Shielding pet owners warned that flea bites could be fatal

Senior couple walking their dog through a public park in Autumn.
A third of immunocompromised over 55s are not aware that flea bites can prove fatal (Picture: Getty Images)

One in five pet owners with compromised immune systems are not aware that a flea bite could lead to their deaths.

A new study of cat and dog owners with conditions that reduce their ability to fight infection, found that 62 per cent don’t know that fleas can cause tape worms in humans. Another 17 per cent of the 1,000 pet owners surveyed have never heard of fleas carrying the bacteria Bartonella, which causes Cat Scratch Disease – which can be especially dangerous to those who are shielding during the coronavirus crisis.

The research – which uncovered how a third of immunocompromised over 55s are not aware that complications from flea bites can be fatal in extreme cases – went on to suggest that pet owners have found it much harder to treat their cat or dog during lockdown.

Nearly three quarters of respondents admitted to missing at least one flea treatment since March, while a third said they hadn’t done any treatments in March, April and May, according to the pet wellbeing firm

The findings come as experts are predicting an invasion of the parasites this summer due to a combination of humid weather, heavy rain and missed preventative treatments.

Why are dogs’ noses so wet? Dogs’ noses secrete a thin layer of mucous that helps them absorb scent. They then lick their noses to sample the scent through their mouth.

As a result, experts are warning that parasites pose a threat to the nation’s immunosuppressed more than ever this summer.

Zoe Costigan – resident vet at the pet wellbeing specialist, said: ‘Nationally, our research tells us that one in ten owners of cats and dogs found it more difficult to treat their pets for parasites during Covid-19.

‘Concerningly, this figure jumped to 41 per cent when we delved more closely into the habits of pet owners whose immune defences are more fragile.’

A little flea bites a human.
A flea bites a human (Picture: Getty Images)

Nearly half (45%) of respondents said they did not feel comfortable or safe going out to the shop or vets to purchase treatment during lockdown.

For those who went without treating their pet during lockdown, over a quarter (26%) were under the impression that their pet didn’t need it as they were self-isolating.

Ms Costigan continued: ‘As fleas can also harbour in the home, it’s important to continue regular preventative treatment for your pets.

‘Also, because fleas have four main stages in their life cycle – adult, egg, larva, and pupa – the total flea life cycle can range from a couple weeks to several months, depending on environmental conditions, so missing the odd treatment really does matter.’

Growing up. While the Chow Chow dogs are well known for their distinctive blue-black tongues, they’re actually born with pink tongues. They turn blue-black at 8-10 weeks of age.

The study also uncovered that nearly half (48%) of immunocompromised pet owners consider their pets’ health first and foremost, without pausing to consider the health risks posed to them by parasites.

Cute cat hugging an old man in village outdoor.
A scratch or bite from an infected can also pose health risks (Picture: Getty Images)

One in six (16%) said they were not even aware that fleas could pose a health risk to humans.

Ms Costigan added: ‘Diseases transmitted from fleas can include the likes of tapeworms – parasitic worms which can infect humans and migrate from the gut to cause cysts in other organs.

‘Worse still, fleas can also pass on bloodborne infections to humans. And for those who are immunocompromised or elderly, they are at much higher risk of having severe complications.’

‘The Big Flea Project published in 2019 which looks into the types of bacteria circulating in the UK flea population, showed 11 per cent of fleas submitted tested positive for Bartonella – a nasty bacteria which causes Cat Scratch Fever. Rickettsia Felis; an emerging, insect-borne pathogen is also on the rise.’

‘An infected flea can prey on a cat, then all it takes is for the cat to scratch or bite a human to infect them.’

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