Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Yet another reason to control fleas

The owner of this white cat did not think it had fleas. This image shows flea dirt and some out of focus fleas in the fur when we began to clip the fur.

I wonder sometimes if companion animal owners think pets bang on about fleas a bit too much. Quite often an owner will present an itchy dog or cat, perhaps with some sores, or fur missing, and report “he only has a few fleas on him”.

Where you have an itchy animal, those fleas are likely the cause of the problem. 

And if you do share a bed with that animal you will be familiar with the sound (and vibration) of fervent scratching and grooming in the middle of the night. Not fun.

But fleas are more than mere inconvenience. They carry and are capable of transmitting a range of diseases, including Bartonella species and (cue horror-movie music) the plague.

Known to those in the business as Yersinia pestis, the plague – the same one that managed to wipe out 30-60 per cent of the European population in the middle ages – is transmitted primarily by fleas (usually those found on rats), and it is still raises its ugly head now and then.

Last week the city of Santa Fe in New Mexico, USA, put out a warning that a number of dogs had tested positive for Yersinia pestis. The dogs had all been hiking (presumably with their owners) at a popular spot. The animals were treated and recovered. Authorities reminded pet owners to prevent companion animals coming into contact with sick or dead animals (especially rodents) and ensuring they are treated for fleas.

We are fortunate in Australia that the plague is not endemic, although there were several outbreaks in the early 20th century and it is a notifiable disease.  It is endemic in South East Asia.

We do, however, have Bartonella which – while a bit less headline-grabbing, can cause serious and sometimes life-threatening disease. You can read more about Bartonella species in this post

There really is no good reason to put up with fleas. But if you are going to treat them, remember to treat all animals in your household with the appropriate agent for each species.