VET’S VIEW: Warning for winter: fleas do not only cause probems in summer months...

WILLOW generally tried to stay out of trouble and was an infrequent visitor to the vets, but he had started scratching over Christmas and now gazed at me balefully from his carrier.

It’s funny how the cat box, whose very arrival can send a cat scuttling for cover at home, becomes a place of security at the vets!

We coaxed Willow out and, as I placed him on the scales to weigh him, I could feel the bristly, short hairs on his back where he had clearly been unable to stop licking himself.

Afterwards, I noticed some tell-tale black specks on the white platform and, sure enough, a quick comb revealed that he had indeed acquired some visitors.

Fleas often makes owners throw up their hands in horror, but it is worth bearing in mind that they are very effective parasites which have managed to survive throughout the centuries. Willow’s family had had some friends to stay over the holidays, and the unexpected warmth and activity in the spare room had clearly woken a few dormant fleas there, with the inevitable consequences for the poor cat.

Fortunately, there are many effective flea products now available, the best being monthly tablets or spot-on preparations. Or, for cats, a six-monthly injection. Do bear in mind that, like most of their kind, fleas quickly become resistant to insecticides, and many older products are not as effective as they were.

Also, it is worth knowing that some over-the-counter products for dogs are extremely toxic to cats – they are best avoided if you have cats around, and should certainly never be used directly on cats.

Your veterinary practice can supply the most up-to-date flea products and help you plan an effective flea control programme. Summer is the worst time for these little pests, but sometimes, like Willow, you may get caught out in the winter, as well.