Animals – Fleas and their habits

We often have clients come in and tell us, I’ve already fleaed kitty or pup, but it’s still got fleas and itching! As vets, we have driven the point across many times: ensure you are treating all your pets in the house; ensure you are using a trusted product and at the right dosages for your pets’ weights; ensure you are redosing regularly when needed; and ensure that you are treating all year round.

If someone has done all of the above and still finding fleas, this doesn’t mean that the product is not working. Flea treatment does not prevent fleas from jumping on your pet, it kills them when the fleas are exposed to the treatment on them. If you notice fleas that are moving slower and are easy to catch on your pet, they likely are already in the process of dying after being exposed to treatment, but are relatively new critters that have jumped on them. Healthy fleas are way too fast to be caught.

It is also a good idea to check all your pets for flea dirt – just because live fleas are not seen, doesn’t mean they are not around. The best way to check for flea exposure is the paper towel test: use a flea comb to comb through the fur around your pet’s neck and rump, tap the combings onto a paper towel and wet it – if there are dark bits of dirt that turn red with water, that is flea dirt (it is actually digested blood) and is a sign of exposure to fleas.

The likely reason for treatment ‘failure’ is because there is a flea infestation in the environment. Fleas lay their eggs on the host pet and the eggs fall off into the environment, which can include carpets, under the house, between floorboards, cushions, pet bedding, the list goes on. They hatch and grow until the adult flea stage where they then jump back onto a host pet, completing the cycle. The environment must be treated to clear an infestation. This includes vacuuming every few days, washing or replacing pet beddings, flea-bombing the house, treating carpets and rooms with an insect growth regulator flea fogger/target spray, targeting any suspected areas including the garage and even the car, as well as keeping the garden tidy (removing leaf litter, keeping grass short). Anywhere your pet hangs out around the home is a place where fleas may be.

It is a long battle if a flea infestation has taken hold in your home and may take months to get on top of. If you are patient, follow all the right steps and the only fleas you see on your pets are slow moving dying fleas, you know you’re on the road to success. If you need advice on what flea products to use and an in depth discussion on what measures you need to control fleas, contact your local vets.