How To Tell If Your Dog Has Fleas
And how to prevent new fleas from coming back 🦟😮
Maybe you accidentally missed a dose of your dog’s monthly flea prevention, and you’re worried that she may have caught some while on a long walk.
Don’t worry. It isn’t the end of the world if your dog has fleas, as long as you take the right steps to treat them. But do you know how to tell if your dog actually has fleas?
The Dodo reached out to Dr. Jamie Richardson, medical chief of staff at Small Door Veterinary in New York City, and Dr. Michelle Burch, a veterinarian working with Paramount Pet Health, to find out how to tell if your dog has fleas — and how to get rid of them if she does.
What do fleas look like?
Fleas are tiny (and we mean tiny), little bugs that are really difficult for most people to spot.
They only grow to around 2.5 millimeters long, so unless you have a dog with white fur, they can be hard to notice — especially if you aren’t actually looking.
Flea coloration can vary from light yellow to almost black. “The exoskeleton will be shiny,” Dr. Burch told The Dodo. “The body and legs have bristles that vary in number, allowing the insect to keep itself on an animal’s feathers or fur. These bristles also make it difficult to remove through preening or grooming.”
Signs of fleas on dogs
Since it’s not always easy to spot tiny fleas on your dog, it’s important to watch out for the signs of irritation caused by fleas.
“Flea bites are itchy, and many animals are allergic to flea saliva, which can cause an intense allergic reaction and prompt constant biting/chewing at their skin,” Dr. Richardson told The Dodo.
Common signs of a flea infestation include:
- Scratching, licking, rubbing, biting or chewing at the skin
- Red, irritated skin
- Restlessness and discomfort
- Crusted skin in areas including the base of the tail, over the hips and around the thighs
- Fur loss
- Thickened or darkened skin as the condition becomes chronic
Surprisingly, your dog’s feces is also another area to monitor for signs of fleas. “Dogs who ingest fleas during chewing can become infected with the intestinal parasite tapeworms,” Dr. Burch said. “Tapeworms will appear to be white grains of rice in your dog’s stool.”
How to check your dog for fleas
If your pet’s itching, you should definitely check for fleas. (It’s also a good idea to check your dog for fleas even if she isn’t itching so you can spot infestations early and fight them off before they get out of hand).
Some of the most common places are at the base of the neck and tail and the insides of the hindlimbs.
“You may also be able to see ‘flea dirt’ on your dog’s body,” Dr. Richardson said. “This looks a bit like black dandruff, and is actually digested blood that the fleas have excreted.”
The best way to determine whether the black flakes on your dog’s skin is flea dirt is by brushing the flakes onto a white cloth and adding a drop of water; if it turns reddish brown, that’s confirmation that your pup has fleas.
Another way to check for fleas is to carefully comb through your dog’s coat, checking both the comb and your dog for fleas.
How to get rid of fleas
If your dog has fleas, your vet can prescribe a number of medications to kill the fleas and provide protection against reinfestation. “They may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medication to help control skin irritation and soothe the itching,” Dr. Richardson said. “If the skin has become infected, an antibiotic may be prescribed.”
In addition to prescriptions, there are also some over-the-counter medications that you can use to help get rid of your dog’s fleas fast. (Keep in mind that these products don’t prevent fleas — but we’ve got you on that later.)
Some of the best over-the-counter flea medications include:
Veterinary Formula Clinical Care Flea and Tick Shampoo for Dogs and Cats
This gentle yet super effective shampoo is made with a natural insecticide that starts killing both fleas and ticks on contact.
Capstar Fast-Acting Oral Flea Treatment for Dogs
This treatment works to kill 90 percent of fleas within four hours of taking it.
How to treat your environment for fleas
When dealing with a flea problem, not only does the pet need to be treated, but the environment does as well.
Treating a flea infestation can be difficult. It may take weeks or even months to fully break the lifecycle of the fleas. Fully disinfecting your home, yard and all of the things your pet comes into contact with is very important when it comes to eradicating your environment of fleas.
How to treat fleas inside your home
The first environment to treat is indoors. “All house rooms need two treatments, one month apart, with a [home spray] and insect growth regulator product,” Dr. Burch said.
(An insect growth regulator works by stunting a flea’s growth, preventing younger fleas from maturing and reproducing).
Other things you can do to get rid of fleas in your home include:
Determine your flea hot spots
Identify all the areas in the household that are flea hot spots. “Flea hot spots will be your dog’s favorite resting or sleeping area,” Dr. Burch said. “The flea hot spots … will be the main focus of [your] cleaning efforts.”
The areas you identify as flea hot spots will need to be cleaned two to three times a week. “Vacuum furniture by making sure to remove cushions and reach all of the dark crevices since the larvae want a dark place to hide,” Dr. Burch said. “After vacuuming, empty the contents obtained immediately from the house.”
Additionally, you’ll want to wash bedding, fabrics and any soft toys that can go into the washing machine on a hot water cycle. “You can also add a small amount of bleach to the wash to help destroy the immature stages of the flea,” Dr. Burch said.
Consider a fogger
According to Dr. Richardson, home “bombs” or foggers (an aerosolized product that can help kill fleas and larvae in the home environment) is another strategy to help remove and kill fleas and flea eggs.
“If using bombs, only use one per room and ensure all pets are evacuated from this area until completely dry,” Dr. Burch said.
How to treat fleas in your yard
You should also treat your yard, especially areas where your dog spends a lot of time when he’s outside.
“When treating the outside environment, concentrate on kennel areas, your dog’s favorite sleeping spot or shaded areas,” Dr. Burch said. “Thankfully flea eggs and larvae do not survive extended periods of the full sun, especially in the summer.”
For the yard, you can use the same home spray you used inside.
How to prevent fleas in dogs
Getting rid of fleas can be a frustrating and difficult process, so prevention is super important — and thankfully quite simple.
One of the best ways to prevent flea infestations is by treating all of the pets in your home with a preventative medication.
“There are a number of different preventative treatments for fleas (including topical products that you apply to the back of your dog’s neck, and oral products, such as chewable tablets). Your vet can help determine which product is right for you and your dog.
“Most of these preventatives must be administered monthly, and it’s critical that you adhere to the monthly schedule. Missing even a single treatment — no matter what the season — could be the opening a flea needs to infest your dog,” Dr. Richardson said.
While fleas are definitely a nuisance, they aren’t the absolute end of the world. As long as you treat them fast (and prevent them afterwards), you’ll get back to all that cuddling in no time.
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