As winter descends upon us, a warm home is one of life’s simplest pleasures, but it can attract unwanted visitors, warn experts.
Nearly two thirds (62%) of British pet owners with a cat or dog are unaware that turning the heating on in autumn can increase the likelihood of flea outbreaks in the home according to new research.
Flea pupae – cocoons in which fleas encase themselves in – are more likely to hatch in the home in warmer conditions.
The study of 2000 British pet owners with cats and dogs revealed 57% hear their homes between 21 – 26C over the winter months – “a perfect breeding ground for fleas” according to resident vet, Zoe Costigan, from pet wellbeing firm Itchpet.com.
She said: “Fleas are often considered a summer problem for our pets, but the reality is that they are very much a year-round problem in our homes, with eggs hatching once the central heating is turned on. Better quality heating and insulation around the home, has improved the conditions for fleas to thrive in.
“Fleas can complete their life cycle in less than three weeks at 29C, so as long as the temperature doesn’t top 30C, the warmer the house is the faster they will reproduce up to that point.”
The research uncovered that a quarter (26%) of dog owners in contrast to just one in five (18%) of cat owners have noticed fleas on their pets during the winter months.
This could be attributed to more dog owners admitting (36%) they are more relaxed about treating their four-legged friends in winter than cat owners (22%).
The majority of fleas can be found in pets bedding 55%, carpets 52%, bedding 33% and soft furnishings 29%.
The research also found a significant disparity between male and female pet owners when it comes to being clued up about parasites. More than double the amount of male pet owners (24%) were unaware their pets had fleas until a vet showed them, in contrast to just 7% of women.
One in five men also admitted they would not immediately recognise a flea, compared to only 5% of women. Worryingly, the study also revealed 32% of pet owner would consider just treating their pets for parasites when they have fleas.
Charlotte Harper, co-founder of pet wellbeing firm, Itchpet.com said: “With forecasters predicting one of the coldest winters on record, the heat is definitely on to contain pesky parasites. Already, we’ve spotted notable week on week sales increases for flea treatments in London, Norwich and Newcastle.
“Our study revealed that people in these regions prefer their homes slightly warmer than other parts of the UK, which could be a factor. Fleas are a nightmare for our pets.
“They’re not only a discomfort but can cause inflammation and severe pain as well as acting as a carrier for other parasites such as tapeworm. It is so much easier to prevent an infestation than treat one. The Itch flea monthly subscription pack makes it really easy to protect your pet, so you never forget a treatment again and the first month is even free.”
How to spot a flea outbreak according to vet Zoe Costigan at Itchpet.com
1 Excessive scratching – have you noticed your cat or dog scratching more than usual? This is typically a strong sign that your pet is hosting some unwanted parasites. Also look out for constant licking and biting too.
2 Fleas are normally reddy-brown and about 2mm long. In cats, fleas most commonly live around the head and neck. Check here as well on its back and belly. Fleas on dogs on the other hand tend to target their lower back, chest, belly and legs.
3 Look out for black specs on your pet’s skin – these fine droppings are ‘flea dirt’ or flea faeces.
4 Fleas prefer to live on your pet, but they can also take up residence on you. If the population grows, fleas can branch out and begin living in carpets, rugs, bedding and upholstered furniture.
5 If you suspect an infestation, try walking on your carpet wearing white socks. Look at your soles afterwards. If you see tiny black bugs, those are likely fleas.
6 Fleabites on people are pretty distinctive. Most commonly found around the legs or ankle, they look like small red bumps in clusters or three or four. You may also notice a red ‘halo’ around the bite centre.