VET’S DIARY: Homes are a hotbed of flea infestations

I KNOW they say that as you get older the years seem to go by quicker and quicker but I cannot believe that we are into December already, writes Dominic Plumley.

This time last year we were battling through the blizzards pretty much from now until the New Year. In spite of predictions from some quarters that we would once again have early snowfalls, it hasn’t materialised and in fact the weather has been unusually warm.

As is always the way, everything has a consequence and the lack of anything significant in the way of a cold snap has lead to a prolonged flea and tick season.

In the case of the former, it has long been said that fleas have become an all-year-round problem since the introduction of central heating, with consistently warm houses providing a haven for fleas to continue to reproduce throughout the long winter months. Though this is certainly theoretically correct, we still see the vast majority of problems in the summer.

It is fairly predictable that from about May onwards we will see both dogs and cats quite literally crawling with fleas – balding along their backs from the scratching with scabs from secondary bacterial dermatitis. These cases usually continue through to September but then become much less frequent as autumn turns into winter.

This year we have continued to see severe flea infestations as late as earlier this week when I had a little Border terrier called Charlie in. He was carrying quite a few guests who were helping themselves to the buffet (his blood), causing their host no end of problems, most noticeably an insatiable itch. You can’t help but feel itchy yourself as soon as you see the fleas crawling through the coat and Charlie’s owner couldn’t get him treated quick enough.

Presumably in colder years the central heating would provide enough warmth for the flea population to continue to replicate.

It is said that what you see on the animal only represents five per cent of what is living in the carpets and soft furnishings. However, when outside temperatures fall below zero, there is little transfer between households unless dogs and cats come into fairly close contact. This year, there would seem to be a pretty thriving reservoir of fleas remaining outside, waiting to infect unsuspecting and, more importantly, unprotected pets.

Where infestation has become severe, it is nearly always necessary to treat the house, however, it is always best to avoid bringing in live fleas in the first instance and this is best done by continuously treating all of the animals in the household.

It is important to remember that often the animals that are scratching the most do so because they are allergic to the saliva of the flea when it bites. Just because a dog or cat is not scratching, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have fleas. Close examination of the skin for signs of the parasite is always the best check. The tell-tale flea dirt, which goes red/pink when blotted with damp white tissue paper, is always diagnostic.

There are a plethora of flea preparations that are available and veterinary advice is best sought to determine which one suits best for any particular pet.

As for ticks, in recent years we have seen more and more of these horrible little critters, nearly always on dogs as cats tend to self groom them away. It is thought that the cessation of dipping sheep has led to this increase.

There are a number of really quite nasty diseases that can be transferred by ticks and though many of these have yet to become prevalent in Northumberland, the threat remains.

Continuous treatment with appropriate anti-parasectacides provides the best protection and advice should be sought as to which is the best preparation to use.