In some animals, fleas can also cause flea allergy dermatitis and what is often not known is they can transmit some pretty dangerous or unpleasant illnesses to your pet and your family.

“With the warmer weather upon us, flea infestations have typically increased and many people are now fighting these tiny dark brown insects on their animals, in their pet’s bedding and also in the home,” says Dr Craig Mincher, MD of Cipla Vet, a veterinary products company. “The problem here is that by the time fleas are visible on your pet, the infestation is undoubtedly either established or taking root somewhere in your home. It helps to know a bit about the flea lifecycle in order to combat these parasites.”

An adult flea may live for less than two months, however during that period a female flea can lay around 2 000 eggs. Those eggs will fall off into your pet’s bedding or around the home, with the larvae hatching around ten days later. These larvae then make their way to a dark, warm area where, feeding on ‘flea dirt’ (flea faeces comprising partly digested blood) they will grow and molt before spinning a cocoon in which they’ll mature to pupae in just under 2 weeks. Now they wait for signs that conditions are hospitable before hatching. When they detect that a host is near, through vibrations, carbon dioxide or warmth, they finish developing into an adult and emerge from the cocoon. With strong back legs, they can quickly jump from animal to animal and people. If conditions are inhospitable, for example temperatures are too cold or there is no host nearby, the pupa stage becomes dormant sometimes for up to over a year.

That’s why people returning from holiday often find hundreds of fleas attacking them. While they were away, all the eggs and larvae developed to the pupae stage and then became dormant. As soon as the ‘hosts’, the people, return from holiday and house is again occupied, the adult fleas all emerge simultaneously. In warmer or more humid parts of the country, fleas are a problem year round which is why treatment and prevention is so important.

“While the itching induced from flea bites is more than enough misery for your pet, for sensitive or flea allergic animals, itching from flea bites can cause hair loss, inflammation and skin infections,” says Mincher. “Fleas are also sometimes carriers of tapeworm. In large numbers they can even cause anemia in your pet which in severe cases can cause death.”

So how does one eradicate fleas? Spotting them isn’t too difficult. Dark brown / black in appearance and about the size of two pin heads, fleas are either visible running along your dog or cat’s skin although bear in mind that they don’t like light, so are best spotted in the furrier areas, on the stomach or inner thighs. Alternatively look for ‘flea dirt’ which resembles dark specks scattered on the skin. Fleas are quick to hide on your pet, so flea dirt may be the only sign you have that your animal has fleas, but if you have flea dirt, you have fleas.

Immediately start a comprehensive programme of treating your pet with an effective flea and tick product that kills fleas before they have a chance to lay eggs. A product containing fipronil, such as Cipla Vet’s Fiprotec, applied as topical drops or a spray, pools in the pet’s sebaceous glands and hair follicles killing fleas for weeks after application.

Constantly vacuum the areas your pet likes to occupy, including carpets, bedding and even your car if your best friend enjoys the occasional outing. Regularly wash your pet’s bedding and blankets in very hot water.

A critical part of controlling the fleas life cycle is ‘off the pet’ environmental control. For every one flea on your pet there will be up to 100 at various life stages within the environment. It is vitally important that a highly effective environmental spray, which will be available from your vet, is used. It needs to kill the adult fleas as well as prevent the larvae and eggs from reaching maturity. The most common reason for the presence of fleas while an ‘on the animal’ product is being used, is poor or no environmental control.

Mincher says the most common mistake people make is to only treat at the sight of fleas. “By the time the adult flea is on your dog you have a flea problem that, while starting small, can rapidly escalate to a major infestation. While administering flea and tick control products to your pet year round may seem expensive especially in the current financial climate, the good news is that there are some new releases on the market that are extremely cost effective, Cipla Vet’s Fiprotec is one example, so year round protection and prevention is easily affordable to most pet owners.

It’s far cheaper than having to fight off rampant flea problems or deal with the costs of skin infections, tapeworm problems or anaemia. Over and above that, if one just imagined what it would feel like being bitten repeatedly and itching morning, noon and night without reprieve, we’d never let our pets suffer that discomfort.”

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