Does Southland Have Fleas?

what does a flea look like

It has been common knowledge that we do not have a flea issue in Southland. As a result it is often stated you don’t need to treat your pet for fleas.

But what is this knowledge based on? I could find no evidence that any surveys have been undertaken on the prevalence of fleas in Southland. Our collective belief appears to have been solely based on anecdotal evidence with comments like “if my pet had fleas I would know as I would be bitten”. Fleas prefer cat and dog blood well above human, so unless they are really hungry they are unlikely to bite us. Good for us but not so good for our pets if we use this as the marker to if they have fleas. In order to get a more complete understanding of the true problem, or indeed if we have one, VetSouth carried a small flea survey last Autumn. The object of which was to discover if Southland did have a flea issue. We entered this with an open mind, although many of us thought that we would find we really didn’t have a flea problem.

So it was a surprise when we got the results back. We had checked a total of 80 cats and dogs. Between 13.7%(Invercargill) - 20.7%(Gore) of all the animals we checked had evidence of fleas. That is approximately one animal in six.This was much higher than we expected and we hypothesised that maybe the extra warm Summer had resulted in these higher than expected numbers. We noticed that few animals were treated for fleas and those that were (with a good quality product) were free of fleas.

Flea shampoos and powders were still used on a few animals - these products are generally less effective due to a short duration of action and high levels of resistance - and we saw fleas on some animals treated with these products. Due to their toxic nature and lack of effectiveness we do not recommend their use. As this was a pilot survey the results were a little limited. We wanted to know were these high normals the same in a cooler (“normal”) year? What sort of incidence of fleas do we see in the Spring? How do numbers build up over Summer? We therefore undertook to repeat this survey last spring and again this coming Autumn.

Compared to last year we had a pretty cold (and wet) spring. When the temperature drops below 10 degrees fleas cannot breed, we suspect this will have reduced the flea numbers. We checked 590 animals with 5.3% (Tapanui), 8% (Invercargill & Winton) and 8.3% (Gore) being positive, a much higher number than we were expecting once again.

So where to from here? This coming March we are embarking on a further survey to assess the growth of the flea population through the Summer months. After this survey we will have a much greater understanding of the flea issues in Southland. This will enable us to provide solid recommendations for you and your pets as to the best way you can protect your home from these pests.

- Oliver Young


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