None of us want to give our pets unnecessary medication- it can be a hassle, we don’t like the thought of all the chemicals, and costs can really mount when there’s several pets in the house. However, the majority of pets do benefit from flea treatments, even if they don’t appear to be infested with fleas. It is also far easier- and less expensive- to prevent an infestation than it is to treat one.
It can be very difficult to tell whether your pet has fleas. Unless they are allergic, many pets will carry a small flea burden without any outward signs. They might itch more than usual, or chew the base of their tail, but many will simply put up with it and not behave any differently to normal. You might see fleas on your pet, but unless they have thinning or white fur they can be very difficult to see. The most obvious sign in most pets is a dusting of dark dandruff, or ‘flea dirt’, but even this can be hard to see without a flea comb.
The Flea Lifecycle
Flea dirt is flea poo. It is produced by the adult fleas whilst they feed off your pet. They jump onto your pet to feed, and back off again when they’re done- one of the reasons it is rare to see fleas on your pet. They spend the rest of the time living in your house- in your carpet, between your floorboards, under furniture, or inside curtains- where they lay eggs which hatch into larvae. These larvae cannot jump, so they depend on finding food in the environment. They eat the eggs of other fleas, as well as the flea dirt. When it comes time for them to moult into adults they cocoon themselves in dirt, dust, and hair, and emerge days to months later ready to feed on any passing mammals. This pupal stage is well protected and they can remain in their pupae for several months if they want to, making an established infestation very difficult to clear.
Types of Flea Treatment
There is a huge range of flea products available and it can make it difficult to decide what is best to use. Your vet is the best person to discuss the pros and cons of each product with you and find the solution that meets your needs.
Many flea products are spot-on solutions. These are available from shops, pharmacies and from us- with one big difference. The majority of the spot-ons available from the shops and pharmacies only repel fleas, they don’t kill them- they are therefore no use when the pet and house are already infested. Those flea-killers available from the pharmacy are often ineffective due to incorrect use or resistance- another reason it is sensible to talk to us about which products you plan to use. Some can also be fatal if applied to the wrong pet. We have excellent and safe spot-ons available which are guaranteed to work, and our vets and nurses are more than happy to talk to you about these products if you have any questions.
The majority of flea collars provide a weak repellent effect and are not usually much use in preventing or removing an infestation. They may also be unsafe for cats if they don’t have a quick-release function. If a collar is the only way you can protect your cat- perhaps they are semi-feral and anything that needs to be re-applied regularly is a problem- then please ask us about the best products to use- we are more than happy to advise.
Some flea products are tablets. These can vary from single-day killing power to three months protection depending on the active ingredient, so be sure you know what it is that you’re buying.
There are also sprays and bombs available for the house. These can be excellent at killing larvae and helping to speed up the process of getting rid of an infestation but, as always, some products are far better than others. Most sprays work for 6-12 months once applied, but be sure to check the label, and be warned that some sprays are poisonous to cats.
Are there pets that don’t need flea protection?
It is best to discuss preventative flea and worming treatments with your vet in order to get the right product for you and your pet. Some low-risk pets might not need year-round treatment or might get on better with a different product to make treatment easier. However, on the whole, it is best to treat your pet regularly for fleas- even if you think they don’t have a problem.