Finding a flea on a cat

How do I check if my pet has fleas or ticks?

In a recent survey of flea infestations in dogs and cats in the UK, conducted on 2653 dogs and 1508 cats, almost half of the owners were unaware of their pets’ flea infestations.
Pet: CatDog | Topic: Skin and coat health | Published: 29.04.2015 | Updated: 24.06.2015

Whilst some cases of flea and ticks in dogs and cats are obvious, often you may not be aware of infestation. Its therefore important to understand what to look for.

Detecting fleas

Some pets will scratch, chew or overgroom themselves if they are carrying fleas, but the degree of itching will vary depending on the individual and whether they have flea allergy. Some animals are so allergic that they rapidly remove much of the evidence that fleas are present so it may be useful to check all your pets for evidence even if only one pet is scratching!

Grooming with a flea comb

As part of your pets grooming routine it is helpful to use a fine toothed flea comb to look for fleas and evidence of their droppings (or dirt). Fleas may be anywhere in your pets fur. However, particular areas to concentrate the search on include the lower back and flanks, the tail-base and lower abdomen and groin. Combing through the coat thoroughly with the flea comb may locate rapidly moving fleas which move out the way as you groom and typically appear brown in colour, flattened around 1-6mm in length. If you do not find live fleas sweep all combed coat debris onto to a large sheet of white paper and damp any debris with water. Flea dirts often appear as curled “comma shapes” which impart a red colour to the paper on damping due to their digested blood content. 

Finding ticks on your dog

Begin with checking your pet’s skin on its head first (around muzzle and ears, behind ears and on its neck), then work your way down its forelegs and the rest of its body, searching for any lumps on the skin surface. 

If you find a lump, part the hair and look at it more closely or with the help of a magnifying glass, if necessary.

Ticks vary in size from a few mm in length and diameter to greater than 1 cm in length when fully distended with blood.

Ticks swell as they feast on your pet's blood

The tick most commonly seen in the UK is the castor bean tick (Ixodes ricinus) which appears as a pale-brown to grey bean-shaped swelling as it engorges on your pet’s blood.

The site of attachment may or may not be painful and there may be skin swelling associated with the attachment site.

Cause of swelling in pets

Such a lump can be distinguished from other skin swellings and growths because close scrutiny under magnification can reveal the ticks legs at the level of the skin.

Ticks are more common on our pets that many people realise. Nearly a quarter of dogs taken to the vet in one study had at least one tick, and some had as many as 82.

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