If your pet is scratching there's about a 90% chance it has fleas. That's how common they are. In the UK the vast majority of fleas on household pets are cat fleas because they are adapted to the environment we live in. Dog fleas are rare but that doesn't mean cat fleas won't affect your dog! Other pets, especially rabbits, have their own fleas but they are less common and they generally don't cross species.
In addition to causing your pet to itch, fleas can cause severe allergic skin disorders and can transmit tapeworms if eaten. This is a particular problem in cats because of their grooming habits. Just because you don't see fleas when you look through your pet's coat doesn't mean they haven't got them - if you do see them readily that means there are a lot - by the time they are easily visible there are probably hundreds! It is best to look for 'flea dirts', these are the flea's droppings and are usually visible as little dark bits in the coat which you might easily dismiss as just general dirt. However, if you take a piece of wet white paper and vigorously brush your pet's coat over it, the flea dirts will fall off and dissolve in the water because they are bits of undigested blood and will leave a tell-tale red trace. Even one such red spot proves your pet has fleas but you may be horrified to see how many there are when you didn't even suspect it.
Adult fleas spend most of their lifetime on the host - that's your pet. They lay eggs in the coat which then fall off into the environment - that's your home. The eggs will then hatch into larvae which feed on the flea's droppings. The larvae develop into a pupa from which the new flea emerges to jump on a passing host and start the lifecycle all over again. This cycle can take just a few days and as a female flea can lay 60 eggs a day and 600 in her lifetime it doesn't take much imagination to realise how many fleas you can have in a very short time. Conversely in poor conditions and where there is no suitable host, the eggs can remain dormant for years waiting for the next opportunity to arise. Flea eggs can also be transmitted on clothing.
These facts explain how your pet can get a flea problem in a new home or even when it's had no contact with other animals. Also, cats especially can easily pick up fleas from communal areas where other cats congregate or by sneaking into someone else's home where their flea control may not be as good as yours. Fleas can't complete their lifecycle at less than 15 degrees centigrade but that doesn't mean the problem will go away in the winter. On the contrary, with central heating and fitted carpets fleas do just as well indoors in the winter as the summer.
Not all flea treatments are equal. Indeed most of the products available from shops are ineffective and some can be dangerous if not applied correctly. We can supply safe and effective spot-on products which are often multi-purpose and can control other parasites, including certain worms, at the same time. These usually have to be applied monthly but there is a unique product for cats, Program, which is given by injection and lasts six months.
We also sell a household spray which lasts for up to a year. This is important because it inhibits the life cycle and stops the flea eggs from developing. Most household sprays, even insecticidal 'bombs', last only a short time and only kill live insects. As we've said, most of the adult fleas live permenantly on your pet so you may end up with an insect free home but the flea eggs will still be able to develop.
While the vast majority of external parasites on pets are fleas it is not uncommon for them to pick up other creepy-crawlies. Here are a few of the ones you're most likely to encounter:
Ticks only spend a few days on the host. Dogs and cats typically pick them from rough ground in parks, fields and overgrown gardens. The tick is normally only 1-2mm diameter when it first attaches but will suck blood over several days and grow to resemble a small grey broad bean. It will then fall off and continue to live off the host. Fortunately, unlike fleas, ticks rarely survive indoors. A tick can easily be removed with a special tick-hook we can supply or by grasping between the fingers and rotating slowly until it lets go. Don't just attempt to pull them off or they may leave the head behind, which is not dangerous but remains as a source of irritation. Don't attempt other old-wife's methods of removal like soaking in alcohol or burning with a cigarette - both are ineffective and potentially harmful. Ticks can transmit some potentially life threatening diseases so if your pet goes in places where it could pick up ticks you should consider routine prevention. We can supply products that are effective against ticks along with other routine parasite control.
There are several types of mites but those most commonly encountered are: Sarcoptic mange, Demodectic mange, ear mites and Cheylitiella.
Sarcoptic mange is very commonly picked up by dogs from foxes and can be transmitted via fences, undergrowth etc where foxes have been. The mites burrow deep in the skin resulting in very itchy, red, scaly patches typically on the ears, elbows and sides. It can be difficult to diagnose from skin scrapes but there is a blood test. Modern treatment is easy and generally effective but the multi-purpose treatments we sell for routine flea and worm control will prevent it. Sarcoptic mange rarely occurs in cats but is common in guinea pigs when it can be severely debilitating.
Demodectic mange is caused by a long thin mite that lives in the hair follicle and causes hair loss, typically on the head and legs but can occur anywhere. It isn't always itchy but can spread and cause secondary dermatitis. It is common in puppies especially in short coated dog breeds. It is easy to diagnose from a skin scrape but can be difficult to eliminate with simple treatment. Demodectic mange is uncommon in cats but frequently seen in hamsters.
Ear Mites occur most frequently in cats, especially kittens. These can cause a very uncomfortable ear infestation, with a characteristic black wax, which can lead to secondary ear infections. Ear mites are easy to diagnose and treat with drops or with the spot-on flea and worm products we recommend but are often overlooked. They can also affect dogs and rabbits.
Cheylitiella is sometimes called walking dandruff and is most commonly seen on rabbits. It is not usually serious or very itchy but is characterised by severe dandruff. Long coated cats with soft fur will also occasionally catch this mite. It is easily treatable with an appropriate spot-on product.
Lice are not seen very commonly, but although they can affect all pets, unlike fleas, ticks and some mites, they don't swap species. They usually cause a very itchy condition and, as they are the only parasite other than fleas and ticks that can be seen with the naked eye, can be spotted in good light crawling in the fur. More commonly you will see the characteristic 'nits' or lice eggs. Some modern spot-on flea and worm products will also treat and prevent lice.
We should mention Ringworm although is not a worm but caused by a fungal infection (dermatophytosis). It gets its name from the red ring that is characteristic on the skin of infected humans. It is relatively common in cats, especially kittens, but can also be seen in dogs and small pets. It typically causes itchy scaly patches on the face and ears but can appear anywhere on the body and can be transmitted directly or from shed hair and skin scale. There are several dermatophytes and some can cross pet species or affect humans. Ringworm may be easy to diagnose as some glow under a special light but sometimes a hair culture is required which can take several weeks to confirm an infection. Treatment is only possible with prescription products available from the vet.
For further information on all external parasites and to buy products which are guaranteed effective please contact the clinic. Please note that most products can only be supplied to pets registered with us. We are happy to perform a free flea check in order to register your pet.
St Martins Veterinary Clinic
126 Station Road
Tel.: 01895 444400
Fax: 01895 431520
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