Flea (and tick) control

As the weather warms up, most cat and dog owners will notice that their pets begin to itch and scratch. However, when asked about flea treatment in the consult room, many people  reply “my cat/dog has no fleas” – an understandable response given that most of the time we do not see fleas on our pets. On closer examination though, there  might be tiny black specks throughout the animal's coat (called "flea dirt" which is  actually flea faeces or poop), which is a clear indication that there are fleas present. In addition, there may be bald patches, a dull hair coat or some flaking of the skin.

So why do some animals scratch while others are totally unaffected? Many dogs and cats are actually allergic to the flea bites and will become itchy soon after being bitten. Only a few bites are needed to start the itch/bite/scratch cycle and often you may not even see the fleas that start of the problem. However, once the animal starts to scratch, he or she aggravates the skin, it becomes more irritated and a vicious cycle begins so that there is hair loss and inflamed skin and eventually a very irritated pet!

How do we treat the problem? Once the skin has become irritated and inflamed, often even infected, we will need to put the animal on medication that will help treat the infection and relieve the itching. However it is preferable that we do not get to that stage in the first place. This can be achieved by regular and all year round flea treatment.

Never say that your pet has no fleas! We live in an area where there is a lot of wildlife and this wildlife carries fleas. The fleas feed on the wildlife (rabbits, foxes, roos, pigeons) and then continue their life-cycle in the environment (eg the soil where they survive for long periods of time). Even if your pet has no direct contact with the wildlife, he or she is still likely to pick up fleas from the soil. It's virtually inevitable where we live and prevention is the best strategy for the health of your pet (especially if your pet is allergic to fleas!), the health of your family and for your pocket!

Facts about fleas:

• it is the most common and successful parasite of dogs and cats

• it is  difficult to control without a planned approach

• it is the most common cause of allergic skin conditions in dogs and cats

• animals that are allergic to the flea saliva can show skin problems despite no apparent evidence of fleas

• fleas come from an infested environment, not animals

• one flea infested 'hot spot' area, not treated, may be enough to cause major problems

• treat all animals in the household as well as the areas where they sleep

• maintenance is important to avoid re-infestation from external sources

• once hatched, fleas must feed, so they actively seek a host

• a female flea lays 5-20 eggs at a time and 400-500 during her lifetime

• they leave dark grit on the host (digested blood) as food for the young

• most of the life cycle is spent away from the host

• the entire life cycle is 3 weeks to a few months, depending on temperature and humidity

• they can jump long distances and readily attach themselves to animals moving through infested environments

• flea eggs are laid on the host and roll off into the environment and hatch in 1-10 days

• flea larvae move away from light and traffic areas, live under furniture, in carpets/cracks/soil and especially near where your pet lies and sleeps (this stage lasts between 5-11 days) and are killed by heat and drying

• pupae may live several centimetres below the soil, carpets etc where they are protected, need warm and moist conditions when they emerge in 5 days and peak at 8-9 days, and are difficult to control

• pupae can survive for up to 140 days in the environment

• pre-emerged adults hatch when stimulated, for example vibration, which results in "plagues" after you return from holidays and can hatch in less than one second!!!

There are many types of flea treatments available including collars, powders, rinses, shampoos, sprays, spot-ons or tablets. At best, each has its’ advantages and disadvantages, but at worst, some of them are highly ineffective at preventing or controlling the problem and therefore a waste of your money!

We will gladly help you find a product that helps you prevent and control fleas effectively on your pets and in your environment, and we will tailor our advice to your and your pet's unique circumstances.