Fleas are small, blood sucking parasites.
There are different species of fleas, such as dog fleas, cat fleas, rabbit fleas and human fleas. Despite their names, these different species of fleas are capable of feeding off animals other than their favourite host.
Interestingly, a flea does not spend most of its time on your cats back, or in your dogs’ ear.
The adult female flea will normally:
Fleas are very common in New Zealand, particularly around cats and dogs.
Several species are found on a range of warm-blooded hosts, including humans (e.g. the cat flea, the dog flea, the bird flea, and the northern rat flea).
Adult fleas are found on the animals themselves, whereas an estimated 95% of flea eggs, larvae and pupae live in the environment – on beds, rugs, carpets and sofas – not on your pet!
When fleas have not fed for some time, they are likely to be less specific about their choice of host and this may involve having a human blood meal. While the human flea is rare in New Zealand, cat and bird fleas are very common.
Flea bites cause the skin to become inflamed, which is very itchy.
Flea larvae can become infected with tapeworm eggs. If your pet eats an infected flea when grooming, he/she can also become host to this parasite. If your companion animal (pet) has fleas, you should also make sure they are treated for worms.
Some cats and dogs are allergic to flea bites. These pets can become extremely itchy if bitten by just one flea.
Fleas feed on blood, so very young or elderly animals can become weak and even die as a result of blood loss.
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions – it could mean fleas!
Fleas move very quickly and are often hard to see, especially on dark coats. An adult should examine your animals regularly for signs of fleas and ticks, and only use preventive treatments recommended by your vet.
It's not always easy to find fleas by looking through your companion animals' (pets') coat, but you will often be able to find flea dirt; this looks like small dark flecks in the coat. To check whether these flecks are flea dirt, an adult can help you put them on to a piece of clean white paper and add a drop of water. If the water turns red, you know it is flea dirt because fleas drink blood, which colours their dirt red.
Preventing fleas is very easy! Preventive parasite treatments include sprays, tablets, injections and ‘spot-on’ tubes. ‘Spot-on’ treatments come as a liquid, which is dripped on to the skin on the back of the animal's neck.
When dealing with parasites like fleas, treatment is needed for the home, as well as your animal, because flea eggs and larvae are found in places like carpets, rugs and pet beds. The home is usually treated with a spray and these areas should be vacuumed and washed.
If your family thinks your pet may have fleas, please ask them to contact your veterinarian. Your veterinarian is the best person to advise you about which treatment would be best for your companion animal (pet).
Ticks are blood-sucking parasites that attach themselves firmly onto an animal. They grow in size over several days as they suck blood, then drop off to complete their life cycle. Ticks are usually picked up when dogs and cats walk through long grass and bush areas.
There are 2 types of ticks – hard ticks and soft ticks. Hard ticks are more readily identifiable than soft ticks and also spend more time attached to their hosts than soft ticks, who feed for a short period of time.
New Zealand has endemic ticks (this means they occur here in New Zealand). These species are host-specific and infest mainly birds. Endemic New Zealand ticks generally do not transmit diseases to humans.
There is also an introduced species of tick in New Zealand – the brown cattle tick, which can infest warm-blooded mammals (such as cattle or humans). In some parts of the world the cattle tick is known as a carrier of animal and human diseases, such as tick borne fever, Japanese (Oriental) spotted fever and Russian spring-summer encephalitis. These diseases, however, are not present in New Zealand.
Hard ticks like habitats with areas of vegetation, such as forests and fields, where females lay eggs on the ground. They may also be found in urban areas if there are unoccupied patches of grass.
Soft ticks generally favour sheltered habitats and will hide in the nests of hosts.
Ticks can cause anaemia (shortage of red blood cells).
Ticks have the potential to pose public health and biosecurity risks because they can carry and transmit human and animal diseases. (Biosecurity is the prevention of disease causing agents entering or leaving any place where farm animals are, or have been present. It involves a number of measures and protocols designed to prevent disease causing agents from entering or leaving a property and being spread). However, the Ministry of Health is not aware of any cases of people catching a disease from a tick bite in New Zealand. The main diseases of concern in some other countries are not currently present in New Zealand.
The risk of getting a disease from a tick bite in New Zealand is therefore very low, but there is the potential for this to change – for example, if disease carrying ticks arrive on travellers to New Zealand who have been in countries where they are present.
Your family should contact your vet for advice as there are a number of options for removing ticks. Just like flea treatments, tick treatments can be topical and applied to the animal’s skin.
It is important that the tick is removed very carefully to ensure no part of it is left in the pet. If ticks aren’t removed properly, it can cause a skin reaction or an abscess. Your vet might use a special device to remove the tick, or a spray may be used which kills ticks and causes them to drop off.
When we talk about 'worms' in companion animals (pets), we are not talking about the common garden earth worm! Instead we are talking about specialised worms that have developed to live very happily in the intestines and other organs of our animals.
These worms come in many shapes and sizes, from the large, stringy roundworm, to the tiny hookworm. The two most common are the tapeworm and roundworm.
Almost all animals can get worms so it is extremely important to treat all your companion animals (pets) at the same time to prevent reinfection.
The nasty parasites live inside the stomach and intestines, getting first dibs on the nutrients and goodness from your animal's food.
The effects of worms on your animal’s health can be extreme. They are capable of causing diarrhoea, coughing, vomiting, a weakened immune system, skin diseases, stunted growth and a dull coat.
Remember that humans can also contract worms from their pets through picking up poop or walking in toileting areas with bare feet. Make sure you always wash your hands after handling your animal’s toilet waste and after playing with your animals. Make sure you wear shoes when you walk in areas where your animal has gone to the toilet.
SPCA vets advise that companion animals (pets) should be wormed regularly throughout their life to prevent worm infections.
Flea prevention is also important to help prevent tapeworm infections.
For advice on effective flea and worm prevention, please speak to your veterinarian.