Dealing with fleas

What to do when your cat or dog gets fleas.
Written by Mayhew team
Updated 3 years ago

What are fleas?

Fleas are small insects, known as ectoparasites, that bite to feed on the blood of their host. They can easily jump from animal to animal, or animal to human, and their bites can cause small red bumps to appear, which are very itchy. Fleas are active all year round but become a much larger problem during the summer months. They have different life stages from hatching out of an egg to becoming a full-grown adult. Fleas will spend majority of their time in a surrounding environment instead of on the animal, laying their eggs around the house and lying dormant for up to a year in floorboards, carpets and furniture.

How will I know if my pet has fleas?

There are a few tell-tale signs of fleas, such as:

  • Itching/scratching with the focus areas being the neck and base of tail
  • Biting/chewing the skin
  • Small red spots or scabs all over your pet’s body
  • Physically seeing the fleas in the fur
  • ‘Flea dirt’ in the fur (small black specs of dirt, seen when combing their fur)

These are only some of the signs. If your pet is showing any of these signs, it could be fleas, or they could have a skin condition. If you are at all concerned about your pet’s skin, or if you do think they have signs of fleas, please seek veterinary advice.

Why does my pet need flea treatment?

As you can imagine fleas can be very uncomfortable for your pet to carry around in their fur. Being constantly itchy and having to scratch at their skin is not a pleasant experience for them or for you to witness as an owner.

Some pets can be very sensitive to flea saliva, which can cause a very severe and uncomfortable skin reaction called flea allergic dermatitis. Very young or older pets can also be at higher risk of developing anaemia caused by fleas feeding on their blood.

Indoor pets should still be treated for fleas, as although they don’t go outside, you still do. Flea and flea eggs can be brought in from outside on clothing or from another pet that does go outside.

How do I treat my pet for fleas?

The best way to deal with fleas is to treat your pet monthly, as it is much easier to prevent a flea infestation than to treat one.

Although there are various flea treatment’s available, we recommend using a prescription medication from your veterinary practice wherever possible. Your pet must be seen regularly by a veterinary surgeon to have this dispensed for you. They will ensure your pet is healthy, and as the medication is dosed by weight, the veterinary surgeon will need an up-to-date weight to make sure the right dosage is dispensed.

There are many flea treatment products available in supermarkets and pet shops, but some of these products may not be as effective as those that your vet is able to prescribe. You must not use any flea or worming products on a different species than they are designed for, such as using a cat flea treatment for a dog or vice versa. Use of the wrong flea or worming treatment, or strength of medication, can have serious side effects for your pet. The advice of a veterinary professional will ensure you use the treatment best suited to your pet.

I’ve used a flea treatment product but I can still see fleas!

There are many reasons as to why you might still see some fleas after treating your pet.

  • Flea treatments wont necessarily kill the fleas instantly. Most take around 24 hours to work but this does vary between products.
  • Your application method may not be quite right. Make sure to closely follow the instructions on the packaging. If you’re having trouble with this, we recommend booking an appointment with a veterinary nurse as they can demonstrate the application process for you.
  • Washing your pet or letting them play in water before the product has had time to work. It normally takes around 24 hours to sink in so avoid water after application.
  • As fleas spend the majority of their time in the home environment, you may need to treat your house as well as your pet.
    In a multi-pet household, all animals need to be treated otherwise the fleas can pass between pets.

We always recommend speaking to your veterinary team if you have any concerns about the treatment you’re using not working. 

How to treat my household for fleas?

As fleas spend the majority of their life stages in the surrounding environment, treating your pets alone will not rid your house of fleas. If you’ve recently moved into a new environment that previously housed pets, it is best to treat the environment before introducing your pets. An empty house is perfect for dormant fleas as they can survive without a host for up to a year!

We recommend getting a domestic flea spray to use on all floors, sofas and bedding. Always follow the directions on the product closely. In particular, many household sprays can be harmful to aquatic life so be sure to remove any fish tanks from the area before treating.

It may take a couple of repeated treatments to tackle them. Make sure to throw away the hoover contents after hoovering up during the treatment process as this will ensure no fleas are left behind in the house. Anything that can be placed through the washing machine should be, and they should all be washed on at least 60 degrees to kill off any remaining fleas.

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