How to treat and prevent fleas in your pet

canagan defleaing dog

Does the word ‘fleas’ have your skin crawling immediately? Many of us know that fleas are a huge pest, and that they’re best avoided. But how much do you really know about preventing the itchy parasites from setting up base in your cat or dog’s fur, or getting rid of them if they do?

We have gathered together everything you need to know about fleas, how to prevent them and how to get rid of them in your pet.

What are fleas?

Fleas are tiny insects with thin, flat bodies that are usually black or brown in colour. Despite their minute size, they can jump up to eight inches, which is how they can get up and into your pet’s fur. Fleas usually live in bushes and trees, so they can easily hop on to your pet’s skin if they’re out and about in nature or on a countryside walk.

Fleas are parasites, which means they feed on blood. And that’s exactly why you might find them on your pet – an easy target. They flourish in warm weather, and breed incredibly quickly, meaning an infestation can creep up on you quickly if untreated.

How do I check my pet for fleas?

Sometimes, spotting fleas on your dog or cat’s body is as simple as noticing small dark coloured insects crawling or jumping around on their fur. But unfortunately, it’s not always that simple.

Your pet may also have a flea infestation if they…

  • Are repeatedly itching and scratching
  • Keep biting or chewing their paws
  • Have red, bumpy patches of skin
  • Have ‘flea dirt’ in their skin – this is flea excrement that looks like small black flecks, and can also be found in pet’s bedding or in places they regularly lay

If you think your pet has a suspected case of fleas, you can use a flea comb to look through their fur. The fine teeth of the comb should extract some of the fleas and you’ll be able to see them against a white piece of paper or tissue. Just make sure to have a bowl of soapy water to hand to dispose of them in, as it can be tricky to squash fleas due to their hard shells and ability to jump quickly.

Can fleas hurt my pets?

In the majority of cases, fleas will just be irritating to your pet, causing them to itch and in turn causing sore patches of skin. However, flea bites and infestations can cause further health issues in some cases, including:

  • Tapeworms

    Tapeworms are internal parasites that are passed on to your pet when they’re bitten by a flea. They don’t usually cause serious problems, and are easily treated, but if you suspect your pet has a tapeworm, you should take them to the vet to get checked out. The signs that your pet might display if they have a tapeworm include:

    • - Dragging their bottom along the floor
    • - Licking their bottom more than usual
    • - Losing weight
    • - Vomiting

    You’re most likely to see small sections of tapeworms in your pet’s faeces, around their bottom or on their bed, too.

  • Flea Allergies

    Flea allergy dermatitis is the medical name for flea allergies in animals, and is the most common skin disease in pets. It’s thought that many pets are allergic to flea saliva, which is injected into the skin when your pet gets bitten by a flea.

    The symptoms of flea allergies are quite similar to those associable with everyday flea itching, but can leave your pet in discomfort for longer, so it’s make sure to take your companion to the vet if they have any of the following symptoms for a prolonged amount of time:

    • - Itching, biting, clawing, and scratching
    • - Fur loss
    • - Red lumps

How to get rid of fleas

Because of their breeding characteristics, fleas can be incredibly difficult to get rid of. And, since they only thrive in warmer conditions, they can lay dormant for months in colder weather and unexpectedly reappear when things heat up in summer.

There are two fairly easy ways to get rid of fleas on your pet:

  • Give them a lukewarm bath, with just water or mild soap. If you want to use a specific flea shampoo, make sure to talk to your vet first, as it could further irritate your companion’s skin.
  • Comb through their fur using a fine-toothed flea comb. Make sure to dispose of fleas in hot, soapy water to kill them.

As well as treating your canine companion or feline friend, treating your house – especially soft furnishings, like cushions and carpets – is vital. It’s all well and good treating your cat or dog, but if fleas are around the house, it’ll be easy for them to jump back on to their host.

There are many household sprays available to help you treat your home, but some owners prefer to hire professional pest control to ensure that fleas don’t reappear.

How to prevent fleas

To prevent flea infestations, pet owners can treat both their home and their pet all-year-round. The most common methods of flea prevention include:

  • Bathing and combing your pet, especially in warmer months.
  • Washing your pet’s bedding and soft furnishings like cushions.
  • Treating your cat or dog with a flea treatment. These can include sprays, spot-ons and tablets.
  • Having your pet wear a flea collar.

The warmer months are the perfect time to spend some quality time with your furry friend, and nobody wants an infestation of those pesky pests to get in the way of their fun. Make sure to regularly check your companion for fleas during the summer, as well as other parasites like ticks, to ensure the summer is enjoyable for everyone.

Of course, not all itching and scratching means that your pet is suffering with fleas or another parasite. They could be suffering with hay fever, or a more serious skin condition. If you have any concerns about your companion’s health, or if you’ve seen no improvement after flea treatment, it’s always worth speaking to your local pet specialist.