Flea & Tick Prevention in Cats & Dogs

Every cat and dog will almost certainly pick up fleas or ticks at some time during its life and this can be a frustrating problem for both pet owners and veterinary surgeons alike.

Fleas and ticks can potentially cause health problems for not only the animal affected but also people through the transmission of certain diseases. Knowing a little more about fleas and ticks can help us understand the best way to treat our pets and prevent disease.


Adult fleas are the most obvious sign of flea infestation and can often be seen on the pet. They feed on the animal’s blood and leave flea dirt behind which can be seen as small black specks on the skin. Fleas are sometimes difficult to see but it is quite easy to check your pet for flea dirt. This can be done by combing through the fur and allowing the debris to fall on to a wet piece of paper or cotton wool. If your pet has fleas any flea dirt that falls on to the wet paper will dissolve turning reddish brown – this is a sure sign that your pet has fleas.

Adult fleas only represent approximately 5% of the total flea population; the other 95% is made up of eggs, larvae and pupae, which live in the household environment such as carpets, bedding and furniture especially in the areas where the animal spends most time, therefore it is sometimes necessary to treat the environment as well as the animal.

Fleas can breed at an amazing rate and the flea life-cycle from egg to adult can take as little as 12 days or as long as 180 days with the average in the summer months being 21 days. This is not to say that this is a summer problem with central heating and fitted carpets fleas are a year round problem.
Fleas are not only a nuisance they can also cause health problems not only general skin irritation but some animals can become allergic to flea saliva causing Flea Allergic Dermatitis (FAD). Severe flea infestation can also cause anaemia, which may even kill a young puppy or kitten. Fleas also help to transmit tapeworms, which can potentially affect the animal, or humans that handle the animal.

People often suffer from “papular urticaria” which are raised red bumps caused by flea bites and usually found around ankles, wrists and waist line; some people experience quite a severe reaction.

Bartonella henselae is a bacterium that causes cat scratch disease in humans and is transmitted from cat to cat via fleas usually causing no disease to the cat but can cause disease in humans when transmitted via cat bites or scratches.


Ticks are small blood-sucking arthropods (related to spiders, mites and scorpions). Most people have seen a tick on their pet but not considered their importance in disease transmission.

Ticks are generally found in grassland, scrub and shrubs and their lifestyle is temperature dependent, therefore although they can be found year round in the UK, their numbers increase between March and November.

Ticks have special mouthparts that pierce the skin, lock on to the tissues and feed on blood. This produces an ideal environment to transmit microorganisms.

Lyme disease is the most important disease in the UK that is transmitted to humans by ticks. Other diseases include Ehrlichiosis and Babesiosis but are not usually found in the UK and more of a concern for travelling pets. Animals travelling under PETS (pet passport scheme) must be treated before returning to the UK.

Treatment & Prevention

There are many products available for the control of fleas but most people find that spot-on type preparations are most convenient. Don’t forget to treat all the animals in the household including house rabbits.

There are flea treatment products available now specially licensed for use on rabbits. In some instances it may be advisable to treat the environment also, by washing bedding and loose covers, vacuuming all areas and then using an insecticide spray on carpets, furniture etc. Some products are available to control both fleas and ticks and can be used as both treatment and prevention.

Some of these products are formulated for dogs only and are toxic to cats and must be used with care. Please ask at the surgery for more advice on treatment and prevention of fleas and ticks to suit the needs of you and your pets.

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