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Controlling Fleas and Ticks

Advice on controlling fleas and ticks

  • 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 other species.
  • 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 – only 5% of the total flea population are adult fleas living on your pet.
  • Fleas can be controlled in the environment with environmental sprays and regular vacuuming.
  • To treat your pets there are various products available:- tablets, spot-ons or sprays are recommended and should be repeated regularly to help prevent repeat infestations. All dogs and cats in the household must be treated.
  • We also treat for ticks as they 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 with long, powerful legs for jumping. They feed by sucking blood from their host animal, injecting saliva in the process which frequently causes an allergic reaction (flea-allergic dermatitis). 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 the dog, the area above the tail and over the back is most frequently affected. In the cat, small scabs may appear all over their body (miliary eczema), or just certain areas may be licked. Pets with other allergies will have worsening of symptoms if fleas are present too. Very young animals can be overwhelmed by fleas, and become anaemic and very sick.

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

How do I know if my pet has fleas?

Fleas feed on the blood of your pet. Brushing your pet’s coat over a damp piece of paper is a simple and easy test to detect the presence of fleas. Debris from the coat will fall onto the paper, and flea dirt will dissolve in the water to leave a red / brown stain, which is the blood pigment. Adult fleas may be found on your pet, but as they represent only 5% 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?

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 lower legs. All stages except the adult feeding stage live in the environment (i.e. bedding, carpets, chairs, car, etc) and are very difficult to find. They may survive for extended periods of time without feeding. All of our control methods reflect the fact that the main population of fleas are in the environment. Just killing the adult stage on the pet alone may not give good control, especially f 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 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 our recommended house spray, this will kill adult fleas on contact for up to two months. The spray also contains a synthetic insect hormone – methoprene – to prevent the development of larvae for one year. 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 contain insect growth regulators that prevent the adult fleas from producing viable eggs. These products are prescription drugs and so only available from veterinary surgeons.  Products containing Permethrin are very toxic to cats.

How do I control fleas on my pet?

Control on your pet is aimed at the adult flea, which is the reproducing stage. There are many different products on the market – we try to recommend the most effective and easy to use treatments.

The best products are mostly modern treatments only available from vet surgeries because of prescription regulations.  It is important to treat all dogs and cats in the household or your treatments will not work.

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 should be 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.

Be aware some spot-on treatments for dogs contain Permethrin, which is highly toxic to cats.  If you are concerned, check with your first.

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. Always follow instructions carefully and do not be tempted to over treat.  A flea problem can take at least 3 or 4 months to resolve, sometimes longer.

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

If your pet has sore skin or hair loss, seek a 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 a product that treats this specific species.


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 one of our recommended treatments.  Ask your vet or RVN.

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‚Äč use a gentle twisting movement. Tick removers are not expensive, and are on sale in reception.

Our Veterinary 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.

Pet Health Club

Our Pet Health Club, a money saving preventative health scheme offers 20% off neutering fees as well as covering flea and worm control, vaccinations and a 6 month health check with a vet. 

Find out more
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