It happens occasionally but its embarrassing when it does. Standing talking to client you suddenly feel the urge to itch, you nip to the loo, look under you clothes and fine the offending spot – yep another flea bite. This summer has been the hottest for a long time and outdoor populations of fleas are surviving well and thriving. They wait for an animal to pass and jump on to have a good feed of blood. Unfortunately, that could be your dog, cat, rabbit or even yourself.
Fleas don’t live on the body but do rummage around in the fur for a while and will lay a massive number of eggs, up to 2000 over their lifetime. Only 5% of fleas are found on animals, a whopping 95% are found in the environment, not necessarily that warm grassy patch outside but the bedding, carpets, car seats, sofa or bed that your pet finds the most comfortable to lie on. It may be difficult to find fleas on your pet if there is a low infestation in your house. Just one flea running around is difficult to spot, especially in dark or long-haired breeds, so have a look at the thinner furred areas in the groin or armpits of your animal. A flea comb is handy and as you brush it through the fur you may pick up a flea but more often you find the tiny sooty grains that are flea poos. If you put them on a damp piece of cotton wool, they leak red blood.
Fleas infestations are much easier to get on top of nowadays with modern drugs. Prescription spot ons, tablets and collars are highly effective but if you have a severe flea burden at home then you will need to repeat treatments regularly to kill the emerging fleas and it can take a couple of months. A household spray to eliminate the fleas in the environment needs to be used in conjunction with your pet’s treatment. Even in winter there are still problems with fleas as the warmth of central heating keeps the indoor populations alive.
Remember that fleas can also pass on tapeworms. Fleas are involved in the life-cycle of the worm and when your pet grooms its fur it eats the flea and releases the tapeworm inside it.
Sometimes, as vets and vet nurses, we feel the little blighters land on us and take a bite because we can be handling animals with very heavy flea burdens and over the years we tend to develop psychosomatic itching. Even just writing this article has me scratching my head already – I’ll just pop to the mirror and just be doubly sure I’m flea free!