Why is it important? Fleas are the biggest cause of skin disease for UK pets - even now, with so many great products on the market, they're still present living on dogs across the country! There are two reasons they're hard to get rid of - firstly, they can jump from dog to cat to rabbit to human to dog and so evade us; and second, 95% of the fleas aren't living on the animal, but hiding away in your home, waiting for their chance. There are a number of phases to getting your home "Flea Free", but they sit easily into two categories. Firstly, kill the adults, then break the life-cycle! In this Factsheet, we're going to look at the range of flea control options now available.
(1) Herbal and homeopathic remedies Herbal flea remedies are notoriously unreliable - what works in one dog fails completely in another. This is particularly true of that old favourite, garlic, which typically results in a flea-ridden dog becoming a smelly, flea-ridden dog! Unfortunately, we cannot recommend homeopathic remedies are used on their own - they are most suitable as a complementary medicine, rather than an alternative.
(2) Over-the-Counter Flea Drops and Powders There are a wide range available, at very cheap prices. However, remember that, with medicines as with everything else, you get what you pay for. Over-the-counter products from pet shops or supermarkets are unlikely to be as effective as prescription-only or vet/pharmacist only products - not least because these often do not need to prove their effectiveness.
(3) Prescription Flea Spot-Ons There are a lot of different spot-on medications, containing different ingredients, but they all work by killing the fleas. The most common contain fipronil, selamectin or imidacloprid, but there are others as well. These medications have to prove their effectiveness before being given a license; however, remember that many aren't waterproof and will wash out if you give your dog a bath or they regularly swim. On the other hand, these are often effective against other parasites, such as ticks or mange mites. Of course, you can only get these from, or with a prescription from, your vet.
(4) Flea Tablets There are a number of different brands, and different active ingredients available now; these have the advantage that they cannot be washed off, and some will also treat for ticks as well. They do still need to be repeated periodically though - like all medications, they won't last for ever! Some over-the-counter tablets only last for 24 hours, whereas some of the prescription-only products may last 3 months.
(5) Medicated Collars Available in prescription-only and over-the-counter forms, once again, the prescription-only or vet/pharmacist only forms are the most effective. These ones kill adult fleas, and may also treat or repel ticks, mosquitoes or even sand-flies.
(6) Environmental Control Medications Some flea products contain ingredients called Insect Growth Regulators, that effectively put the fleas on the pill so they only lay non-viable eggs. Others contain ingredients that directly act to kill flea larvae in the environment. These are invaluable for preventing a household infestation, but may not completely control one that is already established (or at least, not quickly).
(7) Environmental insecticides These can be sprayed onto soft furnishings throughout the home to kill larvae and eggs. Bear in mind that, although generally effective, you need to follow the label instructions, as some can be toxic if you overdose! In addition, flea pupae are immune to any form of chemical warfare we can practically employ!
(8) Vacuuming Yes, the humble vacuum cleaner is your secret weapon in the war on fleas! It will suck up eggs, and the flea-droppings that the larvae feed on, but more importantly, it will stimulate the pupae to hatch, releasing new hungry adults. In this state, they an easily be killed with an insecticide spray!
In conclusion... No one medication or intervention will control a severe infestation - instead, you'll need to attack them on several fronts, usually with an adult-killing medication, and environmental control spray or medication, and spotless hygiene in the home. If you need advice, talk to your vet for advice.