No matter the size or breed, all dogs are at risk of flea infestation. These sneaky pests are not a dog’s best friend.
Flea bites irritate a dog’s skin like crazy, leaving dogs feeling super uncomfortable and annoyed.
If you think your pup has dog fleas, we have just the info you need to identify fleas on dogs and get the best treatment your dog needs.
What are Dog Fleas?
As dog owners, we’ve heard of fleas. But, do we know exactly what they are?
Dog fleas are a type of parasite. Just like ticks, they live off of warm-blooded animals. Sounds creepy, we know.
What makes fleas such a nuisance isn’t just their blood-sucking ways. It is how invasive they are. A single female flea can lay up to 40 flea eggs in just a day.
These eggs can hatch anywhere between a day to 12 days. From then, the hatched flea larvae live in a dog’s coat. These larvae make up the majority of the flea population when a dog is infested.
This breeding cycle can result in up to 500 offspring in only a couple of months! But, it will take at least a month for hatched larvae to evolve into an adult flea, giving you an opportunity to get rid of these pests.
What do dog fleas look like?
Knowing what fleas look like through their life cycle is key to identifying them in your dog’s coat. Typically, an adult flea has a dark, reddish-brown color. They are very tiny -dog fleas are usually never larger than 3 millimeters.
It is important to know how to spot flea larvae too, as they will make up the majority of the fleas during an infestation. Flea larvae are C-shaped and a little longer than adult fleas.
They are usually white in color but can be dark if they recently ate.
You can also spot flea eggs as well. They are tiny white flakes that resemble rice. You can search for them in your dog’s coat, on your furniture, or on any surface your dog avidly lays on.
Understanding the different species of fleas
Of course, there isn’t just a single type of flea. In fact, there are 2000 species of fleas. That’s pretty frightening…
Fortunately, of these several species, there are only two kinds to know as a pet owner – dog fleas and cat fleas. These are not the same species.
But, given the parasitic nature of fleas, these two flea types infect both cats and dogs.
Dog and cat fleas share the same life stages. A new flea’s lifecycle: First, it’s an egg, which hatches, entering its larva stage. The larva then forms a cocoon and enters its dormant pupa stage. This cocoon is where the adult flea forms.
Breaking this cycle is key to eliminating a flea infestation.
What causes fleas?
There are a few ways a dog can get fleas. Since fleas are parasitic, they are eager to jump onto a new host. This makes kennels and grooming facilities one of the most common ways for dogs to get fleas. Just one infestation and a kennel become a breeding ground for fleas.
Also, fleas can infest clothing, furniture, or fabrics. It’s best to check for flea eggs, larvae, and pupae, which can easily populate on furniture or fabrics.
Sadly, dogs can even get fleas from being outside. A flea’s life cycle isn’t incredibly short. The worst part is that these pests can sustain themselves outside for long periods of time.
This doesn’t mean you can’t let your dog run around outside! Simply be vigilant of where your dog spends time.
Open areas in kennels, dog parks, or even neighbor’s yards (who also have a dog or cat) put your pup at higher risk of catching fleas.
How to identify fleas and flea bites
So, how do you know if your dog has fleas? It can be difficult to spot these tiny pests. Thankfully, there are a few telltale symptoms of a dog flea infestation.
The most common sign of fleas is excessive scratching. Adult flea bites and saliva can really bother dogs. Sometimes, it can even cause them to chew on their skin!
Fleas also commonly cause an allergic reaction on a dog’s skin, worsening the itchiness.
If your pet is allergic to fleas (your vet may call it flea allergy dermatitis), its skin might be especially sensitive. This also can, unfortunately, lead to hair loss, particularly on your dog’s hips and around his or her tail.
If you notice these symptoms, check your dog’s skin.
You will want to keep an eye out for two things: flea dirt and flea bites. Flea dirt is the flea feces of adult fleas. This dirt looks like dark specks of pepper and can be found in a dog’s fur.
Flea bites leave little red bumps or scabs on the skin too, which will most likely be redder due to your dog’s constant itching. If you notice itchy red bumps on yourself too, don’t be surprised.
Fleas are attracted to more than just cats and dogs. They bite humans too!
Act Fast to Avoid Tapeworm & Anemia
Tapeworms and anemia are the main reasons you need to act fast if your dog has fleas.
What many do not realize is that fleas are hosts for tapeworms. Yup – flea larvae actually act as incubators for tapeworm eggs. The larvae ingest the eggs and host the tapeworm through to adulthood.
Flea bites are super itchy because flea saliva irritates a dog’s skin. So, a dog will itch at the bite, which often causes him or her to unintentionally ingest fleas.
This allows the tapeworm egg to find a home in a dog’s digestive system. Once attached, the egg continues on to become a full-blown tapeworm.
Tapeworms are not good for a dog’s health. They deprive your dog of nutrients, which can lead to a lack of vitality and weight loss. Tapeworms can also make your pup feel super sick too.
While tapeworms cannot kill your dog, they aren’t your dog’s friend. They bring a lot of stress for you and your sweet pup. That’s why treating fleas and controlling the infestation must be a high priority.
Anemia refers to a low red blood cell count.
Since fleas feed on their host’s blood, it makes sense that significant flea activity could lead to anemia. This is especially true in puppies and small dogs with less blood volume, but thankfully anemia due to fleas is rare.
Check the color of your pet’s gums – if they are lighter than usual or white, take them to your veterinarian as soon as you can.
Anemia can be dangerous. If left untreated, anemia could lead to organ damage, brain damage, or death. If your pet is anemic because of fleas, they will need an aggressive intervention that addresses both the blood loss and persistent flea problem.
Dog flea treatment and flea control
Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to protect your dog from fleas or to take control of a flea infestation.
The flea products on the market today are very effective. From flea shampoo to flea collars, there is a product to help your dog become flea-free, fast! (There are actually natural tips too, you can read about them here)
Some of these products are conveniently combined with medications to prevent heartworm and intestinal worms.
Flea collars are just what they sound like – a collar your dog wears every day for consistent protection. These convenient collars are great for prevention, as they release a repellant that protects your dog’s coat from fleas.
There are actually two kinds of flea collars. The first type of collar releases a repellant that kills flea immediately on contact.
The second kind of collar releases a chemical that spreads out on your dog’s fur and skin. This way, if a flea bites your pup, it will die instantly.
What makes flea collars great is that they are very affordable and provide long-term care.
Oral and Topical Flea Control
Topical flea and tick medication also called “spot on” medications, are generally applied between the pet’s shoulder blades so the pet can’t lick it off.
Most topical medications last a month. Some topical medications not only kill fleas and ticks but also repels them. The most common active chemicals in topical medications are:
Oral Flea Control
Oral flea and tick medication treatment, which come as chewable or pills, are ingested by your pet, rather than applied to his body. The medicine is transmitted to adult fleas when they bite your pet.
An over-the-counter flea chew that starts killing fleas on your dog within one hour.
There are different active chemicals used in different flea and tick pill medications, some of which last a few days and others that last a month. The most common active chemicals in oral treatments include:
Flea combs continue to grow in popularity for their simple application and lack of chemicals. They work just like any comb or brush.
The difference is flea combs have super fine bristles. These work by collecting any fleas, eggs, or flea dirt from your dog’s coat.
Depending on your dog’s situation, these combs may be best as a supplemental treatment for fleas.
When you’re dealing with an infestation, you may need a more intense treatment to completely rid your dog of these annoying pests.
This is a quick way to remove fleas and flea eggs right when you see them. Flea spray features an insecticide that immediately kills fleas.
You can use this along with a flea comb for some double-action flea treatment!
Using your mighty vacuum is a very smart way to rid fleas from your home. Studies have shown that vacuums can kill fleas in all stages of their lives.
You must vacuum any carpet, rug, or fabric that you can. Fleas can live in most fabrics. Regularly vacuuming can be an awesome way to stop a recurring infestation.
This flea medicine is a super popular way to protect your dogs from fleas. The medicine is applied directly to your dog’s skin, usually around once a month.
If you’re interested in spot-on treatments, please consult your veterinarian before using them. While spot-on medicine is safe and effective, if used inappropriately, it can have some harmful side effects.
Your vet will tell you everything you need to know to keep your pet protected.
Preventing the return of dog fleas
It is an amazing relief when you rid your dog of fleas. But, that doesn’t mean you’ll never have a flea problem again.
Taking the right flea and tick preventative measures to keep these critters away is a must.
Remember: you can only start taking preventative measures when you’ve completely rid your dog of fleas.
One of the simplest ways you can keep a flea-free environment is by cleaning more often. Washing anything your dog interacts with regularly can help kill sneaky fleas.
Things like your dog’s beds (all pet bedding) or even the carpet he or she often lays on should be washed and/or vacuumed as often as possible.
Another way to avoid fleas is limiting your dog’s interaction with other pets. Fleas can jump from dog to dog (and even to humans or clothes!) Being cautious of where your dog plays and who your dog plays with can help avoid another infestation.
Speaking to other dog owners about their flea prevention is an awesome idea too.
Lastly, always check your dog’s fur thoroughly, especially after he or she goes outside. This will help you catch fleas early before the spread.
Dealing with a flea infestation isn’t easy. Luckily, there are various methods to rid and prevent fleas on your pup.
The first step will always be to arm yourself with knowledge. Knowing the nature of fleas and what they look like can help you to contain the infestation. Then, you can work on removing the fleas for good so that your dog live his or her best life!
If you are curious to learn more about flea treatment and prevention, we suggest exploring the RSPCA’s site on dog fleas and how to get rid of them.
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