Vets are predicting a summer flea outbreak - here’s why

Tuesday, 5th May 2020, 10:50 am
Updated Tuesday, 5th May 2020, 10:50 am

Vets have predicted an increase in fleas after lockdown, as owners battle to contain infestations during the pandemic.

A new study of 2,000 UK cat and dog owners has revealed that one in 10 have struggled to treat their pets for parasites during the coronavirus outbreak.

A total of 15 per cent of those who took part in the study cited lack of access to pet shops and vets during the lockdown period as the main issue.

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Close to one in five said they had been unable to treat their furry friends for fleas in March, a figure which rose to almost a quarter in April.

Zoe Costigan, a vet at pet wellbeing firm ITCHpet.com, has predicted a "flea explosion" in the coming months, once lockdown restrictions are eased.

Costigan has explained that both the warming climate and missed preventative treatments due to the coronavirus pandemic has "created a perfect storm and ideal breeding ground for fleas".

"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,” she added.

Why are fleas harmful?

Fleas can cause a variety of health problems for both humans and pets.

"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,” Costigan explains.

“It is so much easier to prevent an infestation than to treat one."

The research by Itchpet.com also found that London, Manchester, Birmingham, Southampton, Bristol and Leeds have the most cases of flea infestations in the UK.

What are the signs of a flea infestation?

Fleas are typically reddy-brown in colour, and grow to about two millimetres long.

In cats, fleas usually live on the head and neck, so it's best to check here, as well as on the back and belly.

However, fleas on dogs tend to stay on the lower back, chest, belly and legs.

Experts at Itchpet.com have listed the following signs to watch out for when determining if your pet needs treatment:

- Excessive scratching- Constant licking and biting- Black specks on your pet’s skin, when you part their fur

They have also advised owners who find black specks on their pet’s skin, to wipe these away with damp cotton wool before inspecting it.

If the cotton wool is tinged with red, this is generally a sign of flea dirt or faeces.

How do I know if I have fleas?

While fleas do tend to thrive more on pets, due to their fur, they can also take up residence on you.

As their population grows, fleas branch out from their original host and can start living on a number of items in your household, such as upholstered furniture, clothes, rugs, carpets, mattresses and bedding.

Fleabites on people are incredibly itchy, and differ in appearance from insect bites. They appear as small red bumps and typically show up around your legs and ankles, in clusters of three or four bites.

Additionally, they tend to have a red ring circling the raised centre of the bite.

Does missing the odd treatment really make a difference?

Costigan explains that “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."