Fleas are wingless parasitic insects which are 2-3mm in length, reddish brown in colour with flattened bodies and long legs for jumping from host to host. There are many species of fleas, but in the UK, it is the cat flea which causes most problems.
Although they are active all year round, fleas are predominantly noticed during the autumn months when we put our heating on. The heat makes fleas more active, and the vibrations generated by people and animals alert them to the fact that a ‘host’ is nearby.
After mating, the female flea lays several hundred eggs in batches after each blood meal in your pets bedding, fur, resting site and other general areas where your animal can be found. The eggs are typically 0.5mm, white and oval in shape.
From the egg, emerges the larval stage which is again, white in colour. When mature, the flea larva is around 5mm in length and spins a cocoon of silk which quickly gets covered in dust and debris to hide its presence. The pupa develops within this cocoon and when triggered by vibrations, the adults will emerge to feed on its host.
Although cats and dogs are the preferred hosts for cat fleas, they are capable of feeding on humans and frequently do so. Fleas can cause great distress to both you and your pet with bites. The cat flea is also a host for the cestode tapeworm which normally develops in the digestive tract of dogs and cats and can also occur in humans.
Flea control is best directed at the free-living stages, when the flea is not on the host. Effective control means halting the flea life cycle rather than just treating the adult flea. In order to treat fleas effectively, the source of the infestation i.e. the host animal, must be identified. Any animals living within the property infested with fleas must be treated with a suitable veterinary product. A residual insecticidal treatment should then be applied to the property. It is important to understand that the flea infestation will not be controlled immediately, but will take a few days, a little longer if the infestation is a severe one. Approximately 7-14 days after your home has been treated with an insecticide you may notice a sudden re-appearance of adult fleas. This is due to flea pupae hatching out – these pupae may have been protected by the carpet fibres during the treatment. This is not unusual. Control will normally be regained rapidly over the following week as a result of the residual effect of the treatment, slightly longer if the infestation was a severe one. In some cases a second treatment may be required.
Treatments should always be carried out by a professional pest control company to achieve effective control.