Willett House Pet Solutions: Parasites

Fleas – The cat flea ctenocephalides felis felis is the primary flea which causes clinical disease in most parts of the world, including the UK. Adult fleas are obligate ecto-parasites – this means they can only survive for short periods of time, away from the host, once they have fed. It is the adult form of the flea that causes the symptoms such as scratching. However, the major part of the parasite’s lifecycle takes place away from the host and in the host’s environment (the home).

Flea Lifecycle

It is important to understand the lifecycle of the flea in order to understand how to effectively treat your pet and cure or prevent an infestation. Essentially, a flea’s reproduction cycle is similar to that of a butterfly. The adult females will lay eggs which will hatch into larvae. These larvae spin “cocoons” and become pupae. When adult fleas hatch from the pupae stage, the lifecycle is then complete. Generally speaking, in an infestation of fleas, approximately half are eggs and 5 per cent are adults. Observing adult fleas on your pet is therefore just the tip of the iceberg of flea infestation.

Female fleas can lay up to 20 eggs at a time and, over their short lifespan, can produce around 500 eggs. These eggs as normally laid on the host (your pet). However, the eggs are very smooth and will normally slide off the animal and land in the host’s environment. Within the home, the eggs sink deep into carpets, bedding and through cracks in the floor.

For fleas to develop, the eggs need a warm, moist environment, with a temperature of around 21 degrees centigrade. Unfortunately, these conditions are well matched to the conditions in your home and, in these optimal conditions, the eggs will hatch in about 12 days. Once hatched, the larvae will avoid light and migrate deeper into carpets and flooring, remaining there while they develop. Unlike adult fleas, larvae do not feed from the blood of a host but rather on dead skin cells, flea droppings and other general debris.

After a few weeks, the larvae form cocoons – attaching debris and dirt to the outside as camouflage. Fleas can stay in this form for up to a year. When adult fleas hatch, they will try to infest the nearest food supply which is most likely to be your pet.

Advice on dealing with flea infestations

There are many different flea-control products on the market. Some will only kill the adult fleas whilst others may prevent young fleas from developing. It is important to select the correct product for your pet and the action you require. It may be that different products are recommended for heavy infestation than for preventative treatment. However, a topical or systemic treatment is a vital part of flea control.

As well as treating your pet, there are many other things that you can do to try and treat the environment. Try some of the following:

  • Treat the environment with a veterinary recommended flea spray. These can kill adult fleas and prevent the development of eggs and larvae. These can be bought over the counter and used to spray carpets, floors and soft furnishings. They are most effective when used at the same time as treating your pet.
  • Launder your pet’s bedding, where possible, on a hot-wash cycle. Where this is not possible, replace the bedding or spray with the above mentioned product and keep away from your pet until dry.
  • Vacuum any areas which your pet frequently visits. Remember to empty the contents of the vacuum cleaner bag into a bin as soon as you have finished. The warmth and vibrations caused by the vacuum will encourage fleas to rise through the carpet as it recreates the movement of an animal.

As with all things, prevention is better than cure. Therefore, it is advisable to treat your pet, each month with a veterinary recommended product. If you are concerned that your pet is suffering from a flea infestation and would like further advice, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Willett House team.