Published on October 10th, 2017 | by Debbie Martin0
Central Heating and Fleas, what you need to know
Fleas are a parasite which pose a considerable annoyance to domestic dogs and cats – and they’re also capable of biting humans, too. Since fleas require both heat and moisture to reproduce in great numbers, many pet owners suppose that winter-time represents a period of lessened risk. In this article, we’ll examine central heating and fleas and why this isn’t quite the case.
Less medication during winter?
According to the PDSA, the UK’s leading veterinary charity, the winter months see a drop in consumption of pet medication of around twenty percent. While this study is approaching ten years old now, and it was limited to PDSA hospitals, we can still safely assume that many pet owners are choosing to scale back their medication during the winter months as a cost-cutting exercise.
Of course, this presents the flea with a means of re-establishing a foothold in your home – particularly in and around your pet’s basket, where there is plenty of moisture and warmth. Provided that the humidity in the home is greater than 75%, fleas will be able to thrive.
Generally speaking, the warmer the environment is, the easier life is for fleas – and the faster they’ll complete their life cycle. The point at which this ceases to be so is around 30°C – but few households reach this temperature, as it isn’t comfortable for humans. At around twenty-nine degrees, fleas can reach maturity in just a few weeks. They’re able to survive, too, at lower temperatures – even those we might consider chilly, like the high teens – but their life cycle goes by far more slowly.
The flea life-cycle
The life cycle of a flea can be considered in four distinct stages. An adult flea will lay around fifty eggs a day. These eggs will then hatch into larvae, which will burrow into the cracks in your carpet and flooring, away from light. The larvae will then feed on any organic material available, such as dead insects.
Once they’ve fed sufficiently, a flea larvae will spin itself a cocoon, in which it will develop to maturity. They may remain fully developed in the pupal stage for up to 12 months, during which time they will wait for a suitable host to jump up on, and begin to feed off its blood. Triggers which signify to the adult flea to hatch out include an increase in carbon dioxide, vibrations and warmth. Therefore, the turning on of our central heating in Autumn time can often act as a trigger as cause a sudden flea population boom in the house.
Not only are flea bites a source of discomfort, they can also act as a carrier for other parasites such as tapeworm. The most problematic symptom for infested animals is dermatitis – an inflammation of the skin which can cause severe pain, particularly if the host animal is allergic to the bite. And in the case of a severe infestation, fleas can drain a quantity of blood sufficient to cause anaemia.
Where do fleas live?
We might assume that all of the fleas which target our pets are to be found on the surface of the animal, happily sucking blood. But this isn’t the case; the vast majority of fleas in the home are to be found in soft furnishings and carpets, whose fibres provide plenty of insulation, and are capable of containing many particles of skin which can serve as food. Since most of us allow our pets to sleep on our beds, or on our furniture, the chance of a flea infestation spreading to those areas is radically heightened.
Since fleas are so small, and most infestations relatively minor, most homeowners aren’t even aware of their presence. Even those who are aware are more likely to consult the internet, and articles like this one, before taking the step to visit the vet. Suffice to say, if you suspect that your pet has fleas, then the advice of a pet is worthwhile, and should be sought out at the earliest possible convenience.
What preventative measures can I take?
Since fleas are capable of causing such a wide range of problems for your pet, it’s important to take steps to control their spread. And, crucially, it’s important to do this even during the winter, when fleas are widely thought of as less active.
Among the most popular flea treatments is Frontline Plus. Frontline Plus works is a topical application to the skin at the back of the animal’s neck. From there, it’ll spread across the skin via the natural oils which keep the skin lubricated and healthy. As the Frontline Plus does this, it’ll kill all the fleas it encounters within twenty-four hours, and all the ticks within forty-eight. As well as this, Frontline Plus also contains a substance that acts as an Insect Growth Regulator, whose role it is to stop eggs hatching and larvae developing, and thereby interrupt the flea’s life-cycle.
You’ll also want to treat any area of the home that your pet is prone to inhabiting – including garages and the car. You can do this with a spray. Frontline produce their own environmental spray, known as HomeGard. It comes in an aerosol can that’s designed to be sprayed onto soft carpets, cracks, soft furniture and pet bedding – and it’ll kill fleas in much the same way that Frontline Plus does.
In order for environmental measures like this to be at their most effective, it’s important to combine it with thorough anti-flea hygiene measures. This means washing pet bedding at a high temperature, and daily vacuuming where an infestation has taken place. After a spray, fleas will tend to emerge from their hiding places, and so another vacuum-clean might be necessary.