Ingleburn Veterinary Hospital
Unit 4, 2 Noonan Road
- 02 9829 1947
Fleas are a serious health problem to both dogs and cats. Flea bites cause pain and irritation, suck blood, carry other parasites and can also lead to a serious skin problem known as Flea Allergy Dermatitis. Commonly known as “eczema”, this is the most common skin complaint we see in dogs and cats and one of the most distressing. In fact, fleas cause more skin problems in dogs and cats than all other causes put together. And your pet may be suffering from flea-related dermatitis even if you think they have no fleas!
Flea control is possible. It just takes an understanding of the life cycle of the flea, and how you can stop it.
When an adult flea first jumps onto your pet, it sucks blood, then breeds, and after 24hrs, starts laying eggs (up to 50 per day) These eggs fall into the bedding, carpet or grass, concentrated into the areas where your pet spends the most time. You generally can’t see the tiny white eggs. The small black specks that you may see in your pet’s coat are actually faeces (flea poo).
Within just a few days, a small hairy larva will hatch from the egg. The larvae live deep in the base of the carpet/grass/bedding, feeding on organic material like crumbs and flea faeces. They later form a pupa (cocoon) in which the new adult flea develops. The pupa provides great protection for the flea, hidden deep in the carpet or grass and impervious to insecticides. When the adult flea has developed inside the pupa, it is able to detect the heat, movement and increased carbon dioxide concentrations caused by a passing animal. The adult will “hatch” quickly from the pupa and jump onto your pet. The whole life cycle then starts over.
Fleas are usually a much bigger problem in summer. They don’t live longer or bite any more often, but they do breed much faster, so there’s a lot more of them! In the heat and humidity of summer (or heated indoors in winter), the whole life cycle can take as little as 3 weeks, and just a few fleas can breed into thousands. Outdoors in winter, the pupa may lie dormant for several months, but they are growing in number all the time, ready to hatch when the conditions are right. Adult fleas only make up 5% of the fleas’ population that exists in your home. So, you’ll see that the adult fleas on your pet are actually just the tip of the iceberg.
Effective long-term flea control involves controlling the immature stages in the environment and killing the adult fleas on your pets.
It’s vital to treat all dogs and cats in the household (even if they don’t appear to have any fleas)
It is important to note that there is no single product that will eliminate fleas completely in every situation.
A combination of the following steps will effectively reduce even the most severe flea problems:
Wash your pet’s bedding regularly.
Environmental sprays and flea bombs may be required in severe cases. But it usually preferable to use a product on your pets that will stop the fleas from breeding.
Insect growth regulators such as lufenuron in (Sentinel Spectrum) is known as birth control for fleas. They effectively sterilise the female flea, yet are totally safe for your pet. These products ensure that the flea eggs will never hatch. But will not kill the adult fleas!
Adulticides kill the adult fleas on your pet. The most effective products are safe and have a long residual action (which means they continue to kill fleas long after they are applied). We recommend Revolution, Advantage, or Comfortis.
These products kill fleas within 24hours, ie before they start laying eggs. Therefore also helping to control the environmental stages.
Other products worth considering may include: Capstar Tablets, Permoxin Spray or Rinse (dogs only) or any good quality shampoo containing permethrin (dogs only) or pyrethrins.
Products that we do not generally recommend include: flea collars; flea powders; wool-wash, any shampoo or rinse containing organophosphates, eucalyptus or tea-tree oils; and tablets containing cythioate or garlic.
WARNING! DO NOT USE DOG PRODUCTS ON CATS.
Many dog flea control products contain permethrin which is toxic and quite often fatal to cats.
This is one of the most common forms of allergic dermatitis in dogs and cats. It is often the cause of the skin disease that people sometimes refer to as eczema.
A normal dog (or cat) experiences only minor skin irritation in response to flea bites. Even in the presence of dozens of fleas, there will be very little itching. On the other hand, the flea allergic dog has a severe, itchy reaction to flea bites. This occurs because the dog develops an allergic response to the flea's saliva. When the dog is bitten, flea saliva is deposited in the skin. Just one bite causes intense itching. You might think your dog has no fleas, but just one bite every 2 weeks can lead to continuous itching.
The dog's response to the intense itching is to chew, lick, or scratch. This causes hair loss and can lead to open sores or scabs, allowing a secondary bacterial infection to begin. Over time, the skin can become black and very thickened. The areas most commonly involved are the tail-base, rump and the backs of the legs. Cats develop multiple small scabs, especially over the neck and back.
Treatment: The most important treatment for flea allergy is to rid your pets of all fleas. This involves treating your pets directly, treating all in-contact animals and removing fleas from the environment. There are many products available for flea control, and in some cases, multiple products may be needed. The most effective single product for flea allergy is Frontera Spray used (at the full dose) every 2 weeks until the problem is under control and then every 4 weeks indefinitely. If you can’t use a spray, try Comfortis once a month or Advantage every 2 weeks.
Seek veterinary attention if your pet is in a lot of discomfort as medical treatment may be required.
Initially, or when complete flea control is not possible, corticosteroids (such as prednisolone) can be used to block the allergic reaction and give your pet some relief.
Sentinel monthly flavoured tablets for dogs stop fleas from breeding, prevent heart worm and kill intestinal worms too. It is usually our first recommendation for dogs, but does not kill adult fleas. Sentinel may not be appropriate if your dog has regular contact with other untreated animals.
Revolution is a small amount of liquid applied to the skin on the back of your pet’s neck. It also prevents heartworm, and in cats it controls intestinal worms too. It is usually our first recommendation for cats.
Panoramis is a fairly new product to the market that controls heartworm, intestinal worms and fleas in a monthly chewable tablet.
FronteraSpray is the most effective insecticide against adult fleas. It is applied all over your pet. It lasts up to 6-8 weeks on cats, and 2-3 months on dogs. It is waterproof, so long as you don’t bath your pet within 2 days before or after applying it.
Advantage is applied monthly to the skin on the back of your pet’s neck.
Advocate is another monthly product applied to the skin which prevents heartworm, fleas and most intestinal worms in dogs and cats.
Permoxin concentrate (for dogs only) can be used as a rinse, or diluted to make up a flea spray. It’s cheap, but lasts only a few days. Do not use this product on cats!
Capstar tablets provide a quick and easy way to kill fleas on your pet. A single dose will kill most fleas on your pet within 30 minutes. But it has no residual action, so we recommend it only if used in conjunction with Sentinel Spectrum.
Comfortis the newest monthly chewable tablet that kills fleas! Works fast, good for dogs that need to be bathed or swim regularly. Also great for flea allergy dermatitis.
Nexgard Chewables are given monthly to dogs for the prevention of flea infestations and control of ticks.