Fleas can cause real problems for your pets but, luckily, they’re easy to prevent and regular flea treatment will help keep fleas at bay. Your vet can recommend the best products for your pet.
Whether your pet’s never had fleas and you want to keep it that way or your pet is suffering from a flea infestation, visit your vet to get advice on the best way to get on the right medication to prevent or treat the problem.
What are fleas and how are they spread?
Fleas are tiny insects that live on your pets and in the home. They are a common problem for cats and dogs and occasionally affect rabbits too. Fleas can make your pet itchy and uncomfortable – they regularly cause skin problems due to allergies in sensitive pets.
In the worst cases they can make your pet seriously ill. Fleas feed on your pet’s blood so a very young, old or unwell pet can become dangerously anaemic if they become heavily infested with fleas.
Fleas are a problem all year round but especially during the warmer months. It is much easier to prevent an infestation than treat one, so use a preventive treatment regularly.
Fleas have several different stages in their lifecycle from eggs to adult. Most fleas don’t live on the pet but actually live in the environment, jumping off your pet to lay eggs in your home. They’re also hard to spot, so you might not know your pet has fleas until they start getting itchy skin (or you start getting bitten!). This is why, if your pet gets fleas, it’s important to treat all the pets they’re in contact with as well as your home. This sounds like a big job, but luckily it’s usually possible to get a flea infestation under control.
Some stages of the flea lifecycle can lay dormant in the environment for up to a year. Because of this, a common history for a pet getting fleas is people moving into empty houses. The central heating and vibrations ‘wake up’ the flea eggs or pupae in the carpets. Always treat new homes with a long-acting flea spray before you move in and also treat your home regularly. Your vet or vet nurse can advise which products are the best to use and how regularly you need to use them.
How to prevent fleas
- Treat all the pets in your home regularly (usually every month but some products vary so check the insert or ask your vet) with a suitable flea treatment.
- Regularly wash your pet's bedding on a hot wash to get rid of any flea eggs that might be lurking there.
- Use a long-acting household spray regularly.
Top Tip: Pets with fleas can also develop tapeworm, which is carried by fleas. Pets groom and swallow fleas with tapeworm eggs inside as part of the tapeworm lifecycle and these then develop into worms in your pet’s gut. If your pet has had fleas, use a worming treatment that covers for tapeworms as well as flea treatments.
Never use a flea treatment for dogs on your cat – this can be fatal. Many flea treatments for dogs contain permethrin. This chemical can be fatal to cats. Make sure you use a flea treatment specifically for cats and check all household flea sprays for permethrin before you use them around your cat.
Signs your pet has fleas - and how to treat them
If your pet has fleas, they may show no signs if they’re not allergic to them. You might see fleas themselves but they can be quite well-hidden, so you are more likely to see ‘flea dirt’ – small, dark flecks which is the fleas poo – on their fur and skin. Brushing their coat with a flea comb, especially around the their lower back, onto a wet piece of cotton wool, can show up this flea dirt, which you can tell apart from dirt as it will turn red as the blood in the flea poo dissolves into the water in the cotton wool.
If they have an allergy to fleas or have a lot of fleas biting them, they’re likely to:
- Be itching, chewing or licking more than normal.
- Have red and inflamed skin.
It can be difficult to get rid of a flea infestation and fleas can cause your pet real discomfort. It’s always best to prevent fleas by regularly giving your pet a suitable flea treatment.
If one of your pets does get fleas:
- Take them to your vet for advice.
- Treat all pets in your household to make sure fleas don’t pass from one pet to another.
- Hoover your home to get rid of any fleas in your furniture and carpets.
- Treat your home with a household flea spray to kill fleas and flea eggs. If you have cats, make sure this spray doesn’t contain permethrin as this chemical is toxic to cats.
You can find out more about fleas for each type of pet on our Pet Health Hub: