Fleas are a challenge!

In cats and dogs, fleas are perhaps the most common external parasite problem encountered by pet owners. They have been around for a very long time and know a thing or two about species survival so getting rid of a flea problem is never easy.

Keep the following in mind when tackling fleas on your cat or dog.

They are an environmental problem, not a pet problem. Yes, you will see the fleas on your pet, but those you see are a very small proportion of the total flea population in your pets environment(approx 1% visible to you vs 99% hidden in the environment!). The implication of this is that you cannot hope to beat a flea problem by only treating the pet - you have to include the environment in your plans.

Fleas need blood meals to survive and breed. They are also photophobic (don't like bright sunlight). So that patch of sand in the middle of your garden 20m from the dogs kennel is unlikely to be the source of your flea problem.Fleas like warm, humid areas out of direct sunlight.

Dogs and cats are the preferred host for the normal pet flea (C.felis). If you have pets but find fleas jumping onto you for a blood meal then you have a huge infestation on your hands.The exception to this observation is if you move into somewhere that has not been occupied for a while then newly hatched fleas will jump on anything to get a blood meal.

One should not stop the "anti-flea" drive over winter. As it gets cooler, the flea lifecycle takes longer to complete and the prescence of fleas may be less obvious. However, the lifecycle rarely stops altogether, even in very cold climates because then the pets are often inside the house with central heating. Hmm, lets see...warm,constant humidity, out of direct sunlight - yes, ideal conditions for flea survival.

You might not actually see any real live fleas on your pet (this is particularly true of cats because they groom so frequently). But your pet may still have a flea problem. If your dog or cat is scratcing a lot and has some hair loss, especially just above the tail on the lower back, then look for little black and/or white grains in the coat. These are flea faeces (black) and flea eggs (white) and their presence means that there are fleas on your pet - even if you can't see any!It doesn't automatically follow however that getting rid of the fleas will sort out the hair loss problem. Alas, it is often more complicated than that but reducing the flea load will always be beneficial to a scratching pet.

Fleas, signs of fleas, or a skin reaction to fleas may be present on a single e.g. dog in your household, while your other dogs look fine. You cannot only treat the affected animal to get rid of the fleas. You must treat all the dogs (and cats) in the household AND the enviroment or you are going to lose the battle.

Very young animals can literally be sucked (almost) dry of blood if they have a very heavy flea burden. This can obviously be life threatening on its own, and is often made worse by a concurrent worm infestation.

What do you use to treat for fleas? By now I hope you realise there is more to this than simply buying a flea collar!There are a wide range of products available for treating both pets and the environment. Remember though that the formulations for dogs are usually different to those for cats - either in terms of the active ingredient or the dosage. Make sure you consult your Veterinarian to establish what is safe for your pet - cats can be particularly susceptible to some of the chemicals used to control fleas.

Whatever you use to treat the environment, it is best to start with a thorough mechanical cleaning before you apply any sort of chemical. Vacuuming, using only a nozzle to ensure good suction into carpet pile and cracks between floor boards, will remove a significant number of the non mobile flea eggs and pupae present in the environment. Outside, remove moist and rotting vegetation, cut the grass short and try to expose damp, shady areas to as much sunlight as possible.

Natural flea repellants are available but, as with the other anti-flea formulations, don't expect them to work miracles all by themselves.

Fleas have been around a long time - several million years in fact - so they know how to survive as a species. Your best efforts will be needed to keep them under control!