Why lockdown could be the perfect breeding ground for fleas

Experts have warned that the coronavirus lockdown could result in an increase in the number of fleas in the UK.

Between unusual weather and now lockdown keeping pet owners indoors, there could soon be a lot more of these creepy crawlies hopping around than we’re used to seeing.

Zoe Costigan, a vet at pet wellbeing firm ITCHpet.com has said the ‘combination of climate and missed preventative treatments have created a perfect storm and ideal breeding ground for fleas.’

She added: ‘With flooding, followed by record-high temperatures at the beginning of the year and forecasters predicting one of the hottest summers on record, it’s really important to get back on track with parasite protection, as this is the perfect breeding ground for fleas.

‘Fleas are not only a source of irritation but can also cause skin inflammation and severe distress, as well as acting as a carrier for other parasites such as tapeworm. It is so much easier to prevent an infestation than to treat one.

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‘Also, because fleas have four main stages in their life cycle – adult, egg, larva, and pupa – the total flea life cycle can range from a couple weeks to several months, depending on environmental conditions, so missing the odd treatment really does matter.’

A study of 2,000 people commissioned by ITCHpet.com found that one in ten participants found treating their pets for parasites more difficult in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and 15% said they have struggled to get to pet shops and vets during lockdown.

On top of that, 17% said were unable to treat their furry friends for fleas in March, with that figure rising to 23% in April.

Worming has also taken a bit of a backseat during lockdown, with 16% of respondents saying they didn’t treat their pets in March. In April that number rose to 24%.

Respondents also reported frustrations with online shopping, with 11% of them saying they gave up queuing on on websites with long waiting times.

How to tell if your pet has fleas

Zoe said ‘excessive scratching’ is a good indication that your hairy buddy is suffering from fleas, adding that pet owners should ‘look out for constant licking and biting too.’

She said: ‘Fleas are normally reddy-brown and about 2mm long. In cats, fleas most commonly live around the head and neck. Check here as well as on its back and belly. Fleas on dogs on the other hand tend to target their lower back, chest, belly and legs.

‘If you suspect an infestation, look for black specks on your pet’s skin where you part the fur. Wipe these away with some damp cotton wool and then look at the cotton wool. If it is red tinged, this is flea dirt or faeces.’

Zoe also highlighted that humans are sadly not immune from flea infestations, saying: ‘Fleas prefer to live on your pet, but they can also take up residence on you. If the population grows, fleas can branch out and begin living in carpets, rugs, bedding and upholstered furniture.

‘Fleabites on people are pretty distinctive – and not to mention incredibly itchy. Most commonly found around the legs or ankle, they look like small red bumps in clusters of three or four. You may also notice a red “halo” around the bite centre.’

How to get rid of fleas

If you find fleas on your pet, the RSPCA recommends that you fight the flea epidemic (flepidemic?) by treating not only your pet quickly, but also your home, as fleas can live for months without a host to feed from.

The charity’s website also states: ‘Only give your pet flea treatment that has been recommended for them. Products suitable for one species may not be suitable for another.

‘Some dog flea treatments contain permethrin, an insecticide that is safe for dogs but highly toxic to cats.’

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