Dealing with fleas is one of the more negative aspects of keeping pets and, according to Dr Tim Nuttall, veterinary dermatologist at the University of Liverpool, fleas are on the increase. He attributes this rise to mild winters and damp summers. It takes time and patience to rid your home of fleas; repeated treatments will be necessary over the course of several weeks. Once you have won the battle, ongoing measures will protect your pets and your home against future outbreaks.
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Sources of flea infestation
Introducing a new pet into the home is often the cause of an infestation. Animals can bring fleas, eggs and larvae in from outside after exercise. Visitors may unwittingly carry flea eggs on their clothing if they have pets of their own. Second-hand furniture can also be the source of a flea outbreak.
De-flea the pet
Apply a proprietary spot-on de-flea treatment. Ensure you follow the directions on the package, using the correct amount for the pet's age and weight. Always consult your veterinary practitioner in the first instance. It's a good idea to mark your calendar for monthly follow-up treatments. Fleas can develop immunity to treatments, so vary the brand you use from month to month.
Groom the animal daily, or even twice a day. Groom as you would normally, then go over the pet carefully with a flea comb. After every stroke of the comb, dip it into a bowl of lukewarm water to which a drop of washing-up liquid has been added. This will ensure the fleas sink rather than float.
Ensure your pet is in tip-top condition, as healthy skin is important in flea control. Never feed your pet food intended for humans, as there are many ingredients that can upset their digestive system and make the skin attractive to fleas. Food supplements, such as brewer's yeast with garlic, are claimed to help discourage fleas, as they make the pet's skin unpalatable.
Eradicating fleas from the home
Remove pets and children from the house and spray everywhere with a household flea spray. Follow the manufacturer's instructions. Pay attention to furniture, carpets, rugs and gaps in flooring, as flea eggs can fall into the smallest nooks and crannies. Vacuum thoroughly after the recommended time has elapsed, and then daily to remove flea eggs and larvae. Repeat the spray application as directed. Some treatments are designed to prevent fleas reproducing rather than kill them immediately, so don't worry too much if you continue to see live fleas after treatment.
Wash pet bedding, soft toys and any textiles that the animal may sleep on. Cats, in particular, will sleep where they want, therefore wash, spray and vacuum those areas. The life-cycle of fleas from egg to adult can vary from two weeks up to two years, and very little of that time is spent on the pet, therefore continue to wash bedding and fabrics weekly.
Ongoing flea prevention
Check pets regularly for evidence of fleas. Notice if your pet is scratching itself frequently. Visible signs are specks of dark-coloured flea droppings on the animal's underside. Comb these onto a piece of paper and add a few drops of water – flea droppings will turn red. You may discover flea bites on your own skin – itchy red spots about five millimetres in diameter. Continue to groom daily and wash bedding once a week. Occasionally bath the pet, using a mild shampoo. Consider applying non-toxic products that contain nematodes, which ingest flea larvae, to lawns and other areas of the garden.
Proprietary flea treatments may contain substances that are harmful to people. Ensure that anyone prone to allergic reactions is kept away from areas being treated. Always follow the manufacturer's guidelines. Avoid ingesting, inhaling or touching flea treatments. Beware of “natural remedies;” for example, essential oils can poison some breeds of dogs and all cats. Never dose your pet with anything unless you have checked with your veterinary practitioner. Advice leaflets are available from your local council, vet and pet store.
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