Fleas and ticks

The following section contains information on fleas and ticks.

What are fleas?

Fleas are small, black insects about 2 mm in length. They live in the bedding and coats of dogs, cats and other animals and feed on their blood.

How can I tell if my dog has fleas?

Close examination of your dog may reveal these small, black insects moving rapidly through your dogs? coat. If there are few fleas present, only flea dirt may be evident which will appear as small, black specks. This is actually flea faeces, which is passed through the insect after sucking blood from your dog.  To confirm the presence of fleas, place some flea dirt on a wet piece of cotton wool.  The dirt will turn red as the blood pigment dissolves.

Some dogs may tolerate fleas well, with only very slight scratching. Others can show a severe allergic reaction to both flea bites and flea saliva. This can result in intense scratching and chewing of neck, ears, thighs and base of the tail. Your dog may also spin around quickly to chew itself when the flea bites. In extreme cases, your dog?s skin may start to scale and discolour. Hair loss and secondary bacterial infections may also occur.

How do I control fleas?

Adult fleas lay their eggs on the dog within a few days of their first blood meal. These eggs are non-sticky and will drop off onto surrounding carpets and bedding. From here, the eggs will hatch to produce larvae that feed on flea faeces and organic matter found in the environment. The larvae dislike light and will tend to live deep in the carpets and in soil.

After a period of growth, the larvae will pupate.  This is when the larvae take on the form of the adult.  The adult flea will be stimulated to emerge from the pupa by warmth of body heat, vibrations such as a dog walking by or by exhaled breath (carbon dioxide).  The newly emerged flea may bite humans before jumping off to find a more suitable host.  Once this host is found, the life cycle will start over again.

To control fleas, you must treat all your cats and dogs on the same day. There are many treatments for your dog on the market, some function by killing fleas immediately while other preparations act when the flea bites. Treating your pets alone is not however sufficient ? you must also treat your home environment. Regular hoovering and cleaning of bedding will also help to destroy the flea?s different life stages.

We recommend that guide dogs are treated regularly during spring and summer when flea infestations can be at their worst and treatments should be administered according to need during the autumn and winter months.

A safety note

Make sure that you follow all product instructions carefully. Make sure the treatment is suitable for dogs as some products are particular to one kind of animal. Do not treat cats or dogs with any other flea product whilst they are wearing flea collars ? always remove the collar at least a week before using another product and if you are using aerosol sprays, avoid inhaling any of the spray mist.  

What are ticks?

Ticks are small, light grey, rounded insects which feed from the blood of animals. They vary in size and when engorged, can reach the size of a pea.  They can be found anywhere on the dogs body but are most frequently found on the ears, face or abdomen where hair cover is relatively thin. Ticks will only feed at certain times of their life. Peak activity is between the months of March to June and from August to November. Most of their life cycle is spent outside in areas of long grasslands and moorland but they can also survive in cracks and crevices in the walls and floors of kennels.

How can I tell if my dog has ticks?

Adult ticks can be seen attached to the skin of your dog and will resemble a small, smooth wart or blood blister. If your dog has only a few ticks, they may have little effect on your dog. Occasionally your dog?s skin may become irritated due to an allergic reaction to the bite.  If infestations are heavy, anaemia may develop. Ticks can however be carriers of Lymes disease, which can be transmitted to the dog when bitten.

How do I control ticks?

When a tick is removed from your dog?s body, it is important that its mouthparts do not remain embedded in your dogs skin or this may result in irritation, infection and abscess. To prevent this from happening, it is always best to get your vet to remove the tick. There are many insecticide sprays and shampoos available on the market that will kill ticks and if you use these regularly, they can help prevent infestation.

Where can I go for further information?

For guide dog owners: Should you have any further queries regarding vaccinations or any other aspects of your dogs health, please contact the Dog Care and Welfare Advisor.

For pet owners: Please contact your local veterinary surgeon.