Pet pest that really gets under the skin

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it’s coming up to that itchy time of year at the surgery when we start to think about fleas.

Fleas fascinate me, on one hand they are skin-crawlingly disgusting and on the other they command respect for being extremely successful parasites (vets and owners spend many hours resisting their presence).

Dogs or cats picks up the mummy flea when they are out in the garden or on a walk. Indoor cats are not immune from flea infestations, and neither are dogs who never contact other animals, because no direct contact is required – the eggs come from the ground on which we walk. So the mummy flea runs about on your pet and takes a blood ‘meal’ every 15 minutes, then lays a small clutch of eggs. These eggs immediately drop off the coat and fall into the carpet, or sofa, or your bed. She will live for about a week laying up to 200 eggs in her short lifetime. This is one reason fleas are so successful at evading elimination.

These eggs mature then hatch over about two weeks. From these will spring tiny caterpillars, not visible to the naked eye, which hate light, so crawl to the bottom of carpet pile or the back of sofas to hide. They can live just as easily in hard floors (in cracks or skirting boards), so ridding your house of carpets doesn’t necessarily help I’m afraid.

From caterpillars come pupae, and flea pupae are extremely tough – they have a hard shell, and resist vacuuming, heat and dryness, and all known chemical sprays, living for up to two years. This is reason two that fleas cause us so much trouble. They hatch in response to movement and warmth (i.e. a pet or a human walking past) and spring up to catch on to whatever just walked past. New baby fleas can start drinking blood in as little as seven seconds, and will quickly mature to start laying eggs of their very own.

So what do we do about them? Firstly, prevention is better than cure. Regular application of a flea preventative stops these pupae getting into your house in the first place. However, visit your vet to get a prescription. Many owners are caught unawares thinking that over-the-counter or supermarket products will put paid to these little critters. Sadly, in many cases, it simply isn’t true. Regular application is important because if your pet’s protection runs out, then beware the hidden danger of the next flea pupae just waiting to jump on board for its breakfast.