It is important to know how to tell if your dog has fleas so that you can get rid of these parasites as soon as you can. Animal flea infestation has been reported to be one of the most dreaded scenarios of pet owners, especially in warm climates and during the summer months. Fleas are small, blood-sucking, infection-transmitting insects that prefer hot and humid temperatures and often referred to as a “summer problem,” however, fleas can be a problem year round.
Flea infestation can occur either through direct contact with other flea-infested animals or through contact with fleas in the environment. As a result, dogs living in hot, humid, and outdoor environments tend to be more exposed to fleas. Also, because fleas hate light, they can often be found in damp dark areas.
Fleas multiply rapidly and it is important to look out for signs that they may be lurking somewhere near you.
What Are Fleas?
Fleas are small bugs that reach up to ¼ inch in length. This means that to the naked eye, they can be very hard to see. They are red or brown in color and they move very quickly but cannot fly. Fleas look like fat oval bugs with hard bodies. Usually, by the time you see them, they have jumped away from you.
What fleas eat depends on what stage of development they are in. The larvae don’t eat blood, instead, they eat skin cells, flea droppings, dead animals, feces or any other organic matter they can find.
Adult fleas tend to feed on blood once daily or occasionally, once every two days, and are equipped with the ability to ingest over fifteen times their weight in blood from their host.
Check for Fleas
Since fleas love warm environments, when you are checking your dog for fleas look in warm areas such as the armpits and groin. Another area fleas really like is the rear end. Often you can find them on your dog’s back and around the tail. With a mild infection, you will need to part the hair and closely examine the skin for signs of fleas, eggs, and flea dirt. In severe cases of fleas, you do not have to look too hard as you can sometimes see them on top of the dog’s skin or jumping off of them.
To help you find fleas on your dog, you can use a flea comb. These combs have very fine teeth allowing you to catch fleas and flea eggs in the comb.
If your examination is inconclusive and you are unsure if your dog has fleas, you can go to your veterinarian for help. The veterinarian will perform a full physical exam and tell you in no time. The veterinarian can also guide you through the process of treating fleas on your dog, preventing flea infestations, and treating skin infections or parasites caused by fleas. They can also offer advice on treating the environment if needed.
Signs of Fleas on Dogs
The most common sign of a dog having fleas is itching. This can be shown through scratching, licking, biting, and chewing the skin. The process of itching if gone on too long can lead to damaging the skin barrier and causing scabs, scratches, sores, hotspots, and other wounds. This is referred to as dermatitis secondary to fleas. In addition, some dogs are very sensitive to flea bites and can even be allergic to the proteins in the flea’s saliva. This can cause an allergic reaction making the itching and skin infection worse. This is called flea allergy dermatitis. Other signs of a flea infection includes the presence of flea dirt (flea poop) or flea eggs on or around the dog, significant blood loss, or anemia (for chronic cases or in cases of heavy flea infestation), and tapeworm infestation.
Flea Nest on Dogs
Adult fleas can create a nest and lay eggs in your dog’s fur. When you comb through your dog’s fur and see a bunch of dark little spots, then you should be suspicious of a flea nest. Fleas can leave a lot of eggs and nests on the fur.
These eggs can hatch and become larvae which transition to adulthood where they can feast on your dog’s blood.
Flea Eggs on Dogs
It is also important to learn how to tell if your dog has flea eggs because most flea infestations start with flea dirt and flea egg deposits, it is essential to be able to identify flea dirt and flea eggs. Flea eggs are oval and translucent. They quickly fall off the fur the longer they stay exposed to the air. Female fleas cannot lay eggs until their first blood meal. They begin to lay eggs 36-48 hours after they had a feeding.
Flea Dirt on Dogs
Flea poop is commonly referred to as flea dirt, and is usually found on the dog’s fur. It is comprised of dried up flea blood and it is normally found on the fur of your pet. It looks somewhat like black pepper dots, and you may even think that it is regular dirt.
Flea dirt often results from the action of female fleas during the reproduction phase, and are a visible sign of flea infestation. Unlike flea eggs, however, flea dirt tends to stick to the dog’s fur. You can wipe it off with a wet paper towel.
Flea Larvae on Dogs
When the flea eggs hatch from the nest, they become larvae. The larvae will feed on the flea dirt. Larvae can hide out in your dog’s fur and grow into adulthood and then feed on the dog’s blood. The problem with a lot of flea collars and flea medication is that they only get rid of the adult cycle. It’s important to find a treatment that will get rid of both the adult cycle, eggs, and larvae. That way your dog will be free from future infestations.
Flea Rash on Dogs
A red flag, when checking your dog for fleas, is a rash. If your dog has a rash from scratching itself and itching more than usual, then you should perform a thorough exam by checking the skin for fleas. You can always get a flea comb which really comes in handy. The next step is taking your dog to the veterinarian for treatment of the fleas and the rash.
Flea Bites on Dogs
Flea bites are very small bumps with a central red spot. Sometimes the bites can appear in line but often it is a group of three or four. Flea bites can form a small scab surrounded by a light red halo.
Bites from fleas can start allergic reactions. Flea allergy is very common in dogs.
Flea Allergy in Dogs
Dogs who are allergic to flea bites have a fleabite hypersensitivity or flea allergy. It is worse than the average flea bite itch and is bound to make your dog miserable. The allergy can cause your dog’s skin to flare up, swell, turn red, and itch like crazy. Dogs with flea allergies often will get secondary skin infections so it is important to take your dog to your veterinarian for treatment. It is also important to keep a dog with flea allergies on flea prevention year-round.
Flea Treatment In Dogs
It’s important to get flea medication and prevention that will kill the fleas whole life cycle, not just the adults.
The best source for flea prevention and flea treatments is your veterinarian. They will provide you with the safest, most effective products for your dog.
Most treatments start to kill fleas after around four hours from application. A single treatment of your dog can last anywhere from 4-12 weeks.
There are many different flea treatment and prevention products. There are monthly chews, quarterly chews, topical monthly products, sprays, flea collars, and shampoos. Typically sprays and shampoos will only be temporary and will help to get rid of fleas immediately, but you will need to follow up with a longer lasting preventative to keep those pesky bugs off your dog. Most over the counter flea collars won’t help keep fleas off your dog. They may help protect around the head and neck but fleas love the back end of the dog and you can still find them there despite a flea collar. Flea collars can also be dangerous if they become too tight or if the dog gets caught on something with the flea collar.
If your dog is severely infested with fleas and flea dirt. The first thing you should do is bathe with Dawn dish soap. This will help to get the bugs and the grime off your dog. Wash and dry your dog well and then follow up with flea treatment and prevention.
The best form of flea treatment is preventing your dog from getting fleas in the first place. Talk to your veterinarian about the best flea prevention for your dog. Be careful about purchasing the cheap over the counter products as these are typically more toxic and harmful to your dog. The best type of preventive product will depend on the environment your dog spends most of their time in, any health conditions your dog might have, and if you prefer topical or oral products.
Frequently Asked Questions
My Dog is Always Scratching but Doesn’t Have Fleas
While compulsive chewing, licking, and scratching behaviors in dogs are often associated with a flea infestation, this is not always the case. Other causes for this behavior include allergies, environment (mold, pesticides, pollen, or soap), dry skin, fungal infections, hormonal imbalances, pain, or stress (anxiety, boredom). Whatever the case, it is worth talking to your veterinarian about these factors after you have made sure your dog doesn’t truly have fleas.
My Dog is Biting Base of the Tail but No Fleas
When a dog bites at its tail, we often think that he or she might have fleas. However, there is a chance that your dog may not have fleas at all. When a dog wag’s his tail, it might touch plants, bushes, or something dirty on the ground. This can lead to skin irritations on the tail which can instigate itch and secondary dermatitis. When this happens, your dog will begin scratching and biting its tail to relieve the irritation. Dogs can also bite at their tail if something on the tail hurts, if there is an anal gland problem, or if they have allergies.
Can I Get Fleas From My Dog?
The answer is yes, you can get fleas from your dog. If your dog is infested with fleas, he or she can bring those fleas from outside your house to inside.
When you look closer at your flea-infested dog, you can see them jumping on its body. The secret to their jumping is hidden in an elastic pad made of a protein, called resilin, which they use to catapult themselves in the air. This works like tensed spring. Dog fleas can jump higher than cat fleas. The average height of their jump is 15.5 cm (6 inches) and they can reach a maximum length of 25 cm (10 inches).
Knowing this, a flea can jump from where it’s at all the way to your body. One flea bite can result in intense itching and scratching. This is why it’s important to learn how to tell if your dog has fleas so you can shorten the length of the flea infestation. It is also important that you get rid of fleas from your dog before letting him or her in the house.
If your dog is an indoor pet and has fleas, don’t let him sleep on your bed. If he still manages to get on your bed, then there are some things that you will have to do. First take the dog outside, and give him a bath. You want to make sure that the fleas leave the fur. Afterward go back to your room and grab your sheets, covers, and pillows, and throw them in the washing machine, and run a hot wash cycle to clean them thoroughly. You may need to then treat the rest of your house. Of course, don’t forget to treat the dog so the fleas don’t come right back.
Can Fleas Make a Dog Sick?
Fleas can actually make your dog sick. They carry a lot of germs and bacteria and can inject those organisms and substances into your dog’s body. Often times, when a flea infection is left untreated, your dog can get a bacterial infection.
The dog will keep scratching and itching during a flea bite. This will destroy the protective skin barrier, and allow the wounds to be exposed. When that happens, your dog will be susceptible to many types of infections. This can result in fever, swelling, redness, and intense pain for your dog. If you witness these symptoms, definitely bring your dog to see a veterinarian for antibiotic medication.
Flea can also carry tapeworms. When a dog grooms themselves by licking their fur, they can ingest the fleas and in turn ingest the tapeworms leading to a tapeworm infection. Make sure to treat your dog for tapeworms as well if they have been infected with fleas.
Can Fleas Kill a Dog?
In most of the cases, fleas do not pose a threat to your dog’s life. However, a flea infestation can be lethal if your dog is really weak, if it is a small puppy, or if your dog gets a severe infection from the fleas.
Can Dogs Get Fleas in Winter?
Dogs are less likely to get fleas in the winter because the fleas are dormant during the cold season. However, it is still possible to get fleas in this season. During the winter, the fleas can enter and breed in the warm areas of your home. When you bring your dog into your house, this will be an opportunity for the flea to jump onto your dog’s fur. Therefore, it’s advisable to make sure your dog is on year-round flea prevention if you are worried about fleas at any time.
Flea Bites on People
Dog Fleas on Humans
We’ve come to know that when we get a flea bite, we can let the itching subside and disappear on its own ranging from as little as a few hours to a few days. But just like our pets, we are vulnerable to flea bite allergies which can be lethal if ignored. While we may easily brush off flea bites, it is possible to get infections or allergies from these bites. Learning how to tell if your dog has fleas can definitely help prevent fleas from transferring to humans.
Common symptoms of flea allergic reactions include swelling of lips or tongues, chest pains, dizziness, difficulty breathing, and nausea. Meanwhile, if your flea bite gets infected you may experience symptoms which include intolerable pain on the bitten area, extensive redness, and swollen glands.
Flea Bites on Kids
As most children may not comprehend a flea bite when they get one, it is vital to prevent the possibility of them getting bitten. You may mistake a flea bite for chicken pox in your child, but you should note that flea bites do not blister like chicken pox.
Flea bites in children can pose a huge threat because an allergic reaction in children may be more fatal than in adults. Seek immediate attention if your child shows any signs of a flea bite allergy. Whether the reaction is allergic or not, encourage your child not to scratch as this may lead to an infection. Be wary and prevent flea bites because fleas can also transmit tapeworm and, in extreme cases, bubonic plague.
The Lifespan of a Flea
The problem with fleas is that once the adult flea lays its eggs on your dog, a vicious cycle of flea reproduction begins. Although a flea dies once it bites your dog, or it leaves after laying its eggs, the average lifespan of a flea is 30-90 days, so if left untreated, your dog will be harboring a new group of fleas every month to 3 months. An untreated flea allergy in your dog will result in scabs and unsightly hair loss, therefore it is vital to treat your dog periodically to prevent the onset of any flea problems. Fleas can also lay eggs in carpet or in dark or damp areas in your house. These eggs can hatch months later, causing another cycle of problems.
Dog Fleas vs Cat Fleas
Now, we’re all familiar with dog fleas. Cat fleas, on the other hand, are a totally different thing. Cat fleas are different from dog fleas, but regardless of their name, they can still affect dogs. And unfortunately, they can also affect humans.
There are many ways through which you can tell whether your dog has fleas or not. Fleas in dogs are very common these days and if you have the slightest hint that your dog might have fleas, be informed of the ways to get rid of the infestation. There are several things you can do which are very easy and you can even do them in the sanctity of your own home.
It goes without saying that a flea infestation is a serious problem especially if left unchecked. In addition to threatening the overall livelihood and survival of the infected dog(s), some fleas like the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis, can affect cats, dogs, humans, and many other animals, equally posing a threat to their lives. Hence, early prevention, identification, and treatment of flea infestations are paramount.