Cat and dog owners across the UK have been told for keep an eye out for signs their pets may have fleas.

A vet has warned pet owners that flea infestations at this time of year are “more common than many people realise”.

PDSA statistics show many of us don’t think about treating our pets for fleas during the winter, seeing fleas as a “summer problem”.

However, Jamie Walker, an experienced vet and technical services manager at global veterinary pharmaceuticals company, Dechra, explained: “Many owners only see fleas as being ‘a summer thing’ and aren’t treating their pet for them this time of year.

The Herald:

“However, with central heating systems typically switched on for a few more weeks, our warm homes become the perfect breeding ground for fleas - their ideal temperature to hatch out is around 21°C.

Flea eggs can be brought into your home on your cat or dog’s coat, and then they can remain undetected for some time.

Fleas can not only make your pet very irritated, but they can also invade your house and make family members feel itchy too.”

Flea bites can cause serious skin irritation to both pets and people, so it is important to try and eliminate any infestations before they take root in your pets’ fur.

This is everything you need know about fleas.

What are the signs of a flea infestation?

One of the most telling signs of a potential flea infestation is if your pet is regularly scratching, biting, or licking themselves, to try to relieve the discomfort caused by the bites.

If you notice them doing this, then this is a big red flag, and you should investigate further.

While fleas can be hard to spot, checking your pet's skin and fur is a good first step.

How common are fleas in the UK?

There are 62 species of flea in the UK, the most common being the cat flea or Ctenocephalides felis.

The flea life cycle has four stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult flea. The entire cycle is typically complete in 3-4 weeks, but this can be quicker (12-22 days) if temperatures are ideal.

Each adult female flea can lay up to 20 eggs per day on your pet’s coat – and these eggs fall off wherever your pet lies.

Flea eggs are almost invisible to the naked eye, while flea larvae are even harder to spot, often hiding in dark and hard-to-reach areas.

Fleas are able to jump long distances and they can easily move between your pets and your home.

Surprisingly, only around 5% of a flea infestation is made up of adult fleas on your dog or cat’s fur, whereas 95% is in typically your home as eggs, larvae and pupae.

How can you treat fleas?

The most effective way to control flea infestations is to treat your pet directly all year round with a vet-approved product. Prevention is always better than cure.

If you do discover you have a flea problem, it is important to treat both your cat or dog AND your home.

Everything your dog or cat comes into contact with in your home (and car if applicable) should be treated; otherwise, it is inevitable that the fleas will come back.

What health issues can fleas cause?

When fleas bite, they suck out blood and inject saliva into the bloodstream, which is what causes the most common symptom – itchy skin.

In some animals this can become so intense that they end up with skin infections, hair loss and scabs and sores. 

In severe cases, smaller animals such as kittens or puppies, can even die from anaemia due to the blood loss caused by the fleas feeding.

Fleas can also transmit worm eggs to pets, causing them to have upset tummies and weight loss.