5 Signs Your Dog Has Fleas
Fleas are as commonplace as they are irritating – virtually every dog and cat will encounter these nasty little critters at some point in their lives. Fleas thrive on the blood of cats, dogs, and other mammals, triggering unpleasant itchy reactions, and in some cases more severe symptoms such as skin infection and even hair loss. Our pets aren;t the only ones in danger, though – fleas will often scrounge for a snack on us humans.
Although fleas can’t live on humans, their bites can pass along a few diseases, such as Murine Typhus. With all this in mind, it should come as no surprise that identifying and dealing with flea infestations is vital to your dog’s health. Because they’re so small, however, spotting fleas can be rather challenging. Dogs scratch themselves all the time, and it can be tricky to distinguish normal behavior from flea-related warning signs. Luckily, there are a few ways to tell the difference. Today, we work our way through five common signs that your dog has fleas, and what you should do about it.
One: Unusual Scratching, Licking, and Biting
Frequent scratching is the hallmark of any flea infection, but it can be tricky to distinguish flea-related itchiness from a dog’s natural instinct to scratch themselves. For this reason, it’s important to figure out what’s normal for your pet. Any additional scratching could be a sign that fleas are present.
Fleas typically set up shop in areas that are difficult to reach – and see – helping them to stay under the radar. If your dog is scratching, biting, or otherwise worrying one of the following areas, fleas are a very likely culprit:
Two: Eggs and Droppings
If your dog has been scratching and worrying their skin more than usual, they may well have fleas. One of the most effective ways to find out for sure whether fleas are the issue is to carefully look through your dog’s coat for evidence of droppings, and eggs.
The average adult dog flea can lay up to 50 eggs a day, so if your dog does have fleas, they’re usually quite easy to spot. Flea eggs resemble tiny tic-tacs – they’rewhite, and shaped like small ovals. On the other hand, flea droppings resemble tiny black dots.
Depending on the color of your dog’s coat, eggs may be harder to spot that droppings, or vice versa. If your dog has a dark coat, looking out for eggs may be your best bet. If they have a light colored coat, spotting the dark granules of flea droppings will likely be easier.
To find dirt and eggs more thoroughly, gradually work a fine toothed flea and tick comb through your dog’s coat.
Three: Hair Loss
Flea bites are itchy, and when dogs attempt to find relief they often go a little overboard. When a dog repeatedly scratches, bites, or licks an area of their coat in response to a flea bite, they can accidentally pull away chunks of their own hair.
Flea bites can also trigger an allergic reaction in some animals that triggers alopecia: a condition characterised by hair loss.
Four: Red Patches on their Skin
Hair loss isn’t the only symptom of flea bite allergies. Some dogs may develop a patch of red sink, or a rash, in response to being bitten. Frequent flea bites can also trigger hypersensitivity. When a dog develops flea bite hypersensitivity, their body overreacts to the bite, which can lead to further rashes, and even lesions.
If you notice a deterioration in the health of your dog’s skin, fleas are a very likely culprit.
Five: Pale Gums
It might not be the most obvious symptom, but pale gums are an important indicator that your dog is infested with fleas. In serious flea cases, your dog can develop a condition called anemia. This means they don’t have enough red blood cells to function normally.
Fleas can trigger anemia by extracting a lot of blood from their host. Other signs of anemia include:
- Dizziness or fainting
- Panting or shortness of breath
- Pale eyes
- General weakness
If you believe your dog may be suffering from anemia, seek veterinary attention as soon as possible. Your dog may require supplements or dietary tweaks to fully recover as well as flea treatment.
What to Do if Your Dog Has Fleas
If your dog exhibits one or more of these five signs, it’s very likely that they have fleas. Luckily, there are plenty of flea treatment options out there, and you can usually deal with these pesky critters without help from your vet.
With so many treatment methods to choose from, you’re bound to find a solution that works for you and your pet:
- Topical Treatments
Topical, or ‘spot-on’ flea treatments are perhaps the most popular type on the market today. They consist of a liquid or gel that is placed directly onto your dog’s coat – usually between the shoulder blades. The liquid is then evenly dispersed throughout the coat, ending up in sweat glands where it can remain active for a number of weeks.
Ingredients in this liquid kill fleas and ticks on contact. Some topical treatments also kill eggs, but you may wish to comb through your dog’s coat to be on the safe side. Spot-on treatments are quick and easy to use, and most modern options are water-proof. They can be used as a preventative measure during flea season as well as a method of treatment.
- Oral Treatment
If you’re concerned that your curious pet may lick away a topical treatment, you might want to consider an oral option. These tablets usually need to be administered once a month. Once ingested, flea-killing chemicals from the pill work their way into your dog’s system
Some chemicals are designed to enter the dog’s blood, killing adult fleas when they bite. Others are secreted through their pores, acting to repel fleas and other biting insects. Many oral flea treatments are flavored to encourage dogs to take them. They’re convenient, effective, and there’s no risk that the anti-flea properties will wash away.
- Flea Collars
Although they fell out of favor some time ago, flea collars are experiencing something of a Renaissance. These handy collars are imbued with anti-flea chemicals that repel potential biters, and kill any fleas already on the animal.
Some of the flea collar’s chemicals are also absorbed into the dog’s skin, adding an extra layer of protection. As long as you select a good quality option, flea collars are a safe and effective flea control method. Make sure you choose a collar with a ‘break-away’ function, so it will snap if your dog gets stuck. Most flea collars need to be changed only occasionally – usually after one to three months of use.
- Flea Shampoo
If your dog has a bad case of fleas, using a flea shampoo could be the perfect solution. These shampoos contain chemicals that kill fleas on contact, making it easy to wash them out of your dog’s coat. Many shampoos also contain essential oils that fleas and ticks find repellant, helping prevent future infections.
Flea shampoos can also help to calm the itchiness that flea bites trigger. Some are blended with soothing ingredients like chamomile, which can help prevent problem scratching. If your dog just isn’t amenable to baths, this may not be the best option for you. Flea shampoo should generally be used in conjunction with another type of treatment.
- Flea Sprays
Another topical option is the flea spray. This inexpensive flea treatment contains flea-killing chemicals, which are dispersed over your pet’s coat through a handy spraying mechanism.
Flea sprays can be pretty effective as long as they’re kept away from your dog’s eyes and mouth, and always reapplied after their coat gets wet.
- Flea Powders
These powders are usually spread over your pet’s entire body, and are blended to kill fleas on contact. Although flea powders are still available, they’ve fallen out of favor in recent years.
This is down to an increasing body of evidence connecting flea powder to nasty side effects, such as vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, lost appetite, shaking, and even depression. This may be because powders are easier to accidentally inhale than their liquid counterparts.
- Flea Dips
Flea dips are a concentrated liquid, which is usually diluted before being applied to the dog’s coat. Next, the dip is allowed to dry, without being rinsed off. These dips are usually very potent, and shouldn’t be used on young animals. They’re generally considered a last resort for very bad flea infestations.
- Natural Remedies
Some dogs are very sensitive to the harsh chemicals that flea and tick treatments often use. In cases like these, owners may resort to natural solutions. Certain essential oils, such as citronella, repel and kill ticks.
Flea combs are another useful tool where pets are very young or sensitive. By running the comb through their coat each day, adult ticks and eggs can be removed, halting the infestation.
Often, owners will use more than one flea treatment to ensure the infestation is totally dealt with. For instance, flea shampoo may be used initially, before the administration of a spot-on solution or pill.
Clearing Fleas from your Home
Unfortunately, fleas are hardy little blighters, and removing them from your dog’s coat just isn’t enough to halt an infestation entirely – you’ll also have to deal with fleas and dormant eggs left over in your home. Flea eggs can lay dormant for about two weeks before hatching, potentially leading you right back to square one in your anti-flea campaign.
Below are some common signs of fleas in houses or apartments:
- Tiny white specks in the carpet – flea eggs
- Black grit on soft furnishings – flea droppings
- Bites on your body – especially around the ankles
To get rid of any fleas in your home, carry out the following steps:
- Treat your Pets
First and foremost, use one of the treatments outlined above to remove fleas from your pets themselves. In households with more than one pet, it’s a good idea to treat all of them when fleas come to town – even if only one has shown signs of infestation.
Once your pets have been treated, it’s time to treat the house. Perhaps the most important thing to do is vacuum. Make sure your vacuum cleaner is on its most powerful setting, and thoroughly vacuum the entire house, moving furniture out of the way, and using attachments to reach into every nook and cranny. Once you’re done, empty the vacuum into the trash outside, to prevent any unhatched eggs from finding their way back onto your floors.
- Wash Fabrics
Next, it’s a good idea to wash any fabrics that might have been exposed to fleas. Your dog’s bedding, your bedding, and any blankets or pillow covers from elsewhere in the house should all go into the laundry.
Use your regular laundry detergent, but be sure to wash everything at a high temperature. This ensures that fleas and eggs are killed. Allow the fabrics to dry thoroughly before returning them to their usual spots.
- Treat Carpets
For extra peace of mind, you can use Borax to effectively kill any left-over flea eggs in the carpet. Remove any children and pets from the area, before lightly sprinkling with Borax and vacuuming the power away.
- Homemade Flea Traps
To capture any live fleas, fill a small bowl with water and a few drops of dish soap. Next, place the bowl on the floor, next to a nightlight. In the dark, fleas will be attracted to the one source of light in the area, drop into the bowl, and drown.
- Lemon Spray
You can also keep fleas at bay by slicing a whole lemon into a pint of water. Bring this to the boil, and allow it to stand overnight. When cooled, this solution can be sprayed around your home to prevent fleas from coming back.
- How to Tell if your Dog has Fleas? – Pest Strategies
- Five Signs You (and your Pet) Have Fleas and Don’t Know It – Pet MD