Pest control: the keys to keeping fleas and ticks at bay - Veterinary Practice
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Pest control: the keys to keeping fleas and ticks at bay

Tanya Leslie BVSC, MRCVS, technical manager at Merial Animal Health, answers questions about parasite control

What are the major
types of flea and tick
prevalent in the UK?

Ctenocephalides felis, the cat flea, is the dominant species
of flea in the UK and is
most often the flea you see
on pets coming into your
practice. C. felis accounts for
up to 99% of fleas found on cats and around 93% of
those found on dogs.1 Pockets of C.
canis do persist (Scotland and Northern
Ireland) although it is rare.1 The cat flea
has been also documented infesting
horses, sheep and goats!

The most common species of tick
in the UK is Ixodes ricinus, known
to carry and transmit Lyme disease.
Not present in the UK, but of great
importance abroad is Rhipicephalus
, capable of transmitting a
variety of diseases including Babesia

It can result in heavy infestations
on inadequately treated dogs travelling
in Europe. Dogs not treated with a
tick-control product in a suitable time-
frame before returning to the UK may
bring this tick home with them.

What are the
lesser known ones?

Lesser known species of flea include Archaeopsylla erinacei (the hedgehog flea), Pulex irritans (the human flea),
Spilopsyllus cuniculi (the rabbit flea) and Ceratophyllus (Nosophyllus) fasciatus
(the rat flea). These species have
been recovered from dogs and cats
around the UK (the human flea has
been found infesting dogs and cats in

The relatively rare tick species
Dermacentor reticulatus survives in small
pockets in the south-west. In Europe,
this tick species is also capable of
transmitting canine Babesia.

What is the most effective
way of controlling them?

Pets should be treated with flea control
products throughout the year, not just
summer. Most homes are centrally
heated and the off-pet portion of the flea lifecycle is easily maintained in the
home during winter.

A few months of central heating
without flea control can result in
an indoor infestation explosion the following spring, with no apparent
warning. This is common and often
affects pet owners who don’t normally
see fleas (hence not treating over
winter) leaving them disillusioned with
their flea control and the advice given
by the prescriber.

In the face of a heavy indoor
infestation, treatment of all the pets
in the home for 3-6 months and
vacuuming more than usual may be
required before the pre-existing pupae
in the home are eradicated.

Tick control should be based on pet
lifestyle and owner expectations. No
product can completely repel ticks or
prevent feeding and owners should be
advised of this.

Repellent spot-ons can go some
way to reducing the engorged tick
burden but are often easily washed off
when bathing or swimming. With any
product, it is important to remember
that efficacy decreases toward the end
of the treatment period which can
result in attachment of ticks for longer
than expected.

This is especially important for dogs
travelling abroad where the risk of
tick-borne disease is high and growing

What advice should
vets be giving clients?

There are no products that stop fleas
from jumping onto treated pets from
the environment.

By using flea control regularly you
certainly can keep the home free
of infestation by killing fleas before
they lay eggs and you can reduce the
exposure of the treated pet to fleabites
but owners should expect to see fleas
for short periods at times when the pet is exposed to a high flea burden,
especially in summer.

When it comes to ticks, the level of
control required should be tailored to the individual. Products that allow the
effective concentration in or on the pet
to be replenished at monthly intervals
are great for the high-risk periods and
maintain a steady speed of tick kill
from month to month.

How can practitioners
improve compliance
rates amongst clients?

Owner compliance is the result of
two factors: (a) How easy it is to treat
the pet and (b) if they understand the
importance of your recommendations.

Cats that are difficult to catch
and dogs that shiver and shake at
the thought of their flea control are
much more likely to miss treatments.
Whether a pet owner purchases a
pack of 3, 6 or a single treatment, the
importance of them coming back to
the clinic for a refill regularly cannot be

It is your opportunity to review
the protocol, remind them of the
importance of regular treatment and
to get an accurate weight. Palatable flea
and tick control is an innovative way
for owners to bond with their dogs and
aids establishment of a regular parasite
control routine.

When it comes to cats, only the
brave tend to venture for tablets and
so spot-on ea, tick and worm control
remains the mainstay for cats.


  1. Bond, R. et al (2005) Survey of flea infestation in dogs and cats in
    the United Kingdom during 2005.
    Veterinary Record: April 2007.
  2. Yeruham, I. et al (1996) Ctenocephalides
    62: 341-343.
  3. Wall, R. (2012) A ticking clock for
    tick-borne disease? Veterinary Record:
    March 2012
  4. Dryden, M. (2013) Personal

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