No one likes fleas

Flea control is not just a matter of the best flea products but also avoiding being lax. Prevention is the best medicine but fleas can be caught...

No one likes fleas – least of all your cat, dog or rabbit. Dr Debora Lichtenberg puts it simply - anyone can get a flea problem - no matter how advanced and safe flea products become, owners can get lax with treatments and consistency. If you haven’t kept up to date with your regular treatments you may have left your fur babies open to an itchy visit. Here’s some things to look out for…


During winter, our households and pets get a bit of a break from flea activity - fleas are most active when temperatures are warm & humidity creeps upwards.

Fleas feed on blood from cats, dogs, rabbits and sometimes even people. They jump onto passing animals and burrow down into the fur to the skin where they stay hidden while they bite and ingest Fluffy or Fido’s blood - ick! This is irritating to say the least as the bites can cause severe itching and inflammation.

Behaviour Cues

When severely infested, it’s easy to spot fleas jumping and moving on and off your fur babies’ body. When it is less obvious, you may notice that they are restless - scratching, licking or chewing more than normal on certain areas of their body. Shaking their heads often and scratching at their ears is another indication of a possible flea infestation on your pet.

Skin Inspection

In order to see actual fleas on your pet you’ll probably have to look quickly. Fleas jump very fast and very high and even at their full-grown adult size they are very small. They are flat-bodied and dark brown in colour - the more blood they ingest the lighter they will appear.

To inspect your cat or dog, turn them onto their back and check the areas that fleas love to hide! The armpits and groin are two areas that tend to be warm and protected making them preferred spots. Check the ears carefully for signs of scratching, redness, blood or dirt. The skin on the belly, groin or base of the tail may appear red and bumpy and hair loss may occur in areas that are being scratched excessively.

Run a flea comb through the hair on your pet’s back and legs; the comb’s teeth are designed to catch and pull fleas out. Make sure you get close to the skin and have a bowl of soapy water on hand to throw any live fleas into.

If you find fleas difficult to see, place a piece of white paper on the floor next to or beneath your fur baby while combing through their coat - flea dirt will fall off and land on the paper as you comb.

One way to tell the difference between regular dirt and 'flea dirt' is to wet any black specks that fall off your pet onto the white paper towel (using regular water sprinkled on the specks). If they turn a dark reddish-brown, you are seeing the digested blood that the flea has passed through its body and excreted.

Check out the Environment

Fleas don’t just stay on your pets so look closely at feeding & sleeping areas and all their favourite spots for signs of flea dirt (black specks) or for the fleas themselves.

Another method you could use, is to wear white socks and walk through areas frequented by your pets. Fleas and / or flea dirt may be picked up by the fibres of the socks.

The “light trap” may also help detect the presence of fleas. At night set a bowl of water with dish washing soap near a nightlight on the floor. Fleas will jump towards the light and will fall into the bowl where they will drown. In the morning, you may find some new floating ‘guests’. Be careful with the placement of the bowl - you don't want your wandering pets drinking it at night!

Treat your Pet!

Dr Marty Smith says most veterinarians recommend topical flea prevention products such as Frontline Plus, Revolution or Advantage. These treatments are available from your local vet and some pet retailers such as Animates or PetPost. Liquid treatments tend to last about a month, provide excellent protection for your pet and are easy to use.

Some vets also recommend other alternatives. Dr Rosenkrantz is a dermatologist who does not like using more chemicals than absolutely necessary and is a big fan of oral flea treatments such as Comfortis (also available from your vet).

At the end of the day, consistency is key. Keeping up with treatments all year round is the way to go, otherwise come spring you may regret your 'winter break’ in treatments. Once you spot a flea you already have a problem - prevention is definitely the key.

Get a Veterinarian’s Advice

If you have a scratchy pet but can’t find any signs of actual fleas on your fur baby or in your living environment or if you have done the full flea treatment on your pets and home environment but your dog is still scratching excessively, it’s time to ask your veterinarian for advice. He or she will help you determine the cause of your dog’s discomfort and suggest the best treatment options.