Here comes summer – and fleas. Both pets and their humans can start to feel the itch when fleas come into their own in mild, damp weather.
It’s estimated that 95% of flea eggs, larvae and pupae live in the environment, and not on your pet, according to the RSPCA.
So when you get in your bed, think about the last time you changed your sheets because this is one of the places they can thrive, along with rugs, carpets and skirting boards and furniture.
Yet pets can get fleas even if you live in the most spotless home, the RSPCA points out. Flea eggs can lie dormant for long periods until a change in temperature, such as the start of summer, or when you switch on the central heating in autumn, spurs them into life.
Mark Spurlock, flea expert for pet healthcare company Bob Martin Clear, offers the following advice.
How do you spot fleas on your pets?
“If they’re scratching, but you’re not sure if it’s fleas, comb them with a flea comb on to some white paper. If you see flecks of black which change to red when you wet the paper this is flea dirt and there will be fleas around even if you can’t see them.
“Alternatively, wear a pair of white socks and walk around the areas of your home where your pets spend most of their time. If you see black specks on the soles of the socks, which may dissolve to red in water, then you know you need to treat your home for fleas too.”
Can humans give pets fleas or is it always the other way round?
“Humans are very unlikely to bring flea eggs and larvae into the home, but cats and dogs, especially those that hunt, need vigilant flea control all year round. It’s possible for us all to pick up eggs and ‘carry’ them to a new location so all-round prevention and treatments are best.”
How do fleas affect humans?
“Not all people are sensitive to flea bites, but some will have a reaction, typically small and itchy red lumps on the skin, or in rare instances, a more serious reaction. Any reaction is always best checked out by a medical professional.”
What problems can fleas cause pets?
“Cats and dogs can suffer from sensitivity to flea bites known as flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). It’s the fleas’ saliva that causes a reaction, so it is important that any treatment used kills the fleas on contact, not when they bite, to reduce the risk of a pet suffering a reaction. If an animal has fleas, they are also likely to have tapeworm since this worm is spread by fleas.
"Fleas feed on blood, so young or frail animals can become weak as a result of blood loss.”
How fast do they multiply?
“A female can lay up to 50 eggs per day and 1,500 in a lifetime. These eggs drop off the animal, form a larvae and then an adult flea. This cycle can occur in as little as three weeks. It doesn’t take long for a flea population to build up in your house.”
How do we get rid of them?
“There are lots of flea products available for dogs and cats, particularly in the form of easy to use spot-on solutions. Different animals have different sensitivities, so there are plenty of options to choose from. Effective treatments can be bought in supermarkets and pet shops as well as from the vet.”