Fleas and your Pet

cat and dog scatchingDo you struggle keeping your pet flea free all year round? Don't be alarmed because you are not the only one! Although the warmer months tend to be when fleas are getting ready to attack our pets and make their lives itchy and uncomfortable, they can also inflict irritation during the winter months.

The answer to a flea free pet is simple; prevention all year round. Understanding more about fleas and the way the work might also unlock some answers as to why you struggle keeping fleas off your pets.

What are fleas?

Fleas are tiny dark brown parasitic insects that infest the coat and skin of pets. They have an amazing skill allowing them to jump up to 150 times their own length. That's like a human jumping over 300 metres. Their remarkable jumping skills allow them to transit easily between hosts and the surrounding environment.

How do you tell if your pet has fleas?

One of the first signs of a flea infestation is that your pet will be scratching and seem quite irritated especially around the base of the tail or backs of their hind legs. Parting the fur for a closer examination you could find adult fleas on the skin.  You are likely to find flea dirt that looks like small black specks of grit, similar to finely ground pepper. This is actually digested dried blood. If you are unsure as to whether the black stuff is flea dirt or just dirt, place it on a wet tissue – if around the dirt turns red, it’s flea dirt.  10 adult fleas can multiply to more than 250,000 fleas in only 30 days.

How do pets get fleas?

Flea eggs and pupae can remain dormant for astonishingly long periods of time under a variety of conditions. They lay dormant in the garden, or in your carpet and furniture, until the conditions are favourable to hatch. From there they jump great distances to find a host on which to feed.  They travel on pets, wildlife (such as possums) and even on people and don’t care who or what they bite!

Why is it important to treat and prevent fleas?

Fleas are the number one cause of skin disease in pets and can cause problems ranging from simple itchiness to weeping sores, scaly skin and a strong smell. Some pets are even allergic to flea bites (a condition known as Flea Allergy Dermatitis), where the saliva from one flea bite sets off a whole body allergic reaction, making the pet miserable. All skin conditions require veterinary treatment.

Fleas also are the host of an intestinal worm called a tapeworm.  This worm can be transmitted into the gut by ingesting a flea (such as when the pet is chewing at its fur).  Unfortunately tapeworms can also be transmitted to humans where they can cause health problems.  This is another reason fleas should be controlled on our pets.  Click here for further information on intestinal worms.

Why do fleas spread so quickly?

Fleas breed at a phenomenal rate. 10 adult fleas can multiply to more than 250,000 fleas in only 30 days.
The fleas you see on your dog represent only 5% of the fleas in the environment. The rest of the population is represented in the egg and larval stages found in your carpets, furniture, bedding and around the garden.

The lifecycle explained…

  • 5% of fleas live in the environment as an adult
  • 95% of fleas live as eggs, larvae or pupae

Adult Fleas:

Adult fleas jump onto your dog or cat, feed on their blood and then start laying eggs.


One female lays up to 50 eggs per day which drop into carpets, bedding or garden soil before hatching.


The hatched eggs release larvae which move away from light, deeper into carpets and under furniture before developing into pupae.

This lifecycle can take as little as 2-3 weeks and as long as 12 months. For effective flea control it is essential to break the lifecycle in the environment.  To rid your household from fleas, prevention is the key to flea control. There are many different flea products available today and the options can be confusing.  When choosing a flea preventative coat type, age of the pet, your lifestyle and capabilities need to be considered.

How do you protect your pet from fleas?

When undertaking flea control you have to consider the various stages of the lifecycle. In severe infestations
it is sometimes necessary to treat both the pet and the environment. However, due to the effectiveness of modern flea insecticides, treatment of your pet is often all that is needed.

Products to rid fleas on your pet

Top-spot treatments

These are generally very easy to apply in most dogs and cats, water fast and leave little smell or residue on the coat.  They generally last for 3-4weeks at a time and some have integrated tick or heartworm prevention included.

Oral medications

Daily tablets for quick knockdown. Good for severe infestations to give instant relief or for prevention of flea infestation in premises that are flea free. 

Monthly tablets

Some work as an effective birth control for fleas, hence stopping the life cycle process. Other newer products have ingredients that kill fleas as soon as they jump on the pet. 

Shampoos and rinses

Kill fleas that are on your pet but offer no residual protection.

Control the environment

Adopt control strategies including: Vacuum the carpet 2-3 times a week to remove eggs and empty the vacuum bag afterward, wash pets blankets weekly (on a hot wash in the washing machine), spray the house, kennels and yards with an adult flea killer weekly and fog the house every 3 months to prevent larvae developing.

Unfortunately the flea pupae are extremely resistant to all preventative measures and the only way to kill that part of the lifecycle is to wait for them to develop into adult fleas and then kill them. 

Generally it has been shown that if an integrated flea control program is undertaken, flea numbers will greatly reduce in the first 3-6 months but control must be maintained for at least 12months (or forever) to ensure a “spike” or hatch of pupae doesn’t restart the process all over again. 

Your pet's skin…

If your pet is scratching or has any skin damage then it is best to have a veterinary check. It will require more than flea control alone to resolve the itch. If your pet does require flea control products, our Greencross veterinary and nursing team are fully trained in flea management and can assist you in choosing a product most suitable for your pet and can answer any questions on fleas that might be making you jumpy!