Top Tip: Fleas can also transmit tapeworm so it is important to use an effective prescription wormer against tapeworms at the same time as your flea treatment.

Do I have to treat my home for fleas as well?

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’s the perfect environment. 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. 

Top Tip: 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. If your pet spends a lot of time in your car, it’s also worth giving that a good clean too.

What flea treatments are the most effective?

Most flea products are a liquid spot-on medication which is applied to the skin on the back of your dog’s neck, but application errors can be an issue with these treatments, and if it rains the product can wash away before it has a chance to be effective. 

Top Tip: It is best to seek advice from your vet and ask them to prescribe a treatment that best matches your dog’s specific issues. 

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.

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.

Why does my dog keep getting fleas?

New waves of flea infestations can occur many weeks later if eggs, larvae and pupae are not cleaned properly.  This is why it is crucial to treat your dog and home at the same time with proven treatments and effective cleaning. 

If you’re finding fleas on your dog despite using a flea treatment, here’s some of the most common reasons:

Medication choice:

There’s a bewildering array of products out there for getting rid of fleas; collars, flea spray, spot-on medications, shampoos, flea powder, even flea bombs! Which works? The short answer: ask your vet.

Prescription flea treatments tailored to your pet’s needs and circumstances are far more effective than many ‘over the counter’ products. 

Application error:

With spot on treatments, application of liquid to the skin is crucial. If most of the vial is squeezed on the coat rather than the skin by carefully parting the hair, then it won’t be as effective. Or only effective for a short period of time, leaving your pet prone to fleas before their next dose is due.

Wash off effect:

Have you washed your stinky hound after they’ve rolled in something pungent recently? Maybe they’ve had a dive in the river, or a dance in the rain? If you applied flea treatment just before, there’s a high chance it’s now been washed off before it can be fully absorbed.

Flea eggs lurking in your home: 

Maybe you’ve suddenly noticed your dog scratching, and found fleas. But every day you’re finding more despite treating. Surely that must mean it’s not working? Actually, adult fleas on dogs are the tip of the flea iceberg. Chances are there’s hundreds more flea eggs and larvae in the environment, which continue hatching out weeks after an infestation is first noticed.

Using a treatment from your vet AND treating the environment at the same time is the only reliable way to tackle a sudden or heavy infestation. Even with effective flea prevention for dogs, you might see dead or dying fleas for a while afterwards.

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