Vet charity PDSA is warning that nearly 4 million dogs and cats are at risk of flea infestations this summer after shock findings show a huge increase in the number of animals left exposed to their harmful effects.
The charity’s latest PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report showed a decline since 2014 of 900,000 cats and dogs receiving preventive medication to protect them from the blood-sucking parasites.
Meanwhile, milder winters and widespread central heating have provided the perfect conditions for the UK flea population to increase in recent years. But they’re not just an inconvenience, in very young pets a flea infestation can even be deadly.
“A flea infestation can cause intense suffering for a pet. Their skin will become itchy and inflamed, and some pets will scratch so much that their skin becomes sore and infected. For some, such as young kittens and puppies it can be incredibly serious,” said PDSA vet Rebecca Ashman.
“High infestations of fleas can cause a condition called flea anaemia. This is where the parasites have drained so much blood that they leave the animal desperately weak. In younger and smaller pets this can quickly become life threatening.”
PDSA is highlighting the issue after two kittens from a litter in Birmingham tragically died from flea anaemia.
Rebecca Thorne, Senior Vet at PDSA’s Aston Pet Hospital, explained that the litter was brought in with severe flea-bite anaemia last month.
She said: “Two kittens were brought into the hospital by their owner after a third had sadly passed away.
“The smaller kitten, called Rosie, had very pale gums, was collapsed and cold. The other kitten, Logan, was livelier but they were both covered in fleas.
“We gave both kittens intensive care. We fought as hard as we could but sadly we weren’t able to save Rosie. However, we were able to save Logan and thankfully he has gone on to make a full recovery.”
The kittens’ owner, Charlotte Bennett, said she had used over-the-counter products to treat her cats but they didn’t seem to be effective.
She said: “The treatment didn’t work and the kittens began to deteriorate. I’m devastated by what has happened and want to warn others about how dangerous fleas can be.”
In a separate case, PDSA vets in Bristol saved a kitten which had collapsed after developing flea anaemia. The kitten was nursed back to health while its littermates also received treatment to rid them of the parasites.
Vet Rebecca Ashman said it was important for owners to carry out a regular flea treatment regime as recommended by their vet.
She said: “It’s worrying that there’s been such an increase in the number of pets that have never received flea treatments. Even if your pets don’t go outside, flea eggs and larvae can still be brought into the home on clothing and shoes. Flea infestations can cause terrible suffering, so regular flea prevention really is an essential part of taking care of your pet.
“Thanks to funding from players of People’s Postcode Lottery we’re educating more pet owners about the importance of regular treatment and will be dispensing 200,000 flea treatments to pets this year.”
PDSA’s top tips for foiling fleas:
- Treat regularly – frequent treatments are needed to keep on top of any fleas that may be trying to set up home in your pet’s fur. Check the label or ask your vet if you’re not sure how often to do this as it’s important to use treatments correctly.
- Choose the right product – ask your vet which product would be best for your pet. Some products may not be as effective as others. If you have more than one pet, make sure the product is suitable for each pet and follow the instructions to the letter. Never use a dog-specific flea treatment on a cat, as these can contain a higher dosage that could cause fatal poisoning.
- Treat all your pets – fleas can jump straight from one species to another, so it’s important to treat all the pets in your house regularly at the same time.
- Treat the environment too – wash your pet’s bedding and any blankets they use at the highest temperature possible as often as you can, and vacuum areas where they frequently lie. Flea eggs and larvae can live in soft furnishings, and as some products only deal with adult fleas it’s important to break the cycle.
- Treat for other parasites – fleas can lead to other problems such as tapeworm, so a regular worming program is also important.
Did you know?
Eggs, larvae and pupae can also be carried into and around the house on the soles of our shoes.
- Fleas thrive in a warm environment, which is why flea cases increase during the summer months, and in the late autumn when the central heating is first switched on.
- Fleas can jump 20cm high, 4ft long and will jump around 10,000 times when looking for a dog or cat host.
- Fleas can feed for up to three hours from one site, and can eat up to 140% of their own body weight in blood.
Pictured: The litter of kittens that were treated at PDSA Bristol Pet Hospital.