Browsing tag: fleas

Ask A Vet Online – Help! The fleas are revolting…

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Anne Stafferton asked:

This one is a bit boring really I’ve spent hundreds of pounds on flea stuff only for it not to work I breed cats so it’s a nightmare I’m now combing them all every day to get fleas out any suggestions on what really really works

Answer:

Hi Anne, thanks for your question about fleas in cats. I know exactly what you mean – they can be a real nightmare to get under control! I’m going to answer your question by (briefly!) discussing the flea life-cycle and how it can be broken, and then talking about the specific treatments that are available. As a warning, on a blog like this I am legally obliged to use the generic names for all the drugs and medicines (otherwise I would get nasty letters from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, the government department who regulate advertising of veterinary medicines). You can, however, look up any of the generic names for the active substances and “translate” them into brand names on the VMD’s Product Information Database.

What are fleas?

Fleas are a group of obligate ectoparasites – this means that they live on the outside of other animals, and cannot survive in any other way but by sucking the blood of their hosts. Once an adult flea lays her eggs, they fall onto the floor, the carpet, and into the cat’s bedding. Here they hatch into larvae, which live, hidden deep in the fabric, in the dust, and in cracks in floorboards etc.

The larvae survive primarily by eating the faeces of adult fleas, which fall off the cat as the “black sand” we all know and hate! This material is semi-digested blood, and is very nutritious for the larvae. After their final moult, they turn into pupae (like the chrysalis of a butterfly but less pleasant) and there they stay, waiting for a chance to hatch.

Pupae can remain dormant for months or years, and in this state they are more or less impervious to virtually any treatment we can use against them (although apparently repeated steam cleaning can kill them). When they detect air movement, heat, or increased carbon dioxide levels (all indicators that a cat, dog or human is close), they hatch and leap on board, to feed, breed and repeat the cycle.

Traditionally, we think of fleas as being a spring and summer problem; however, with modern insulation and central heating, nowadays we see them all year round. The flea life cycle can only complete in a relatively warm environment, but we kindly provide them with a nice warm, comfy house to grow up in.

So how do you break the cycle?

There are a number of points at which the cycle is vulnerable – however, it’s important to remember that if the cats go outside (even briefly) they can pick up new fleas (deposited by other cats, dogs, foxes and even small mammals such as rodents). It only takes one amorous flea couple to reinfest a whole household…

The adult fleas are actually pretty easy to kill – even old-fashioned drugs like fipronil will kill most of the adults present, and many of the newer medications are much more potent.

The larvae need to cut their way out of their eggs (using a special “egg tooth” made of chitin); if their synthesis of chitin is impaired (e.g. by lufenuron) they cannot hatch.

The larvae cannot develop into adults in the presence of juvenile hormone – if this is chemically supplied (as an Insect Growth Regulator, e.g. S-Methoprene), they cannot make the change into adults.

The number of eggs, larvae and pupae in the house can also be reduced, by washing of fabrics (especially bedding) in hot (60C) soapy water. Although it won’t kill all of them, it will reduce the numbers and wash a lot away down the drain where they can’t hurt anyone!

The pupae themselves are pretty much impervious to any treatment, but they can be “tricked” into coming out as adults, which are then much easier to kill. The common method is regular vacuuming – the air movement and heat trick the pupae into hatching; you won’t catch many in the cleaner, but once out, they are vulnerable to environmental insecticides.

In fact, if you keep a “closed household”, with all the cats (and dogs if you have any) living indoors 24/7, it is theoretically possible to break the life cycle without treating the adults at all… but it will take a long time (the adults may live for 4-6 months) and you’re always at risk of a new introduction (in your clothes, for example).

So how do I kill them?

As you’ve found, there are a huge range of different flea control products on the market! Broadly speaking, these can be divided into 5 categories:

Environmental insecticides:

These are products used to spray the infested house, killing adults, sometimes eggs, and larvae. They will not kill pupae, but if applied rapidly after vacuuming, they can be very effective.

Most products contain permethrin, which is toxic to cats – this means that you have to be careful using them, by treating rooms one at a time and shutting the cats out until they have ventilated. The cans will explain how long to leave it for on the label, or talk to your vet, before reintroducing the cats.

On-cat environmental treatments:

These are applied to, or administered to, the cat, to treat the environment, and rely on the fact that the larvae are eating the flea’s droppings. There are 3 particularly important ones:

  • Lufenuron – a chitin inhibitor, available as an oral liquid, a tablet, or an injection. Does not kill adults, but prevents larvae and pupae from hatching properly.
  • Pyriproxifen – an Insect Growth Regulator, available in some prescription-only fipronil products.
  • S-methoprene – another IGR, available in some prescription-only fipronil products.
  • Imidacloprid – an insecticide available as a spot-on that kills adults and larvae in the vicinity of the treated cat.

Over-the-counter adulticides (products that kill adult fleas only):

These are of various effectiveness; most contain piperonyl butoxide or dimpylate (not very potent but pretty harmless) but there are still some on the market containing permethrin, which although effective is potentially lethal to cats. In general, if it is available over-the-counter without any regulation, it’s probably not that powerful.

The most popular products in this group are the spot-ons containing fipronil, which is an older drug but still fairly effective. Some of these products are over the counter, and others are classified “NFA-VPS” (which means there are certain restrictions on their supply, but they still do not require a prescription) Contrary to popular opinion, there is no conclusive evidence that resistance of fleas to fipronil is widespread – however, fipronil containing products are water soluble (so may wash off if the cat gets wet) and are much less effective than the modern prescription-only products.

The other commonly used active ingredient is imidacloprid, which is a different class of insecticide that is active against adult and against the larvae. Again, it doesn’t suit every cat but may be useful.

There is also an interesting product available as a tablet containing nitenpyam, which is very effective at killing adults – but only lasts 24 hours after being given. It is best used to kill off the bulk of the adults when starting a flea control program.

Prescription-only products:

Fipronil-combos – spot-on products containing fipronil plus an Insect Growth Regulator, to treat the adults and the environment simultaneously. Last between 4 and 8 weeks, but the adulticide (killing of adults) effect tends to wear off after about 4-5 weeks.

Flumethrin/Imidacloprid combo collar – this is a collar containing flumethrin (a form of permethrin that is safe for cats) and imidacloprid. It lasts about 6-8 months, and is very effective – if the cat will keep it on!

Imidacloprid/Moxidectin combo – another spot-on, that treats a wide range of different parasites. Lasts about 4 weeks.

Selamectin – a spot-on product, but one that is absorbed into the cats system so it cannot be washed off – very useful for outdoor cats! It also treats roundworms and both mange- and ear-mites, but does require the flea to bite before it works. Lasts about 4 weeks.

Indoxacarb – Another spot-on, but one that is utterly inactive in the cat’s body, until it is “turned on” by a unique metabolic action inside the flea, and the larvae if repeated every 4 weeks.

Spinosad – a tablet, given once a month, that is really effective against fleas, but does cause some cats to vomit; if given with food, however, it normally stays down – it does require the flea to bite, but kills very, very fast (in a few hours).

Herbal and homeopathic remedies:

Available, but no proven effectiveness. I have heard garlic recommended, but, sadly, in my experience it just doesn’t work and is potentially toxic to cats.

There’s so much choice! What do I do?

Bottom line – you’ll never control fleas if you only attack one stage of the life cycle. You need to kill the adults (and I’d recommend you talk to your vet about the more potent, modern, prescription products rather than rely on older and less powerful medications); however, you also need to decontaminate the environment, with regular vacuuming, insecticidal sprays, and good old fashioned washing and cleaning! If you’re still struggling to get on top of the situation, talk to your vet – not every product suits every cat, and it’s sometimes necessary to try several alternatives until you find the product, and the control methods, that suit your cats and their lifestyle.

All the best – I hope you can rid your cats of their unwelcome visitors!

David Harris BVSc MRCVS

Ask a vet online – My dog has black dandruff!

Sheila Elcott asked:

I have an 11 year old red fox lab boy who keeps getting a build up of black coloured dandruff type patches under his chin & his manly areas. Up to date with spot on. Is it his age & lack of my grooming care? After bathing & removing said patches the skin clears. He has hip & elbow dysplacia to boot. Tnx

Answer:

Hi Sheila, thanks for your question. Skin problems in dogs can be really frustrating to deal with, so I’ll go through some of the possibilities, then talk about how they can be investigated and managed.

So, what can cause patches of black dandruff material to appear?

There are a number of possibilities that spring immediately to mind:

  • Flea dirt. Flea droppings are black flecks, sometimes comma-shaped.
    • I know you’re up to date with spot-on, but there are a wide range of different products out there, some of which are more effective and longer-lasting than others. In addition, most spot-ons are water soluble, so regular bathing or swimming will reduce their effectiveness.
    • You’ll very rarely see a live flea unless there’s a really severe infestation. To check it out, try the wet paper test:
      • Scrape some of the black material onto a sheet of wet white paper.
      • If it goes red, it is probably a flea dropping – they’re basically just dried digested blood.
  • Scabs. As blood dries, it turns black and crumbly. It can be caused by:
    • Lice. Heavy louse infestation can cause scabbing where the parasites suck.
    • Skin infections. In these areas, this would typically be a skin fold infection, where saliva or moisture is trapped against the skin, damaging it and allowing infection to become established.
    • Allergic reactions (e.g. contact dermatitis). Reactions to products such as surface cleaners, pesticides, some plants, etc etc; typically affect the high-contact surfaces – chin, elbows, hocks and belly.
  • Sebaceous matter. Sometimes, excessive secretion of sebum may give the symptoms you’re discuss. This may be due to sebaceous adenitis (an inflammatory disorder), or simply from aging changes.

Unfortunately, without seeing the dog, it’s difficult to know which of these is the most likely for your boy!

So where do we go from here?

Ideally, you want to rule out parasites – do a wet paper test; and ask your vet to do skin scrapes and tape strips to examine the black material and the skin underneath it. Also, try and see if there’s anything that seems to trigger an episode – for example, if it always flares up after using a particular floor cleaner, I’d be really suspicious it was an allergic reaction.

So what can be done?

If a specific cause can be identified, obviously it should be treated (for example, a louse infestation should be treated; and you should avoid using any products that your dog is allergic to).

Even if not, there are certain techniques that may be useful in controlling the symptoms. As the problem resolves with cleaning, I’m quite suspicious that it might be a skin-fold infection – these are often more common in older dogs. In general, these can be controlled with grooming, good hygiene, and the use of medicated antiseptic wipes (e.g. CLX wipes) to control the growth of bacteria in the area. Sometimes, bathing with an antiseptic shampoo can help as well – you should talk to your vet about the options.

I hope that helps and you can get him sorted out!

David Harris BVSc MRCVS

June bugs – stopping parasites from bugging your pets!

Hurrah, it’s June!  Which means the weather is (hopefully) warming up and summer is just around the corner!  However, just as we enjoy the sunny conditions, so do the bugs and beasties that live on our pets.  A little forethought and treatment now, can save a whole lot of trouble (and maybe some vets bills!) in the future.

Fleas

These irritating little creatures are the ones everyone thinks about as the weather warms but here’s an interesting fact; actually the worst time of year for fleas is the Autumn.  Then the few fleas our pets have picked up over the summer move into our centrally heated houses and have a party.  However, what that means is by protecting our pets over the summer, we not only keep them from getting itchy bites now, we can stop a house infestation later!

It can be surprisingly difficult to know if an animal has fleas, especially cats who are good at grooming out all the evidence, but you need to look for small black flecks of flea dirt in the coat, small red raised bites on the skin, excessive scratching and, of course, the insects themselves.  Rather than waiting for them to appear (especially as you will probably miss them anyway), treating against them preemptively is best.  There are various ways of doing this including spot-ons, tablets, sprays, injections and collars.  However, whichever you chose to use, make sure it comes from your vet, who will provide far more effective products (and better advice!) than pet shops.

Scabies

The more common name for Scabies is ‘Fox Mange’ and certainly most dogs (it is very rare in cats) who contract it are often those who enjoy rolling in fox poo (why DO they do that?!) or poking their heads down fox holes.  The Scabies mite is a burrowing kind; it digs through the skin causing a great deal damage.  The most commonly affected body areas are the head, ears, limbs and groin, where the skin will lose the hair, be very red and inflamed, is often extremely scabby and always very itchy.  It is easily treated, and prevented, using veterinary spot-on medications.

Ticks

Although these little blighters are most active in the Spring and Autumn, if the weather remains warm but wet (which pretty much describes our summers!), they can survive longer.  When they are attached, ticks look like small, grey beans stuck onto the skin.  They remain in place for a few days and get larger over this time as they gorge themselves on our pet’s blood.  Left untreated they will eventually drop off but while they are biting they can infect animals with some nasty diseases, are unsightly and can leave the skin very sore.  There are spot-ons which kill ticks but usually the best way to remove them is manually.  Tick pullers are cheap and easy to use, your vet can give you a demonstration!

Worms

Regularly worming your pets all year round is important, especially if you have young children, but it is particularly vital in the warmer months.  This is for several reasons; firstly, many of the worms that infect our pets are passed from prey animals, so hunters (and it is mainly cats but some dogs are very good rabbiters!) are more vulnerable when prey numbers are higher.  Secondly, worm eggs (which are microscopic & are passed in faeces in their millions) can survive in soil for a long time and although most pets get out and about all year round, most inevitably spend more time outside, and more time snuffling though flowerbeds and undergrowth, in the summer.

Like fleas it can be very difficult to know if a pet has worms.  Many people know about signs like itchy bottoms & bloated tummies but, in fact, most infestations are symptom free, another reason why regular treatment is vital.  There are spot-ons, tablets and liquids available and, again, your vet is the best source for advice on which kind to pick.

I hope I haven’t made your skin crawl too much thinking about all these little blighters!  Just remember, prevention is always better than cure and the best people to ask for advice on what is best for your pets is always your vet!

Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS – Read more of her blogs at www.catthevet.com

If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.

Ask a vet online- ‘I have been using frontline every four weeks but still find the odd flea’

Question from :Marilyn Ann Faulkner

 ’ I have a small but bulky pug cross jack Russell, who has had a problem with fleas, I have been using frontline every four weeks but still find the odd flea on him, have also treated the whole house with Acclaim household flea spray. Thinking of perhaps changing to advocate spot on. My dog weighs in at 10.5 kilos, so should I use up to 10kg size or maybe change to 10-25kg. This probably sounds like a silly question, but would hate to think that if I used the higher dose it would have a detrimental effect on my dog. Can you advise please.’

Answer from: Shanika Winters

Thanks Marilyn for your question regarding flea control on your dog.  It sounds as though you are doing all the correct things by treating your pet with a flea preparation regularly as well as having treated your home.  It is really frustrating for both dog and owner when the fleas just do not seem to be going away.

What are fleas and where have they come from?

Fleas are a parasite that lives on our pet and in our homes, the adult fleas need to feed on blood from your pet in order to survive.  It is important to be aware that adult fleas are not the only thing we need to get rid of, the flea life cycle involves eggs, which hatch into larvae, these then turn into pupae from which emerge the adult fleas.  Unfortunately the fleas we see on a pet are only the tip of the iceberg as most of the flea population is in the form of eggs, larvae and pupae.

It is good to hear that you have used the household spray to treat your home; the household spray is aimed at killing the flea population that is not on your pet and therefore helps to break the flea life cycle.  Make sure you read all the instruction on household flea sprays, use the correct amount and take care if you have pet fish or caged birds as the chemicals can be toxic to them.  It is also important not to use the household flea spray on your dog itself.

If the flea infestation in your home is severe and humans are also getting bitten then in some cases a professional household flea treatment may be needed.  The flea eggs larvae and pupae can survive in the nooks and crannies of your home, down between floor boards, skirting and soft furnishings.

Changing flea treatment product?

If you are finding that a product is not working for you and your pet then it is definitely a topic to discuss with your vet.  The correct product to fit your pet’s needs can then be found.  Some of the flea preparations cover various worms also such as round,tape, heart and lung worms.   Correct administration of the product and the correct dosage should also help ensure success in the battle against the fleas.

If you are planning on bathing your pet then do this before applying the flea product and make sure your pet has a dry coat before applying its next dose.  Make sure that your pet has been weighed accurately ideally on the weighing scales at your vets to decide on which dose to use.  The safety margins on the products your vet dispenses to you have been tried and tested, so provided you use the correct dose then the product should be effective.

Could the fleas be resistant to the drug I am using?

Resistance is when the drug is no longer effective; in the case of a flea product it would no longer kill most of the fleas on your pet.  It is possible that the fleas are becoming resistant to certain drugs, but until any official data is released as vets we can’t say that fleas are definitely resistant to a particular product.  However as an owner if you are not happy with a particular product then you should ask your vet for alternatives.

Have all in contact animals been treated for fleas?

It is very important to know that fleas can be coming onto your pet from other animals from your own dogs and cats through to those of neighbours and even wildlife that passes through your garden.  We can’t treat the wildlife but we can ensure our own pets are treated for fleas; flea products are available in sprays, spot on and even oral forms so even a semi feral pet cat could be treated through its food.  It is tricky when the other in contact animals are not your own, a chat with the neighbours is always worth a try.

I hope that I have managed to answer your question which was not at all silly.  If you are ever in doubt as to whether a product is working and which dose should be used please discuss this with your vet, this is what we are here to help you with.

Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet)

If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment to see your vet – or try our online Symptom Guide.

Ask a Vet Online – “My dog gets frontline flee treatment ..”

Question from Tracey Newall

My dog dexter gets frontline flee treatment but recently he seems 2 scratch more i havent found anything but his skin flakey

Answer from Shanika Online Vet

It is good to hear that you are treating Dexter for fleas; fleas are definitely high up on the list of causes for an itchy dog. Dry flaky skin may well be as a result of scratching due to flea infestation but can also be affected by allergies and medical conditions.

It is really important to remember that a pet suffering from a flea allergy or irritation does not need to be full of fleas. All it takes is one flea to bite your pet to set off the allergic reaction cascade that leads to the skin being irritated.

What is a flea?

Ctenocephalides canis or felis (the dog and cat flea) are a small wingless parasitic insect that live on our pets and in the environment.  Fleas can jump but they can’t fly, they need blood feeds to survive and a large proportion of the flea population are in the environment as oppose to on your pet.

Where are the fleas coming from?

Fleas live on animals as well as in the environment. The flea population consists of adult fleas, immature larval stages, dormant pupae and then eggs, as you move down the list the numbers increase significantly which is why we refer to them as a pyramid.

Fleas in the environment, by this we mean anywhere a pet with fleas has been, the warmth of our homes provides a great breeding ground for fleas in carpets, pet bedding and just about any nook and cranny.

Cats can also carry the fleas and they do not even have to be your own cats, for example if a cat comes through your home or garden then the fleas can jump off or deposit eggs as they go. This is why we often advise treating the home environment and in-contact animals also.

So how can you tell if your pet has fleas?

Gently part your pets fur and search through close to the skin, fleas are a reddish/brown colour and quickly move away from the light. It can be easier to find fleas on the underside of your pet as the coat is naturally thinner here. It is often easier to see the flea dirt in your pet’s coat than the actual fleas.

So what is flea dirt and how can you tell if there is any on your pet?

Flea dirt is the waste product produced by fleas and when dry it looks like little black specs, however if you wet it these black specs turn red as they contain digested blood. This brings us to the ‘wet paper test’, we comb through your pets coat and collect the debris onto a piece of wet white paper, if there is flea dirt present there will be small red dots visible where the flea dirt has dissolved in the water. The wet paper test helps to distinguish between flea dirt and just dried mud that may be on your pet’s coat.

Can the fleas live on humans?

You will be relieved to hear that cat and dog fleas don’t tend to live on humans, fleas can however bite humans and cause an irritation at the site of such bites. Commonly humans find flea bites on their ankles, wrists or at their waist band as small itchy raised red areas on the skin.

How to treat the flea problem?

I would recommend using a veterinary flea product either in the form of a spot on (applied to skin at base of neck), impregnated collar or a spray directly on your dog. It is however really important to treat any in-contact animals not just dogs but cats too. Lastly do not forget to treat the environment; this is most easily done by use of an aerosol spray applied to the carpets, skirting boards and soft furnishing. Instructions often advise to vacuum carpets before you spray to help the chemicals to be more effective. Always read the safety information as the chemicals may be harmful to fish or birds and it is important to allow good ventilation after spraying also. In my experience it is best to treat half the house at a time so as to leave somewhere for pets and people to hang out without having to breathe in the spray. The chemicals in the spray are designed to kill or prevent further development of the fleas and their various life stages. The effect of the environmental sprays can last for a year.

Why is my pet still scratching even though I have treated him/her for fleas?

Provided a thorough approach to flea treatment using appropriate products has been undertaken then if your pet continues to scratch there are likely to be other factors contributing. These may include allergies or intolerances to food substances, cleaning products and or an underlying medical condition.

What medical conditions may be causing my pet to scratch?

The skin has its own inbuilt barrier to substances that can cause irritation this however can be weakened in conditions such as Hypothyroidism (under active thyroid gland), Cushing’s disease (over production of natural steroids) and bacterial skin infection.

What should I do if after treating my pet, in-contact animal and the environment my pet is still scratching?

It is likely you will need to discuss further investigations into your pet’s skin condition with your vet, to try and rule out some of the conditions listed above. The investigations may involve blood and or skin tests. There is also the possibility that an exclusion diet or low allergy diet may be suggested if diet is suspected as a contributing factor to the skin problem.

So in conclusion an itchy pet may well need more than flea treatment. That is not to say that fleas are not very high up on the list of things to rule out by taking a thorough approach to flea treatment. If you are in any doubt always talk to your vet as we are here to help you and your pet.

It is good to hear that you are treating Dexter for fleas; fleas are definitely high up on the list of causes for an itchy dog. Dry flaky skin may well be as a result of scratching due to flea infestation but can also be affected by allergies and medical conditions.
It is really important to remember that a pet suffering from a flea allergy or irritation does not need to be full of fleas. All it takes is one flea to bite your pet to set off the allergic reaction cascade that leads to the skin being irritated.
What is a flea?
Ctenocephalides canis or felis (the dog and cat flea) are a small wingless parasitic insect that live on our pets and in the environment.  Fleas can jump but they can’t fly, they need blood feeds to survive and a large proportion of the flea population are in the environment as oppose to on your pet.
Where are the fleas coming from?
Fleas live on animals as well as in the environment. The flea population consists of adult fleas, immature larval stages, dormant pupae and then eggs, as you move down the list the numbers increase significantly which is why we refer to them as a pyramid.
Fleas in the environment, by this we mean anywhere a pet with fleas has been, the warmth of our homes provides a great breeding ground for fleas in carpets, pet bedding and just about any nook and cranny.
Cats can also carry the fleas and they do not even have to be your own cats, for example if a cat comes through your home or garden then the fleas can jump off or deposit eggs as they go. This is why we often advise treating the home environment and in-contact animals also.
So how can you tell if your pet has fleas?
Gently part your pets fur and search through close to the skin, fleas are a reddish/brown colour and quickly move away from the light. It can be easier to find fleas on the underside of your pet as the coat is naturally thinner here. It is often easier to see the flea dirt in your pet’s coat than the actual fleas.
So what is flea dirt and how can you tell if there is any on your pet?
Flea dirt is the waste product produced by fleas and when dry it looks like little black specs, however if you wet it these black specs turn red as they contain digested blood. This brings us to the ‘wet paper test’, we comb through your pets coat and collect the debris onto a piece of wet white paper, if there is flea dirt present there will be small red dots visible where the flea dirt has dissolved in the water. The wet paper test helps to distinguish between flea dirt and just dried mud that may be on your pet’s coat.
Can the fleas live on humans?
You will be relieved to hear that cat and dog fleas don’t tend to live on humans, fleas can however bite humans and cause an irritation at the site of such bites. Commonly humans find flea bites on their ankles, wrists or at their waist band as small itchy raised red areas on the skin.
How to treat the flea problem?
I would recommend using a veterinary flea product either in the form of a spot on (applied to skin at base of neck), impregnated collar or a spray directly on your dog. It is however really important to treat any in-contact animals not just dogs but cats too. Lastly do not forget to treat the environment; this is most easily done by use of an aerosol spray applied to the carpets, skirting boards and soft furnishing. Instructions often advise to vacuum carpets before you spray to help the chemicals to be more effective. Always read the safety information as the chemicals may be harmful to fish or birds and it is important to allow good ventilation after spraying also. In my experience it is best to treat half the house at a time so as to leave somewhere for pets and people to hang out without having to breathe in the spray. The chemicals in the spray are designed to kill or prevent further development of the fleas and their various life stages. The effect of the environmental sprays can last for a year.
Why is my pet still scratching even though I have treated him/her for fleas?
Provided a thorough approach to flea treatment using appropriate products has been undertaken then if your pet continues to scratch there are likely to be other factors contributing. These may include allergies or intolerances to food substances, cleaning products and or an underlying medical condition.
What medical conditions may be causing my pet to scratch?
The skin has its own inbuilt barrier to substances that can cause irritation this however can be weakened in conditions such as Hypothyroidism (under active thyroid gland), Cushing’s disease (over production of natural steroids) and bacterial skin infection.
What should I do if after treating my pet, in-contact animal and the environment my pet is still scratching?
It is likely you will need to discuss further investigations into your pet’s skin condition with your vet, to try and rule out some of the conditions listed above. The investigations may involve blood and or skin tests. There is also the possibility that an exclusion diet or low allergy diet may be suggested if diet is suspected as a contributing factor to the skin problem.
So in conclusion an itchy pet may well need more than flea treatment. That is not to say that fleas are not very high up on the list of things to rule out by taking a thorough approach to flea treatment. If you are in any doubt always talk to your vet as we are here to help you and your pet.

It may be getting cold outside, but it’s always flea season at home…

Daisy in her bedI see it almost every day, and constantly warn my clients about it, yet somehow even I wasn’t expecting it – yes, last week my very own cat came home with fleas. ‘How could this happen to me?’ I said, ‘I’m the vet!’ Well, the answer is very simple. I, like many of us, forgot to apply my cat’s flea preventative for the past few months. The weather was getting colder and she wasn’t going out as much, and with everything else going on the monthly treatment just slipped my mind. It sure was a wakeup call, however, to find the
tell-tale rusty brown dirt on my cat’s favourite bed.

And let’s face it, fleas are downright creepy. They eat blood and leave their faeces all over your pet, not to mention the fact that they can live in your carpets and even jump up and bite you. But at the same time, they’re pretty amazing little creatures, and successful ones at that.

Did you know…

… there are more than 2000 species of fleas around the world? 63 of these are found in the UK, and 10 of these can be found in our own homes. The most common species seen however, is called Ctenocephalides felis, which although it is commonly called the cat flea can also be found on dogs.

… fleas are responsible for spreading the Bubonic Plague in people, and myxomatosis in rabbits?

… fleas can jump up to 150 times their own length, and consume 15 times their own body weight in blood daily?

… a female flea can lay about 50 eggs a day, and once these new fleas mature, they can each bite up to 400 times a day. Add all that up and you’ve got one miserable cat.

How do I know if my cat has fleas?

IndieThis sounds like a simple question but it can be a lot harder than you think to diagnose fleas in cats. Sure, sometimes you can see them scurrying around your cat’s fur but it isn’t always that easy. In fact, I have seen four patients with significant flea infestations in just the past week, and none of their owners were aware of the problem. Animals with fleas don’t always itch, and there are lots of other reasons why cats can be itchy. Also, cats can sometimes eat any fleas that they come across whilst grooming themselves, so you don’t always see them. The most reliable way to tell if your cat has fleas is to comb your cat well with a very fine-toothed comb (they make flea combs just for that purpose) over a piece of white paper or onto some cotton wool. This will result in the flea ‘dirt’ (which is actually their faeces) falling onto the white surface where you can see it. Then cover the specks with a bit of water and rub gently – if the dirt turns reddish-brown, it is flea dirt. If your cat has a lot of fleas, you may be able to see the dirt in their bedding or other favourite areas without even needing a comb.

Of course, if you have any doubts, your vet would be happy to examine your cat for fleas and advise you as to the best course of action.

Why is it important to prevent and treat fleas?

• Adult fleas feed on blood, which in young kittens can result in weakness, anaemia, and even death.

• Some animals are very allergic to flea bites, which makes them more likely to develop a bad skin infection as a result. Even one bite can set off a reaction, so you may not ever see the offending flea itself. So if your cat has an itchy skin infection but you can’t find any fleas, it’s probably worth treating them for fleas anyway.

• Fleas carry tapeworms, which are spread to the cat when they eat the fleas during grooming. Therefore, if your cat has fleas, they should also be treated for tapeworms.

• If all of that wasn’t bad enough, they can bite you too. Cat fleas won’t live on a human, but they won’t be able to resist a free meal…

How do you treat a cat with fleas?

Before going into battle against your cat’s fleas, it’s a good idea to understand a bit about their life cycle so you can plan the best attack. Adult fleas mostly live on the cat, but they can live up to two years and survive in the environment for up to six months. Once they find a host, they start eating and laying eggs. Both the eggs and the flea faeces fall off the animal, where the larvae hatch and feed on the flea dirt. The satisfied larvae then dig deep into carpeting or furniture, trying to escape the light and making themselves incredibly hard to kill. They then develop into pupae and build themselves a cocoon. The flea develops to adulthood inside the cocoon then waits until just the right moment to burst out and jump onto your unsuspecting cat by detecting changes in pressure, heat, noise or vibrations. The whole process takes about 15 days from egg to adulthood, but they can lie waiting in their cocoons for up to 2 years so modern conveniences like central heating can cause a resurgence in flea populations that you thought you had under control. As you can see, treating fleas doesn’t just involve putting a flea preventative on your pet (although that’s a very good place to start), you must treat the environment as well.

1. Ask your vet which flea medication is best for your pet and use this as directed. This will be either a long-acting insecticide to kill adult fleas or an insect development inhibitor to prevent eggs from maturing into adult fleas, or possibly both. These can come in the form of a spot-on liquid, spray, tablet, or injection. Collars and powders are not recommended for use in cats now that more effective and safer treatments are available. Flea treatments from the pet shop or internet may be just fine, but they also may not work as well and if used incorrectly, could seriously harm your cat. Be particularly careful never to give a flea product intended for dogs to your cat! If in doubt, ask your vet.

best friends
2. Treat ALL animals in the house, provided there is a licensed flea treatment for that particular species. If you treat just one pet and not the others, the fleas will just go live on them instead.

3. Wash everything that you can. This particularly includes their bedding (and your bedding, if they have access to that too, eek!).

4. Hoover everything else. Frequently. This includes carpets, floorboards, skirting boards, sofas or other soft furnishings and any other little nooks and crannies where the young fleas may hide.

5. Once you’ve done your best to mechanically remove as many fleas as possible from the house, and if you still have a problem, go after the remaining residents chemically. There are several products on the market that can be used to safely treat fleas in your house, ask your vet for their recommendation.

6. Finally, be prepared to repeat these treatments if necessary, as flea eggs can hatch in waves that will need to be treated at different times. Be patient, be thorough, and be sure to follow all instructions carefully.

As with most things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If even the thought of fleas makes you shiver or perhaps you don’t fancy the extra housework mentioned above, I’d suggest you take steps to prevent your cat from getting fleas in the first place. Use flea preventatives on a regular basis as directed by your vet, which often means once a month. Don’t be tempted to stop the preventative in the winter months, which may be OK in colder climates but doesn’t apply to most of the UK, especially thanks to central heating. Remembering to apply the preventatives regularly can be difficult, so many come with stickers that you can put on your calendars, don’t be ashamed to use them! And remember, even vets’ cats are at risk – fleas can strike any pet, at any time. Be ready!

If you are concerned that your cat is itching or has fleas, check their symptoms using our Interactive Cat Symptom Guide to find out if you need to see your vet.

Allergic Skin Disease in Dogs

Probably the second most common skin condition I see in dogs (after flea-related problems) is allergic skin disease, or atopy.

Dogs can develop an allergic reaction to any number of things in the environment, or, less commonly, to their food. Common indoor allergens include house dust mites, detergents and carpet cleaning products. Common outdoor allergens include grasses and pollens. Food allergens include beef, pork, dairy products and wheat. And of course fleas themselves can cause allergic skin disease in some unlucky dogs.

atopic paw

An allergic reaction is caused when the immune system makes antibodies to common substances instead of to those which are “foreign” to it. The antibodies cause mast cells in the skin to release chemicals like histamine, which cause irritation and inflammation.

The most common age for dogs to show the first signs of allergic skin disease is when they are young, usually 1-3 years old. Some breeds are more commonly affected than others, and the tendency seems to run in families. For this reason, and because it can be a very distressing condition, it is not advisable to breed from affected dogs.

The signs of allergic skin disease can occur all over the dog, but usually are most obvious on the feet, the ears and the tummy. The affected areas will be red and itchy, and usually this leads to the dog licking or chewing at the area which does further damage. Areas which are licked a lot will become reddish-brown in colour due to staining by saliva. After a long time the skin will become thickened and more pigmented, so may be black in colour especially on the tummy. Surface infection will often be present and have to be treated first before the cause can be found.

Diagnosing the problem is by a mixture of examination and tests. A full examination of the dog will be needed to see if the skin disease is part of a bigger problem, e.g. thyroid disease. Blood tests may be needed to rule out such problems. Then the skin will be examined in more detail. The appearance of the skin gives clues but is not usually enough on its own to find out the cause. In any itchy skin condition it is important to rule out fleas, mites and lice, by taking a skin scraping and a hair sample. This can also be used to look for fungal spores.

Once infection has been treated and parasites have been ruled out or treated, allergic skin disease may be a chief suspect. Finding out what causes an allergy is not very easy. There may well be more than one trigger, and allergy may develop to a substance which the animal has been exposed to before without any problems.

If food is suspected, a special diet based on very few food sources may be recommended, but any improvement may take some weeks to show so it is important not to give up too quickly and not to feed any additional tit-bits.

If a skin condition is very seasonal, always flaring up in the summer months, it makes it more likely that the cause might be grasses or pollens.

Finding out what substances cause an allergy can be done with skin tests or blood tests. Skin tests involve the injection of minute amounts of suspected allergens under the skin and is usually done under sedation. Blood test have to be sent to a laboratory specialising in these types of tests. All the most common causes of allergies can be checked to see if an individual reacts to them. This is most useful if the allergen is something which can be avoided or removed from the dog’s environment. If avoidance is not possible, or if many allergens are involved, then treatment will be needed for the whole of the dog’s life.

Antihistamines can help to reduce the distressing itch. Food supplements containing essential fatty acids can also be useful. Medicated shampoos also improve general skin health.

Some cases may need to be treated with steroids, which help control the inflammation and itch but do not tackle the cause. The disadvantage is the risk of serious side effects, so they must be used appropriately. Steroids can be very useful and very necessary in some cases but are not ideal for all or for long term use.

Another frequently used drug is cyclosporine which is an immunomodulator. It is unlikely to cause serious side effects and can give good long term control. Some dogs suffer from diarrhoea and vomiting at first but this often stops as treatment continues.

Desensitisation is a technique where a unique vaccine is created for an individual dog according to the allergens which were identified by blood testing. This vaccine is then injected monthly, starting with very small doses and building up to a regular monthly dose. This can also be very successful for some dogs but may take months to take effect.

Allergic skin disease is a very unpleasant condition, causing painful and distressing itchiness and often needing lifelong treatment. Diagnosis and treatment are not easy and will take time, which can be frustrating for both dog and owner. The best treatment will vary from one dog to another, so a lot of patience may be needed.

More Useful Information

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Worming & Flea Treatment

Information and advice in treating your pet for worms and fleas.