It is a common misconception that in chilly weather, fleas are not problematic, however for vets and SQPs, this could not be further from the truth, with frequent and sometimes serious and severe flea infestations in the winter months.

Did you know: Turning on central heating systems can encourage adult fleas to emerge?

Fleas thrive extremely well in the home, due to our homes providing the fleas with a warm and humid environment, which is perfect breeding conditions.

What are fleas?

Fleas are small, brown, and wingless insects that infest dogs, cats and even rabbits. They can easily be picked up from infested environments such as gardens, parks, and homes.

The main flea species found on dogs and cats is the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis and the dog flea Ctenocephalides canis. The cat flea is much more common as it is not host specific. It can also feed on most mammals, including humans!

What is the life cycle?

A flea’s life cycle consists of four main stages. Firstly, the egg stage, followed by the larva stage, pupa stage and finally, the adult stage. 

The life cycle can take just fourteen days depending on the environmental conditions.

Did you know that only about 5% of the flea infestation can be seen on the animal, with the other 95% found within the animals’ environment as eggs, larvae, and pupae?

The flea life cycle starts with adult fleas jumping from the environment onto your pet. 

Within minutes, they can be feeding on their blood and after 24 hours the females can start to lay eggs, with each female having the ability to lay up to 50 eggs per day.

Ironically, should the eggs fall off into the environment, they can still easily stick to bedding and carpets with the hatching of the eggs taking from two days to two weeks, depending on the environmental conditions.

Once the eggs have developed into larvae, these feed on the flea faecal matter (which is dried blood) and organic matter like dead skin cells (e.g. house dust!). If conditions are good, the larvae form a cocoon for themselves and become a pupae.

The pupal stage may hatch in as little as seven to fourteen days. If the conditions are not consistent, the pupae can lay dormant in the environment for many months. This stage is stimulated to hatch in warm temperatures, an increase in carbon dioxide and vibrations from passing animals. So, a warm home in the winter is perfect. 

The pupae emerge as adult fleas, starting the life cycle again.

Adult fleas are the only part of life cycle that is constantly present on the animal. Immediately after hatching, the flea must have a blood meal to survive and begin laying eggs. 

Did you know: Fleas can also carry tapeworm larvae?

If the animal swallows infected fleas, for example when grooming, then the animal could develop tapeworm problems. This is one of the main reasons why regular worming is essential.

What are the signs of fleas?

We must remember that many animals are not tolerant of fleas, and they can cause serious problems. Common signs of a flea infestation include:

  • Itching and general irritation
  • Thinning coat and bald patches
  • Flea Allergy Dermatitis (an exaggerated itch-response, although this would need a diagnosis from a vet)
  • If the animal is young (like a puppy or kitten), has an excessive number of fleas or are immunocompromised, then it could cause anaemia.

How can I deal with a flea problem?

A single application of any flea treatment will not resolve an existing flea problem. It can often take three months or so to get on top of a home infestation.

Effective ways to help with a flea infestation are:

  • Treat all the pets in the household with an appropriate product. It is essential that the product is applied correctly and used at the appropriate period. Your veterinary surgeon or SQP can advise you on this. The product must be administered all year round.
  • Treat the home with a household spray, these can be used all-year round. Most household sprays contain an insect growth regulator as well as an adulticide. This will kill fleas and prevent new fleas developing.
  • Wash the pets’ bedding at 60 degrees C to kill any eggs or larvae which are hiding.
  • Vacuum regularly and pay attention to flea hot spots such as floors and carpets, under furniture, soft upholstered furniture and even the car.

Remember, when treating any pet, it is necessary to allow them to explore their usual places. This will encourage fleas to emerge and jump onto your pet, where they will be killed by the treatment you have given. 

Fleas have adapted to living in our home environment all year round. Your veterinary surgeon or SQP can advise and recommend an excellent quality flea control which you can give regularly throughout the year. 

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