We like to think of our homes as our ‘castle’, a place with defences from the outside world; that we can shut the door and leave the rest of the world behind. But unfortunately for us, we already share our abodes with millions of creatures. Some microscopic, some not.
The average British home is warm and comfortable, with plentiful food and water — the perfect breeding and nesting grounds for many creepy-crawlies. They take advantage of bad habits, or of our ignorance of them. They can follow us home from other countries. They have no earthly place in our home, and often ride in on the back of our pets. To add insult to injury, they can spread nasty diseases, making us and our pets very sick.
This article is intended to serve as a guide to spotting, avoiding, and dealing with some of the most common infestations, and how to deal with them. Let’s begin:
Toxoplasma gondii — The ‘mind-altering parasite’
It sounds like the plot from a post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel: a mind-altering parasite infects half of the world’s human population, burrowing into their brains and changing their personalities. But that’s an accurate description of the extent and nature of the toxoplasma pandemic. Although it is hard to quantify, toxoplasma could be the underlying reason for millions of deaths annually over the globe, as infected people are more likely to take risks.
In pets, toxoplasma can cause a condition called toxoplasmosis, which can result in a loss of appetite, difficulty breathing, seizures, rashes and fever.
Toxoplasma is very easy to catch as it lives naturally inside the intestines of cats and some dogs. It becomes contagious when its eggs pass out in poop. Cats have a tendency to jump on counters and kitchen tables with their dirty paws, spreading the eggs as they go. This makes the litter-tray a hotspot infection zone.
The best way to deal with toxoplasma is with extreme vigilance. Quickly isolate and clean up any pet poop, and disinfect the area. Clean the animal’s paws. Always wash your hands after touching your pet. And if you suspect your dog has the parasite, contact your vet.
Ticks are mainly a problem in the summertime, where they hangout in overgrown grass and foliage. Their danger to dog and human life is probably underrated in the UK, as many British species transmit Lyme disease, a nasty recurring and sometimes fatal condition.
To prevent a tick problem at home, keep the grass short and the vegetation well pruned in the garden. Try to avoid letting your dog run about in long grass; and especially on long walks. Examine your dog after each summer outing. You can spot ticks easily, especially after a bloodfeed. Don’t splatter or rip them off, though. That can harm your dog and even further spread disease. Instead, gently pull them upwards with a fine pair of tweezers.
Most ticks cannot survive inside the house — but the Brown Dog Tick can. This thing often comes in from abroad as a stowaway, so make sure to inspect your dog at the door. Call a vet if you suspect something is seriously wrong.
Almost all mammals are infested with mites. Most serve an important function, such as eating up dead skin. But bad cleaning habits and hygiene can cause a boom in their numbers. And when they start to multiply rapidly, that’s when they can be harmful to us.
In humans, an overabundance in face mites (yes, we have mites that live on our face — two species, actually) can cause a skin condition known as rosacea. In dogs, cats, and even hamsters, too many mites can trigger excess itching, head-shaking, licking of the fur and hair loss.
The best way to reduce their numbers is by frequent grooming and washing. That does for humans, too.
Cockroaches sound like a foreign threat, but multiple species actually live and thrive in the UK. Infestations are more common than ever, too. Especially in London.
These creatures are attracted to leftover food in the house, such as crumbs or improperly cleaned up pet food, and general pet mess. They hide out of sight during the day, in cracks and crevices. But you will know they are there sure enough. When the food supply runs out, cockroaches return the favour by smearing over the ground and shedding their exoskeletons, which can smell horrible.
This smearing unsurprisingly spreads disease like wildfire, and their shedding can also trigger allergies that can make humans and pets feel like they are coming down with the common cold. Thankfully though, these symptoms subside rather quickly once the infestation has been dealt with.
Don’t invite cockroaches into your house. Seal up cracks, and clean up yours and your pet’s food, and especially the area where the dog tends to eat. If you think you have an infestation, call a bug exterminator.
This article was written by Neil Wright of Pure Freedom, a UK-based company that manufactures window cleaning systems for professional cleaners.