Fleas are one of the most commonly encountered parasites found on animals worldwide. Anyone who has ever come across a flea on their pet will realise how difficult, time-consuming and expensive it can be to eradicate a flea infestation.
How do pets become infected with fleas?
Pets can pick up fleas virtually anywhere: fleas can live outside or inside, they can be carried on wild animals, or on other pets. The environmental conditions required by fleas to breed is optimal at a temperature of 86F (30C) and a relative humidity of about 70-80%, which means that fleas can survive for a long time on your pet and inside a house.
Effects of fleas on pets:
1. Nonallergic: Fleas have a number of effects on their host in addition to those cause by a hypersensitivity reaction:
• Transmission of the dog tapeworm, Dipylidium caninum
• Transmission of rickettsiae
• Transmission of the cat scratch disease (CSD) Bartonella henselae
2. Allergic: Flea allergy dermatitis, which is characterized by raised red lesions on the skin, results from hypersensitivity to proteins in flea saliva. Not all animals that are infested with fleas will show signs of allergy.
Signs of a flea infestation
1. Fleas and/or flea dirt: use a flea comb to pick up any flea dirt, then apply to a moistened piece of white paper – dirt will turn a reddish brown color
2. Frequent scratching, biting, licking , especially on the lower back near the tail or on the belly
3. Raised red lesions that may develop a small crust
4. Other signs of self-mutilation such as patchy hair loss
Flea Control Options
Effective flea control has 2 components: killing the adult fleas on the affected animal (and any other in-contact pets) and preventing re-infestation from the environment.
Killing Adult Fleas
There are a diverse range of flea control products currently on the market, including flea shampoos, electronic flea collars, flea sprays, flea powders, spot-ons and tablets. It can be difficult to choose the right product for your pet. Many products are of limited efficacy and will not prevent your pet from becoming re-infected. For instance, a dog can be covered in fleas within a couple of days of being shampooed.
There are many highly effective products available now that combine safe and effective flea control with a longer duration of action. Some recommended products are fipronil (Frontline, Merial), selemectin (Revolution, Pfizer), imidocloprid (Advantage, Bayer), and lufenuron (Program, Bayer). Consult your veterinarian for the best treatment option for your pet, as some animals may be sensitive to certain products.
Indoor treatment should involve all aspects of the house. Frequent vacuuming can reduce if not eliminate the flea infestation inside a house. Pet bedding should be cleaned regularly. Products such as sprays and fogs may also be applied around the house by the owner.
With any products, always read and follow label directions and follow the advice of your veterinarian to ensure the safety of you and your pets.