Fleas

What do they look like?

Adult fleas are between 1-3 mm long and brownish in colour. Their bodies are compressed from side to side which enables the flea to move through fur and feather with ease. The hind legs of a flea are relatively large and are used for jumping heights of up to 16 cm.

Flea eggs are pearl white in colour, oval shaped and approximately 0.5 mm long.

How do I spot them?

Adult fleas are visible to the naked eye, as brownish-red insects, that move quickly or jump. Fleas feed exclusively on warm blooded animals, drawing blood from their host by using their piercing mouth parts. As they pierce the skin they inject anti-blood clotting saliva to extract the blood of their host. As well as being found on the host, e.g. cat or dog, fleas and their eggs are frequently found in the animal's bedding or in carpets where the animal usually lies.

How do they affect me?

Fleas can be carriers of disease or may transmit parasitic worms. Both cat and dog fleas are intermediate hosts of the dog tapeworm which can sometimes be transmitted to man. Generally, in the UK fleas are not responsible for the transmission of disease. However, they are still objectionable due to the bites they inflict. Fleabites are identified as a small dark red spot surrounded by a reddened area. The bite persists for one or two days and may be intensely irritating. Occasionally people become immune to fleabites.

How do they live?

The eggs hatch after one week into white thread-like larvae. The larvae thrive in dark, humid places such as carpets and animal bedding.

After two or three weeks when they are fully-grown the larvae spin a cocoon and pupate. The adult usually emerges within seven weeks but can remain as a pupa throughout the winter only emerging when triggered by the movement close by of a suitable host. This explains the occasional mass attacks which take place in homes that have been empty for a long time. The complete life cycle will normally last four weeks but may take longer at low temperatures.

How do I control them?

Flea control measures depend to a large extent on the size of the infestation. In most instances infestations of well-kept houses can be easily traced to pets. Control measures must be directed at the brood as well as the adult flea.

a) Good Housekeeping

Regular and thorough cleaning will deny fleas a breeding site and make an important contribution towards their control. Infested beds and bedding should either be thoroughly cleaned or sealed in a polythene sack and disposed of with normal household refuse. Accumulations of dust and debris should be removed from cracks and crevices and carpets vacuumed paying particular attention to the edges or under the furniture e.g. chairs etc. If pets lie on furniture this should also be cleaned paying attention to under cushions, crevices etc.

b) Insecticidal Control

Insecticides can be used to treat premises infested by fleas and will help protect them from re-infestation. However, for the treatment to be successful the host animal must be treated as well. Insecticidal products are available which have been especially formulated for use on host animals and are available from most veterinary surgeries or pet shops. Care should be taken to follow the manufacturers instructions.

Flea treatment advice

Please follow the instructions outlined below prior to having treatment for domestic flea problems:

  1. Remove all small items from the floor
  2. Thoroughly vacuum clean the house and throw away the bag. If using a bagless vacuum cleaner clean out the chamber with disinfectant.
  3. All the carpeted areas of the house will be sprayed.
  4. The property must then be vacated for at least 4 hours. All pets must be removed too.
  5. After the treatment do not vacuum for at least 14 days.

Practical advice

  • Provide your cat or dog with a flea collar.
  • Check your animal for fleas on a regular basis.
  • Treat your cat or dog with an approved flea product.
  • Brush your cat or dog thoroughly with a flea comb.
  • Don't forget to treat your pet's basket/bedding area.
  • Maintain a good level of housekeeping.

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