Three million UK pets* are at risk of flea infestations this spring, despite vet advice to owners to protect their four-legged friends from the blood-sucking parasites.
Milder winters and widespread central heating have seen the UK flea population swell in recent years, say PDSA vets. But proactive action by pet owners can easily prevent infestations and stop millions of cats and dogs across the country from suffering.
New findings from the PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report – the biggest annual assessment of pet welfare – reveal that over 1.5 million dogs and 1.4 million cats are not receiving the necessary treatments to safeguard them from becoming a meal ticket for fleas.
PDSA Head of Pet Health and Welfare Nicola Martin said: “Fleas are now a year-round problem thanks to milder winters and warmer homes. Untreated flea infestations can cause chronic animal suffering, so flea prevention is a must for all responsible pet owners. Even if your pets don’t go outside, flea eggs and larvae can still easily be brought into the home on clothing and shoes.
“The PDSA PAW Report has highlighted big regional variations when it comes to flea prevention. Scottish pets are in the greatest danger of infestation, with over a third of owners admitting they don’t treat their pets for fleas. Welsh pets don’t fare much better, with more than a quarter unprotected. In comparison, pets in the South West are the most protected, with nearly nine–in-ten owners taking the right steps. Regardless of where you live, regular parasite treatment is vital for all pets, to stop them suffering unnecessarily.”
The PDSA PAW Report has revealed where pets are most at risk, due to a lack of flea treatment:
% of Pet Owners not giving flea treatments
West Midlands 23%
East Midlands 20%
East of England 19%
North West 17%
Yorkshire and the Humber 17%
South East 17%
South West 13%
Encouragingly, 96% of pet owners have not reduced their spend on preventive care (including vaccinations and neutering) despite recent economic problems. But there is still more to be done to protect the pet nation from deadly diseases.
Nicola Martin added: “A single flea can bite a pet up to 400 times a day and can multiply exponentially, resulting in thousands in under a week. Kittens and puppies are especially susceptible, and fleas can even prove fatal in very young pets through deadly flea anaemia.
“Fleas can thrive in the home, remaining dormant in carpets and soft furnishings as larvae and eggs, until conditions are right, when they can quickly jump into life. An adult flea can lay up to 50-200 eggs a day, each one with the potential to develop into another flea. This cycle can take as little as two weeks in ideal circumstances.”
Infamous for their itchy bites, fleas can also transmit myriad diseases – some of which can affect people too, such as bubonic plague and Typhus in extreme cases. Pets and owners can suffer severe allergic reactions to flea saliva, resulting in dermatitis.
Nicola Martin concluded: “Sadly, vets and nurses deal with the very distressing consequences of flea infestations every day. Pets are far too often seen with severe itching, extremely irritated skin and widespread fur loss. Painful allergic reactions that drastically reduce the pet’s quality of life are also common. And fleas don’t just affect pets – owners are bitten too. But the good news is, with the right advice and products, owners can rectify the situation, and get their pet healthy and happy again. And with ongoing frequent treatment, everyone can live bite-free.”
These statistics are taken from the PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report, the largest ever annual assessment of pet welfare (which has conducted 21,000 interviews with pet owners over the past four years). Produced in conjunction with YouGov, the latest Report has revealed an ongoing lack of understanding when it comes to meeting some of the most basic of pets’ needs.
To help build a better life for pets and gain a greater understanding about pet ownership in Britain, PDSA is calling on owners to take part in its Big Pet Survey, at www.pdsa.org.uk/bigpetsurvey
PDSA’s top tips for foiling fleas:
Treat regularly – Frequent treatments are needed to keep on top of any fleas that may be trying to set up home in your pet’s fur. Check the label or ask your vet if you’re not sure how often to do this as it’s important to do this correctly.
Choose the right product – ask your vet which product would be best for your pet. Some products may not be as effective as others, or those available on prescription. If you have more than one pet, make sure the product is suited to each one individually. Always make sure the product is suitable for your pet and follow the instructions to the letter. Never use a dog-specific flea treatment on a cat, as these can contain a higher dosage that could cause fatal poisoning in cats.
Treat all your pets – fleas can jump straight from one species to another, so it’s important to treat all the pets in your house regularly at the same time.
Treat the environment too – wash your pet’s bedding and any blankets they use at the highest temperature possible as often as you can (once a week ideally) plus vacuum areas where they frequently lie. Flea eggs and larvae can live in soft furnishings, and as some products only deal with adult fleas it’s important to break the cycle.
Treat for other parasites – fleas can lead to other problems such as tapeworm, so a regular worming program is also important.