What are fleas?

Fleas are tiny blood-sucking insects. They feed by puncturing the skin and sucking blood, leaving tiny bite marks. Each species has its own variety of fleas, but as human fleas are rare in the UK, the ones we are most likely to come across are the fleas that live on cats and dogs. All fleas spend quite a lot of their lives in areas away from the host animal – in the case of cats and dogs that live indoors, this is most likely to be in carpets and soft furnishings.

Why do fleas bite me?
Usually because they are hungry and there is nothing better to eat around. Given a choice of meals, fleas will choose their host animal every time. So for cat or dog fleas, eating human blood is a bit like wanting a slap-up three-course dinner and having to make do with a bag of crisps. You’re the bag of crisps.

Why do flea bites itch and swell up?
Reactions such as these are common, and are caused by an allergic reaction to the flea’s saliva or droppings, which are often deposited at or near the bite mark. Scratching then rubs these into the wound. People react differently to flea bites. Some people barely notice they’ve been bitten, while those who have very sensitive skins can react quite badly. Incidentally, the same is true for animals – some actually become allergic to flea bites and can lose their fur/hair.

What can I do to treat flea bites?
Wash them thoroughly with warm, soapy water, and then apply some soothing lotion, such as calamine, to stop them itching. Don’t scratch. If the reaction is very severe, apply antihistamine cream (available from chemists). Never put cream or lotion on an animal without explicit instructions from your vet. The animal will try and lick off the cream or lotion, which might be poisonous.

What can you do to get rid of fleas?
Treat both your pet(s) and your home. Ask your vet to recommend the best treatment for your pet(s) and follow the instructions exactly. At the same time as you treat your pet(s), sprinkle flea powder all around your home, especially in those areas that your pet(s) usually sleeps. Don’t forget to get right underneath tables, beds, sofas, etc. Wash anything, such as bedding, that you can – fleas can’t survive a hot wash!

What can you do to keep them away?
* Treat your pet(s) for fleas on a regular basis – flea collars are not as effective as the special treatments you can get from the vet, and some animals react quite badly to them anyway.

* Groom your pet(s) regularly, killing any fleas or eggs you see. Combs are better than brushes. Try and groom your pet(s) daily.

* Discourage your pet(s) from sleeping on the beds, sofas, or armchairs – give them their own sleeping areas with their own (washable) bedding.

* Wash your pet(s) bedding frequently.

* Try to discourage other people’s animals from coming in your house.

* Remember to empty the vacuum cleaner frequently or get a vacuum cleaner that has a sealed tub rather than a bag – fleas that are sucked into the bag usually don’t die and can hop back down again!

* If you continue to have problems, see your doctor again.

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