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Fleas on Dogs: What You Need to Know!

What are fleas?

Brown and white dog on a walk through the woods taking a break to scratch its self

Fleas are very small insects that can live on a dog’s skin and feed on a dog’s blood supply much like a tick. The average flea is one to two millimeters in length, and they have long legs that allow them to jump as far as eighty times the length of their body. Peak flea season is late summer but can be year-round in warm, tropical climates. Fleas prefer shaded and sandy areas in your yard but can jump on our clothing and our pets, and they can easily infest carpeting and furniture in our homes.

The lifespan of an adult flea is seven to fourteen days, but when in the egg phase, eggs can be dormant in carpets and upholstery for up to nine months. Factors like heat and humidity can bring latent eggs out of dormancy, so when you move into a new home and your dog walks across an egg-laden carpet, it can trigger the eggs to hatch. Adult female fleas can start laying eggs within twenty-four hours of their first blood meal, and they can lay forty to fifty eggs per day.

Fleas can transmit diseases to your dog. Through flea bites, bacteria can get into the bloodstream and cause infection. If your dog has this kind of infection, then he may appear lethargic and have a fever. Heavy flea infestations can result in severe blood loss, aka anemia. Fleas can also carry tapeworm, so if your dog bites at his skin and ingests a flea, then he can become infected with tapeworms. Flea tapeworms shed small segments that look like grains of rice. If you see these in your dog’s feces, then contact your veterinarian for deworming recommendations.

Dogs can develop allergies to flea saliva, and sometimes one bite from one flea is all it takes to cause an allergic reaction. Flea allergic dogs can have very red, itchy skin and they can lose hair. The most common area for flea bite infections is over the lower back near the base of the tail. Your veterinarian may be able to prescribe medications to help with itching, and CBD oil can help with mild inflammation.

How to spot fleas on a dog

Chow Chow laying on the floor scratching itself

It can be tricky to spot fleas on your dog. They are small and brown to black-colored bugs that can be observed moving through your dog’s haircoat or jumping on and off them. Fleas like to stay in shaded areas, so they like to hide in furry areas to avoid the light. Fine-toothed flea combs can help bring adult fleas to the surface. it is also important to groom your dogs regularly to see any signs. Even if you don’t see active adult fleas, you might be able to see flea “dirt” or flea feces. These look like little pepper granules on the skin and are made of digested blood, so they can have a reddish appearance when they are moistened with rubbing alcohol on a white paper towel.

Getting rid of fleas on your dog

Golden retriever with a big collar itching its neck

Getting rid of fleas can be difficult due to their ability to infest your home and your yard, which means that even if you treat your dog, he can become re-infested when fleas are in his surrounding environment. Oral medications and topical treatments are available to help remove and keep fleas away from your dog, and there are also products that can help repel fleas from jumping on them.

Oral and topical treatments are the fastest ways to kill fleas. Over-the-counter products like Advantage and Frontline are effective for repelling fleas but can be washed off if you bathe your dog with a shampoo that is medicated or contains soap as an ingredient. This includes flea shampoos! Oral pills and chews are very effective for breaking the cycle of fleas, killing adult fleas and eggs. Prescription products like Comfortis and Trifexis are active for one month, and a prescription product called Bravecto is effective against fleas and ticks for up to three months.

Coconut oil repels fleas through a component in it known as lauric acid which can be applied topically to the dog or given orally.

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There are other flea products that, while not effective at breaking the entire flea life cycle, can help treat fleas in certain situations. An oral table called Capstar is available over the counter and is labeled for very small, young dogs. It can kill adult fleas but does nothing for the eggs and larvae. Capstar only lasts for about one day but can quickly kill active adult fleas. Flea shampoos are non-toxic for puppies and need to sit on your dog for five to ten minutes in order to be effective. However, the shampoo is only effective for as long as it sits on your dog; therefore, it is not an adequate preventive.

Preventative measures

Small Terrier nibbling at its paws

When it comes to preventing fleas from re-infesting your dog, breaking the cycle is critical. Prescription-strength products like Trifexis and Bravecto are excellent because they act on all parts of the flea life cycle. You will need to make sure that all dogs and cats in your home are protected against fleas because even cats that are kept strictly indoors can become infested with fleas. Cats are such excellent self-groomers that it can be extremely difficult to find signs of fleas on them!

Keeping your home clean is important in breaking the cycle in your dog’s environment. If you have a lot of carpeted areas, then you will need to make sure that they are frequently vacuumed. Upholstered furniture in your home may need to be sprayed for fleas and be sure to clean any other areas frequented by your dog like his dog bed. When it comes to your yard, shaded and sandy areas are ideal for fleas, and sunny, dry areas are less preferred.

Make sure to bathe your dog routinely and check him every so often for fleas. You should also check his stool to make sure that there are no tapeworm segments. If you are seeing fleas or tapeworm segments, then make sure to contact your veterinarian right away. They can help recommend the right treatment products for you and your dog. Preventatives work best when used year-round so that environmental infestations can be avoided.

Dealing with fleas can be frustrating. They can cause many health problems for your dog and can be difficult to eradicate if they have overrun your home and yard. Early detection can make a world of difference. With good prevention methods and tips from your veterinarian, you can help break the flea life cycle and keep your pet safe, happy, and itch-free!

dr erica irish author at sitstay.com

Dr. Erica Irish
Erica has worked in the veterinary field since 2006, starting out as a veterinary technician before graduating from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. As a general practitioner in an animal hospital, she has many interests and is especially interested in dermatology, cardiology, internal and integrative medicine.

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