With the winter temperatures beginning to kick in, homeowners across the country will crank up the heating to ensure their homes are cosy and warm. But now, vets warn that central heating could prompt a flea infestation to erupt in households across the nation.
The warmer the temperature, the faster flea eggs develop into adults. At a cool 13C, it could take a flea egg 140 days to hatch. However, when temperatures hit the mid-twenties, it can take as little as 22 days. After just 38 days, there could be 74,132 fleas living in your home!
Head vet at tails.com, Sean McCormack, is warning pet owners about a potential surge of flea infestations in their homes this winter. He is urging pet owners to look out for the key signs of fleas, and how you can prevent an ‘itch-infestation’ from breaking out in their home.
There are many reasons for itching so how do we know fleas are the cause?
Fleas are small, brown insects the size of a pinhead that live in your dog’s fur, feeding on their blood. They cannot fly but have large back legs and jump impressive distances. They are flattened in shape standing tall and narrow on six legs, allowing them to run through the hair coat.
You may see little insects scurrying through the coat when you part the hair, particularly around the back of the ears, groin, inner thighs and base of the tail.
You may also see ‘flea dirt’ or faeces which appears as tiny black crumbs like black pepper. If you comb this out of the coat and place it on wet cotton wool, it will ‘bleed’ into the surrounding area as it is made up of digested blood.
Top Tip: If your pooch has itchy or sensitive skin and you’re sure it’s not fleas, then it can often be caused by environmental allergies (e.g. pollen, mould, dust mites) and/or food allergies, which are the least common cause. Look for hypoallergenic food blends or dog food for sensitive skin to see if that can help solve the itchy issue.
How do I treat a flea infestation on my dog?
There are many products on the market for treating fleas, some more effective than others. Some products only kill or repel fully-grown adult fleas, whereas others are also effective against flea eggs too. The best advice is to speak to your vet who will be able to suggest a product suited to your dogs needs.
Top Tip: Fleas can also transmit tapeworm so it is important to use an effective prescription wormer against tapeworms at the same time as your flea treatment.
Do I have to treat my home for fleas as well?
Often by the time you notice adult fleas there may already be hundreds of eggs and larvae developing in your home on bedding, soft furnishings, carpets and flooring – it’s the perfect environment. It is crucial to treat the home environment at the same time as your dog to reduce the chances of another infestation several weeks later.
Top Tip: Vacuuming the entire household, discarding the contents of the vacuum cleaner immediately in a sealed plastic bag, washing bedding on a high heat and using a spray in the home are vital to prevent reoccurrence. If your pet spends a lot of time in your car, it’s also worth giving that a good clean too.
What flea treatments are the most effective?
Most flea products are a liquid spot-on medication which is applied to the skin on the back of your dog’s neck, but application errors can be an issue with these treatments, and if it rains the product can wash away before it has a chance to be effective.
Top Tip: It is best to seek advice from your vet and ask them to prescribe a treatment that best matches your dog’s specific issues.
How do I prevent my dog from getting fleas?
The best approach to prevention is the use of a reliable, monthly flea product from your vet. There are lots of anti-parasite medications available so it’s best to discuss your dog’s risk factors for other parasites such as lungworm and ticks and ensure your dog has full protection.
See: How often should I treat my dog for fleas?
What problems can fleas cause if left untreated?
If fleas are left uncontrolled they will rapidly breed and cause a heavy infestation. They not only irritate your dog, causing itchiness, but suck their blood and can result in anaemia.
In puppies and smaller dogs, flea bite anaemia can even prove fatal. Many dogs will develop a hypersensitivity or allergic reaction to flea bites, suffering from intense itching, hair loss and skin infections.
Fleas prefer not to live on humans but can still bite us, so prompt treatment and ongoing preventive measures are strongly advised.
Why does my dog keep getting fleas?
New waves of flea infestations can occur many weeks later if eggs, larvae and pupae are not cleaned properly. This is why it is crucial to treat your dog and home at the same time with proven treatments and effective cleaning.
If you’re finding fleas on your dog despite using a flea treatment, here’s some of the most common reasons:
Medication choice: There’s a bewildering array of products out there for getting rid of fleas; collars, flea spray, spot-on medications, shampoos, flea powder, even flea bombs! Which works? The short answer: ask your vet.
Prescription flea treatments tailored to your pet’s needs and circumstances are far more effective than many ‘over the counter’ products.
Application error: With spot on treatments, application of liquid to the skin is crucial. If most of the vial is squeezed on the coat rather than the skin by carefully parting the hair, then it won’t be as effective. Or only effective for a short period of time, leaving your pet prone to fleas before their next dose is due.
Wash off effect: Have you washed your stinky hound after they’ve rolled in something pungent recently? Maybe they’ve had a dive in the river, or a dance in the rain? If you applied flea treatment just before, there’s a high chance it’s now been washed off before it can be fully absorbed.
Flea eggs lurking in your home: Maybe you’ve suddenly noticed your dog scratching, and found fleas. But every day you’re finding more despite treating. Surely that must mean it’s not working? Actually, adult fleas on dogs are the tip of the flea iceberg. Chances are there’s hundreds more flea eggs and larvae in the environment, which continue hatching out weeks after an infestation is first noticed.
Using a treatment from your vet AND treating the environment at the same time is the only reliable way to tackle a sudden or heavy infestation. Even with effective flea prevention for dogs, you might see dead or dying fleas for a while afterwards.
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