PET owners are being warned about a flea epidemic in south Essex.

Vets have been inundated with concerned cat and dog owners whose animals have been infested.

The hot weather is the perfect condition for fleas and ticks and is causing an explosion in their numbers.

Under the right conditions, one flea can turn produce 125,000 of the parasites within eight weeks, and it can bite a pet 400 times in a day.

As well as being annoying, fleas can cause hair loss, skin disease and in severe cases anaemia.

They can also spread diseases, including some that can infect humans.

Amy Andrews, a vet at Cherrydown Vets which has offices in Basildon, Wickford and Stanford-le-Hope, said they had seen between a 50 and 60 per cent increase in the number of people coming in and contacting them about fleas.

She added: “We have been inundated with enquiries about dealing with fleas.

“It is both dogs and cats that are being affected, as cat fleas can attack dogs.

“Cats aren’t normally as bad as they groom themselves a lot.

“Some people are quite naive as they bring their animals in with a skin condition and you look at them and they are crawling with them.”

Amy added that only five per cent of fleas live on their hosts and 95 per cent live in their surrounding, including sofas, carpets and bedding.

Vacuuming is usually ineffective against fleas.

Amy said: “It is important to get a proper monthly flea programme in place.

“We currently use Prinovox in the vets. You can buy flea treatment from supermarkets but these aren’t as effective - you get what you pay for with flea medication.

“You can also buy sprays for the home to kill them and you can buy flea bombs which are industrial strength.”