This has to be every pet owner’s worst nightmare, fleas! Did you know that the most common flea found on cats and dogs is the cat flea; whose proper name is Ctenocephalides felis. As we all begin to turn on our heating during the winter months, these fleas are thinking “this is great we can survive the winter”: but how do we stop this?!
What is a flea?
A flea is a parasitic insect which lives on its host. While this may most commonly be a cat, they can also live happily on dogs. They feed off the animal by biting and ingesting their blood. They do also like the taste of human blood too, I’m sure we have all been bitten at some stage! Unfortunately, the cat flea also carries the larval stage of tapeworm, when a flea is ingested, your pet could then have ingested a tapeworm larva… Could it get any worse?! Well, another scary fact is that an adult flea can lay around 20 eggs per day.
Where do fleas live?
Fleas need warmth and they cannot survive cold temperatures. Many people believe that they cannot be around during the winter months. But sadly this is untrue, although they can hibernate. They are known to live all year round by living in your house; just like us, they like temperatures of 21 degrees. And just like us, they like having the heating on in the winter!
They may not be directly on the pet (although if there is an infestation they will be), but they are often found in bedding (animal and human) and in carpets; all those warm areas of the house. If they are getting food, they can still lay eggs during the winter. Which can lay dormant until temperatures are right to hatch. So, although you may not see many there may be some eggs hiding waiting to hatch. There may also be some larvae crawling around snuggled deep within the carpets and soft furnishings.
How do you know if your cat has fleas?
The most common sign is scratching, have you seen your cat constantly scratching recently? Actually seeing the fleas jumping or crawling along the cats’ coat is an obvious sign they unfortunately have them. Sometimes we are also unfortunate to also get bitten by fleas, a small red bite that is very itchy is also a sign. A cats’ coat can be checked for fleas by using a flea comb, simply brush it through the coat and see if any live fleas are found or any eggs. Flea faeces are often black, place the comb on a wet piece of tissue paper, white paper so it’s easy to see and wipe the black bits off. If they show red smears then these are flea droppings.
So how do we treat our cats for fleas?
If your cat hasn’t been treated for fleas and is showing signs of them, then the cat and the house both need treating. To treat cats, medication from your veterinary practice can be purchased to treat them. We normally advise to always use a veterinary prescribed product as they have the stronger ingredients to kill the fleas faster and the eggs more reliably. This means that the infestation can be controlled more rapidly. These products can be in the form of a spot on, which is applied on the back of the neck then absorbed, then there are tablets that can also be given. Both types of products work well; it is mainly owner (and cat!) preference.
Most flea collars don’t reliably kill fleas, they will only repel them from that area of the cat so these aren’t ideal. The Seresto Collar is probably the most effective but has less environmental control than some other products.
Flea powders are also not very effective, only for the amount of time they are visible on the coat. Flea sprays may frighten the cat therefore not being effective as you can’t get them onto the cat. In addition, flea shampoos can also be purchased, but how many cats like having a bath, they are also not very effective against killing the parasites.
If the house is infested…
Then house sprays that are used for killing fleas and their eggs are needed. Always follow the instructions on these products as they are very potent and if used wrongly can be harmful especially to fish and sometimes even to cats. Carpets need constantly hoovering and bedding washed at 60C to try and remove any fleas and eggs. If you have any other pets in the house, for example a dog, then they also need to be treated for fleas. Remember, the cat flea will happily jump hosts to avoid treatments!
The easiest solution
The easiest method for this is to always keep up to date on flea treatment in cats all year round. They are the one pet that is most likely to bring fleas into the house at any time of the year. They do a lot of wandering around so are very likely to pick them up at some stage. It’s a lot harder to clear an infestation of fleas rather than prevent it. F#If your cat goes outdoors, then more than ever they are likely to need treating for fleas during the winter as the fleas are a lot more likely to stay in your house for the warmth.