There are over 2,000 species of flea worldwide, the most common of which are the cat flea and the dog flea. Fleas are small insects which bite their hosts in order to extract blood.
They live in furnishings, bedding and carpets in the home. They are reddish coloured and are instantly recognisable by their extremely long hind legs and flattened shape. Flea larvae feed on organic debris and actively move deep into carpet where they pupate, and may remain undisturbed for many months. Adult fleas are stimulated by vibration and emerge hungry from their cocoons.
All fleas live exclusively as parasites on warm-blooded animals and although they have a preferred host, normally mammals, both the cat and dog flea can also feed from other animals and man. As well as being found on the host, fleas can be found in the host's bedding. Cat fleas are by far the most common.
How do I know if fleas are present?
Fleas should always be considered if your pet starts to scratch. If you part your pet's fur to see the skin - you may see a flea. More likely you will see the presence of "flea-dirt", which is tiny black specks just visible on the skin surface. This is the faeces of the flea containing digested blood.
It is possible for humans to get bitten by fleas too. If any member of your family gets red sore bites (often on the lower legs or feet) then it is worth considering that there may be a flea infestation in the house. If this occurs, you should also get your pets checked by a veterinarian.
Flea eggs are small, oval shaped and pearl white in colour and are laid indiscriminately in fur or feathers of the host or in its bedding or resting material. The eggs hatch in about one week into white thread like larvae. The larvae thrive in dark, humid places such as carpets and animal bedding. After two to three weeks when they are fully grown, the larvae spin a cocoon and pupate. The adult usually emerges within 7 weeks but can remain as a pupae all winter only emerging when triggered by the movement of a suitable host.
Most of the flea's lifecycle is in the soft furnishings and pets' bedding, not on the animal. Eggs are laid in the pets coat and drop into the carpets, thereby establishing a new generation of fleas in the house. Treatment of the environment, as well as the animal, is essential to control fleas. It has been estimated that for every flea on the animal there are more than 100 in the carpets and bedding.
It is important to regularly check pets for any signs of fleas. This can be done by grooming your pet with a flea comb. If a flea is found it can be disposed of by placing it under water in a small bowl. Flea collars can be fitted to cats and dogs and are effective for several months. More advice on such preventative measures can be obtained from your veterinary surgeon.
Infested clothing and bedding, including pet bedding must be thoroughly cleaned. Run a vacuum cleaner over affected areas,especially in cracks and corners, on rugs, alongside radiators and your pet's favourite places in the house. Don't forget to vacuum the car if your dog travels with you!
Ensure your pets are free from infestation. Suitable insecticides are available from your vet or pet shops. Care should be exercised if insecticides are to be used in kitchens or food areas. This is because of the risk of contaminating food. The manufacturers instructions on the insecticide label should be followed.