Controlling Fleas and Ticks

  • Fleas live off the blood of your pet. Combing your pet over a damp piece of paper can give them away.
  • Some pets just itch, others have worse reactions with lots of dry, scabby skin.
  • The lifecycle of fleas is mostly spent in the environment, not on your pet.
  • Fleas can be controlled in the environment with environmental sprays and regular vacuuming.
  • For your pets; sprays, spot on or oral preparations are recommended and should be repeated regularly to stop fleas coming back. All dogs and cats in the household must be treated.
  • Ticks may carry Lyme Disease or Babesiosis

What are fleas and how do they cause trouble?
Adult fleas are wingless insects, flattened laterally so they can run through hair, and with long powerful legs for jumping. They live by sucking blood from their host animal, injecting saliva in the process which frequently causes an allergic reaction (flea bite hypersensitivity). The allergic animal will itch and bite or scratch at the area, causing matting of the fur or hair loss, and eventually sore areas in some cases. In the dog, the area above the tail and over the back is most frequently affected. In the cat, small scabs may appear all over (miliary eczema), or just certain areas may be licked.

Pets with other allergies eg atopy, will have worsening of symptoms if fleas are present too. Very young animals can be overwhelmed by fleas, and become anaemic.

Fleas also carry the tapeworm, Dipylidium caninum, so regular worming is a must.

How do I know if my pet has fleas?
The best method for detecting fleas is to take a piece of white paper, wet it under the tap, and comb your pet over this. Debris from the coat will fall onto the paper, and flea dirt will dissolve in the water to leave a red / brown stain, as they contain blood pigment.

Adult fleas may be found, but as they represent only 1% of the flea population at any one time, and live for a relatively short time, it is not very useful to look for them. If you do see them, they will be a dark reddish brown colour, shiny and very quick to run or jump away!

How do fleas reproduce?
The life cycle of the flea is as follows:

Fleas on your pet start laying eggs after 1-2 days, each flea laying up to 2,000 eggs.  The eggs are shiny and fall out of the coat into bedding, furniture, carpets and into cracks and crevices.  The eggs hatch into mobile larvae that move short distances away from light to hide in the carpets and under furniture.  The larvae pupate in their hiding places and can survive like this for many months, waiting for an opportunity to emerge.  If pets or people are around, the pupae hatch as adult fleas and jump onto your pet.  People generally get bitten around the ankles and legs.

All stages except the adult feeding stage live in the environment (ie bedding, carpets, chairs, car, etc) and are very difficult to find. They may survive for extended periods of time without feeding. Most fleas on dogs and cats are cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis), but this does not mean they have been caught from a cat – they are just as happy on dogs.  Rabbits have their own specific flea – Spilopsylla cuniculi – but they are just as happy to share others!

The main population of fleas is not on the pet at all, and our control methods reflect this. Just killing the adult stage on the pet will not give good control, particularly if there are many in the environment.

How do I control fleas in the environment?
As over 95% of the flea population are in the carpets, bedding, car etc., just treating your pet may not solve the problem.  You must treat all the dogs and cats in the household, and often the house itself.

Thorough vacuuming picks up eggs and flea dirt, but not larvae, pupae or adult fleas. Concentrate on the areas at the edges of fitted carpets, under radiators, etc, and on the pet’s bedding, where the populations will be highest.   After vacuuming, spray the entire area with Indorex® Spray, a house and car insecticide to kill adult fleas on contact for up to two months.  Indorex® also contains a synthetic insect hormone – Methoprene – to prevent the development of larvae for one year. The spray’s effect lasts a whole year by preventing further development and one can treats 80 sq m.  Read all the directions carefully and do not spray in rooms with naked flames, fish tanks or caged birds. Spray the whole house and car, not just the areas frequented by your pet – adult fleas can jump 34cm and larvae can crawl 10 feet – stairs are no obstacle!

Some products for dogs and cats such as Frontline Combo® and Broadline® (for cats only), contain insect growth regulators that prevent the adult fleas from producing viable eggs.  Frontline Combo®, and Broadline®, are available as spot on treatments. These products are prescription drugs and so only available from veterinary surgeons.

How do I control fleas on my pet?
Control on your pet is aimed at the adult flea, which is the reproducing stageThere are many different products on the market – we recommend only the most effective and easy to use treatments, and avoid organophosphate insecticides where possible – don’t waste your money on less effective remedies.

The best products are described here and are mostly modern treatments only available from veterinary surgeries because of prescription medicine regulations. Treat all dogs and cats in the household or your treatments will not work.

Do not use more than one of these products at a time, and follow the instructions carefully.  Always ask our advice before treating pregnant or nursing animals or the very young.  Products in italics are prescription only, and restricted to patients registered under our care:

Nexguard® is a chewable tablet for dogs which protects against fleas and ticks for one month.  Safe to use from 8 weeks of age and over 2kg weight.  Can be used with Milbemax® wormer, particularly useful for dogs that are frequently bathed.

Comfortis® effective against fleas, these tablets are especially useful for cats with severe reactions to fleas and are recommended for dogs and cats over 14 weeks of age.

Effipro® Spray can be used in puppies and kittens over 2 days old, and also protects against ticks for 4 weeks.  Although less convenient to apply, it can last for 3 months in dogs and 2 months in cats.

Bravecto® for dogs only, treats and protects against fleas and ticks.  Oral palatable tablet to use every 3 months, (8 weeks abroad for R sanguineus).  Safe in pregnant and lactating animals.  Can be used with Milbemax® wormer, particularly useful for dogs that are frequently bathed.

Spot-on preparations are low volume liquid insecticides which are applied directly to the skin.  When using spot-on or spray preparations, care must be taken in handling, both during and for the day after treatment, and bathing avoided before and after treatment for a day or two.   If you find spraying difficult, or you cannot remember to do it frequently, spot-ons may be the answer, and they are rapidly becoming the most popular treatment.

Advantage Spot-On® protects against fleas for one month, and can be used on puppies and kittens from 8 weeks old. It kills fleas on the pet, helps remove larvae from the environment, and is very cost-effective.  Safe to use in pregnant and nursing mothers, it can also be used monthly in rabbits from 10 weeks old.  Infestations in rabbits can be treated every week if necessary.

Advantix Spot-On® is used monthly on dogs to kill and repel ticks and fleas.  Advantix®  is also great for taking your pet abroad as it also repels sand flies and mosquitoes, and fortnightly application is recommended for this.  Do not use Advantix® on cats, it is toxic to them.

Advocate Spot-On® is used monthly at 7 weeks in puppies and 9 weeks in kittens weighing more than 1kg and is effective against fleas, roundworms, lungworms, ear mites and mange mites.  It also prevents heartworm infection, so is useful for pets taken abroad, and is helpful where pets will not take tablets.  Do not give with Milbemax® wormer unless directed by your vet.

Broadline® is a spot on solution for cats which protects against fleas, ticks, tapeworm and roundworms and is safe to use from 7 weeks of age.

Frontline Combo Spot-On® isused monthly on dogs and cats from 8 weeks old.  It is effective against ticks and fleas, and contains an additional chemical to stop fleas reproducing, making it more effective than basic Frontline®.  It can be used during pregnancy and lactation.

Stronghold Spot-On® can be used in smaller kittens from 6 weeks.  Do not give with Milbemax® wormer unless directed by your vet.

Other control methods
Seresto® collars are effective against flea and ticks for up to 8 months and can be used for cats from 10 weeks of age and dogs from 8 weeks.  Recommended for pets travelling abroad, the collar does not need to be removed prior to bathing or swimming.

There are many Flea Collars on the market, with varying efficacy. They are not as effective as Seresto collars, or the tablets, sprays and spot-ons listed above, and sometimes cause a local reaction round the neck.  Herbal collars are not recommended.

Watch out for ‘spot-on’ products on general sale that are just repellents – they will not kill fleas, and take care with dog only insecticides – they can be very toxic to cats.
Shampoos have little residual activity, so have almost no impact on the flea population in the house. Do not to use a flea shampoo with other treatments, as toxicity may occur.

If your pet has sore skin or hair loss, seek the vet’s advice about treatment first, as some problems may require additional therapy.

Finally, fleas frequently transmit the tapeworm, Dipylidium caninum to dogs and cats. Treat for tapeworm with Milbemax® tablets if your pet has fleas, see our worming your pet page for further information.

Ticks attach themselves to animals and suck blood for several days before dropping off again.  They are often acquired from woodlands and pastures, and are best removed as soon as possible.  Ticks may carry Lyme Disease, caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi or babesiosis caused by microscopic parasites that infect red blood cells.  Removing ticks within 24 hours of attachment greatly reduces infection.

How do I control ticks on my pet?
If your pet regularly picks up ticks, use Nexguard® , Advantix Spot-On® or Bravecto®  for dogsBroadline® or Comfortis® for cats or Frontline Combo Spot-On® (dogs or cats) routinely.

How do I remove ticks from my pet?
Attached ticks should never be pulled off or treated with chemicals or lit cigarettes, as this may injure the pet and increase the likelihood of leaving the head embedded in the skin.  Tick removal should be carried out by experienced personnel or at home with special forceps to ensure removal of all the mouthparts.  To remove a tick, always use a gentle twisting movement.  Tick removers are not expensive, and are on sale in reception.

Our Vet Health Advisors are able to remove any ticks your pets may have, quickly and efficiently – just call for an appointment.

What happens if I do not remove the tick correctly?
Tick heads left in the skin can cause allergic reactions and infections, as can ticks if they are unnoticed or left for any length of time.  If you think a tick has been present for a while, are unsure about removing it yourself or feel that you may not have removed the tick entirely, call us today for further advice.

return to top of page