Michaela Strachan talks rescue dogs and The Big Flea Project

Michaela Strachan

TV presenter Michaela Strachan is backing The Big Flea Project and urging owners to make sure pets are regularly treated.

The Autumnwatch star who has rescue Terrier Rio says she worries that pet’s health and that of their owners is at risk.

It’s why she’s fronting the campaign with MSD Animal Health to raise awareness of how vital treatment is.

As part of the campaign they carried out a study into fleas with the University of Bristol.

Of 1475 dogs and cats checked for fleas, an alarming one in four cats and one in seven dogs were found to be carrying them.

More than half of owners – 57 per cent – said they didn’t understand the life cycle of fleas and that having them can cause humans to fall ill too.

I grew up watching Michaela, 53, on The Really Wild Show and Hitman and Her so I was really excited to get to chat to her about the campaign.

She shared how her own experience of fleas inspired her to take action, her views on petfluencers on social media and why she wants more owners to consider a rescue.

What’s the message behind The Big Flea Project?

I think people don’t really understand about how to treat fleas once a pet has them.

The key thing is that it takes at least 12 weeks to break the cycle. And that’s where you have to understand the life cycle of a flea to realise why it will come back.

It’s not just your pet, it’s everywhere you both go so if they sleep on a bed in a room that isn’t used very often, it can take longer than 12 weeks to get rid of them.

Because they burrow and hatch over and over again. That’s why there’s such a problem.

Have you had experience of fleas yourself?

Yes, a couple of bouts with my old dog Toto who is no longer with us. I didn’t understand how to treat the fleas, and it was a nightmare.

You’ve got to start treating your carpets and everything that they’d sleep on, and the bed, everywhere.

The best advice is to avoid putting yourself in a situation where you can have them in the first place.

With my dog Rio, I’ve always used a product that you use every three months and she’s never had a flea on her.

Can you explain what it’s like if a pet does have fleas?

Yes, it’s very uncomfortable. Some pets have a reaction to lice, and then they get terrible skin problems, it’s just horrible for them.

During our research, people told us horrific stories about fleas being in their car and every time they sat in their car they’d get bitten by another flea.

Some owners are concerned about using chemicals to prevent them, what are your thoughts on this?

I know, and I think it would be great if we didn’t have to use chemicals to get rid of them, but that is actually the only really efficient way to keep your pets rid of fleas.

Michaela Strachan Big Flea Project
Michaela Strachan launching The Big Flea Project with vet Dr David Tweddle (https://twitter.com/michaelastracha)

What is the biggest misconception you found when it comes to fleas?

That fleas can’t live on people as we don’t have hair like animals, and that they don’t bite you, they do!

And also the bacteria they carry too as 11 per cent of the fleas studied carried something called Bartonella.

It’s an infectious bacteria that can cause disease in humans, and it can be easily treated but not easy to recognise.

They can also carry worms that then give the animal worms. So it’s not just the flea that you’ve got to worry about.

I’m really excited to hear about your terrier, Rio, as I have one too!

She’s what we call a pavement special, a bit of a mixture. She’s got a bit of Jack Russell in her, a bit of terrier, and goodness knows what else.

She came from a home called TEARS. When my Jack Russell called ToTo died at 16, we were really keen to get another dog.

And I said to my son, Ollie, ‘There’s no way I’m getting a pedigree dog.

‘So forget trying to choose what make you want. We’ll get what make we come across.’

We visited the shelter, put our name down and said if anything comes in, let us know.

Then the lady called and said, ‘We have a few puppies in foster care. Would you like to see one?’

We met her and she had this little puppy in her arms and I said, ‘We’ll have her, she’s gorgeous.’

We didn’t know what she would grow into, and we hoped she wouldn’t grow too big because I wanted to a dog I could pick up.

But not like a teacup dog. I’m quite anti designer dogs.

It’s interesting you say that as there is a lot of controversy about dogs being bred for social media likes here in the UK.

And then on the other end of the scale, you hear one in seven dogs has fleas, it’s quite shocking isn’t it?

I just think it’s really sad the way that pedigree dogs are going. That people are breeding dogs that can’t even breathe without surgery. It’s complete nuts and madness.

A lot of people do get a dog for an accessory and then they, maybe they don’t know how to look after it properly.

Or they’ve done all the reading about what they want their dog to look like, but maybe not how to properly look after a dog. I mean, keep it healthy and well.

Whereas when you get a dog from a dogs home and it’s a pavement special, you don’t know what it’s going to turn out to be.

But as long as it’s got a face that looks like a dog then that’s fine.

Michaela Strachan and Rio
Michaela Strachan shares how The Big Flea Project can help dogs and her love for terrier Rio

So tell me more about Rio, what’s she like?

She’s a very, very sweet dog. She’s incredibly friendly and when she wags her tail, her whole bottom moves from side to side.

I’ve often said my partner, Nick, ‘When you meet me at the airport and I’ve been away doing Springwatch for three and a half weeks, it’d be great if you’d wag your bum as you come as you come toward me, like the dog does.’

It doesn’t matter if I’m out for an hour or away for three weeks, I get that same welcome every single time I come home.

She gets more kisses, more love, more hugs, more cuddles than anybody in the house. And we all absolutely adore her.

This is all sounding very familiar! What do you enjoy doing together?

I live by Table Mountain, so I love going up into the mountain with her.

Either on my own, just her and myself, or with friends, or with my partner, or as a family.

I just absolutely love that special time. But the other thing that I love Rio for is my son is a cricketer and plays endless cricket matches.

I mean, 50 over sometimes, he’s only 14, and I cannot sit through a 50 over match without the dog. It just gives me something to do.

Walk around the cricket pitch to bond with her, just to have a bit of company while I’m watching these endless cricket games.

When she sees that cricket bat and all the boys in white standing on the field, she knows it’s going to be a long afternoon by the deck chair and being walked around.

One of Michaela’s Twitter snaps of Rio at the cricket! (https://twitter.com/michaelastracha)

What’s the greatest lesson is that you’ve learned from your dogs?

I’ve become more patient. When Toto started to get older, he was a Jack Russell and lived to 16, and as he got older you did, you had to be terribly patient with him.

It would take forever to do everything. On a walk, you’d have to let him sniff everything, you’d have to sort of stand by him while he had his food very slowly.

It’s the same with when you get a puppy, you’ve got to be incredibly patient with them peeing and pooing in the house and everything.

And be tolerant of smell and hair everywhere.

I’m always covered in hair and so is the whole house but I wouldn’t be any other way!

So many people say, ‘Oh, but there’s such tie aren’t they?’ But the pros outweigh the cons.

Yes, they are a bit of a tie and sometimes you can’t go away for that weekend because you can’t get anyone to look after your dog.

But I would never give that up. I’d definitely rather have a dog and miss a couple of weekends away than not have a dog.

Is South Africa super dog friendly like it is here in the UK?

Yes, we are because same as the UK, so many people have dogs.

A lot of restaurants allow dogs, some don’t, obviously, the smarter ones don’t. A lot of cafés you’re allowed a dog in.

There are lots of places that you can have your dog off a lead.

I get very frustrated if I had to have my dog on the lead all the time, it’s a lot nicer than seeing them run off.

You’re very much encouraged to pick your poo up, and hopefully use a biodegradable bag these days and bung it in the bin.

Is there any other advice that you give to owners about how to kind of be the best owner they can for their dog?

Learn as much as you can, speak to your vet, speak to other doggy friends and alway ask for advice if you’re worried.

Don’t go for an accessory dog. Do your homework. A friend of mine called Emma Milne wrote a book called Picking A Pedigree (Amazon).

If you’re thinking of buying a dog, read it. Because it will tell you all the pros and cons of all those accessory breeds and the sort of problems you’ll face if you get that type of dog.

And my advice, would be go and get a rescue dog. There are so many dogs that need a home.

They make the absolute best pets as you know, because you’re an owner of one yourself.

And I just think when you rescue a dog, they’re so grateful for that chance of happiness, you have a best friend forever.

Find out more about Michaela Strachan and The Big Flea Project campaign at http://www.bigfleaproject.co.uk


If you enjoy reading about celebrities and their pets, you might like to read Chris Packham talks about his love for Poodle Scratchy or Why Tamara Wall from Hollyoaks is helping homeless cats.

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