Fleas and Your Pet: How to spot and treat them | Winnipeg Humane Society
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It is not uncommon for the Investigations and Emergency Response Department to receive calls about issues that could be caught sooner or even be avoided altogether if owners focus on prevention. Last month, the I/ER team discussed how proper grooming can avoid matting and overgrown nails. For this month, we would like to focus on fleas – how to spot them, treat them and more.

What are Fleas
Fleas are very small, brown, wingless insects that can jump, reside in hair/on skin, live off of blood and can withstand extensive scratching – making them hard to get rid of. Fleas can bite both people and pets, so if you notice that your pet has fleas then you need to ensure that your environment is also treated to prevent them from coming back as they can breed quickly. Flea eggs are very hardy, so it is important that both the adult fleas and the eggs are both dealt with. Flea bites can cause small red swollen bumps that are very itchy, often leading to severe scratching and self trauma as a pet will continue to scratch to the point of bleeding to relieve themselves[i]. Severe infestations can even lead to anaemia, especially in young puppies and kittens, so it is important to treat the animal as soon as you see any signs of fleas[ii].

Spotting Fleas
Using a flea comb, or any comb with thinly spaced out teeth, slowly go through your pets’ fur. Start at the head and move down the body, paying careful attention to the ‘hot spots’, where the area will be warmer, such as behind the ears or under the armpit. Look for any kind of salt and pepper colouring (small pieces of dirt, small darker specks), on the fur that shouldn’t belong, as these may indicate the presence of fleas, flea eggs or dried blood[iii]. If you find any, use the comb to separate it from the animal’s fur and place the dirt on a dry paper towel. Spray the dirt and the towel with water – if the dirt becomes red, that will tell you that it is likely flea dirt and your animal will need a flea treatment to prevent future issues. Another trick is to rub your animal down with a white towel, so any live fleas/ flea dirt comes off onto the towel, and spraying it with water to see if it turns red. Some pets may develop an allergy to flea saliva, called flea allergy dermatitis – animals may experience scratching/ biting in certain areas (such as the groin area, due to the warmth) which can lead to hair loss, scabbing and inflamed skin[iv].

How to Treat Fleas
The most effective way to treat fleas is for you to contact your veterinarian – they will be able to prescribe the appropriate treatment for your animal based on your pet’s lifestyle, environment, etc. It is important to know that many pet store products, such as flea collars, are a temporary solution to an ongoing problem. Flea shampoos are not as effective as people think, since most of the insecticide found in the shampoo is rinsed off before it can kill all the fleas/ flea eggs. It may provide quick relief but will not solve the issue[v].
As mentioned previously, it is important to treat fleas both on the animals and in the environment – a deep clean of the household will be needed and in extreme cases, an exterminator may be required to ensure your dwelling is flea free.

Flea Products for Cats
It is extremely important for owners to be aware that all flea products are not the same – some dog flea products absolutely cannot be used on cats. Some owners will buy a flea treatment and think it can be applied on every animal in their dwelling, but they may be putting their cat at risk. An ingredient called pyrethrin can sometimes be found in dog flea treatments and while it is safe for the dogs, it can actually be toxic to cats – so ensure flea treatments for dogs are not used on cats and keep cats away from any dog flea collars[vi]. This is why the best thing an owner can do is consult their veterinarian to ensure that they are using the correct product, rather than guessing.

If you apply a flea treatment on your cat and you notice any of the following symptoms:
– High body temperature
– Tremors/ shaking
– Seizures
– Drooling
– Lethargy
Seek veterinarian help immediately as the product may have been toxic; the sooner you seek treatment, the better chance of recovery[vii].

Fleas are not just limited to cats and dogs. While it may be less common, rabbits can also experience flea infestations with their own specific type of flea – if present, they typically can be found around the ears and face of the rabbit. Rabbits will experience similar symptoms, such as hair loss and itchiness. Flea treatments for rabbits aren’t currently licensed so if you believe your rabbit has fleas, then speak to your veterinarian as they will be able to find a product that will be safe and effective for your pet[viii].

Prevention is key –  Fleas tend to thrive in tall grass so an outdoor animal is more at risk. Even if not near a grassy area, a cat that is allowed outdoors has a higher chance of contacting a stray or owned cat that has fleas, which means you’re increasing the chance of fleas coming into your home. Being diligent in ensuring your pets and household are free of fleas will help benefit your pet and will keep unexpected medical costs down. If one animal in your dwelling has fleas, then all animals should be checked and treated.

For the month of February 2020, the I/ER team attended 146 animal welfare concerns, 51 animal related emergencies and 24 jobs for a variety of other tasks


For Animal Emergencies within the City of Winnipeg, call 204-982-2020
To report an Animal Welfare Concern within the City of Winnipeg, call 204-982-2028
To reach our Intake Department, call 204-982-2025 option #5
To report an Animal Welfare Concern outside of Winnipeg, call the Animal Care Line at 204-945-8000 or toll free 1-888-945-8001
To report Winnipeg Bylaw concerns (stray dogs, barking complaints), contact 311


[i] CVMA https://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/fleas-continue-to-be-a-problem-despite-advances-in-prevention

[ii] CVMA https://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/fleas-continue-to-be-a-problem-despite-advances-in-prevention

[iii] CVMA https://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/commonsense-guide-to-selecting-a-dog-or-a-cat

[iv] CVMA https://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/pets-can-become-allergic-to-flea-bites

[v] CVMA https://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/pets-can-become-allergic-to-flea-bites

[vi] CVMA https://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/cat-healthy-preventive-healthcare-protocols

[vii] CVMA https://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/flea-and-tick-products-can-be-toxic-to-cats

[viii] CVMA https://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/fleas-in-rabbits