Fleas and ticks are two of the most frequent pet care concerns.
Prevention is the best defense against these parasites, but it’s important to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of fleas so you can help your pets if necessary.
Fleas can live for as few as 13 days or as long as 12 months—and during that time, can produce millions of offspring. Though there are many species of fleas, the one that most often affects both dogs and cats in North America is the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis.
Symptoms of Fleas on Dogs
Fleas are most commonly noticed on a dog’s abdomen, the base of the tail and the head. Common symptoms of fleas on dogs include:
- Droppings or “flea dirt” in a dog’s coat (small dark “grains of sand”)
- Flea eggs (tiny, white grains)
- Allergic dermatitis
- Excessive scratching, licking or biting at skin
- Hair loss
- Scabs and hot spots
- Pale gums
Causes of Fleas
- Fleas can be easily brought in from the outdoors.
- Fleas thrive in warm, humid climates at temperatures of 65 to 80 degrees.
- Adult fleas spend most of their lives on the animal, laying eggs in the fur.
- These eggs drop out onto rugs, upholstery, bedding and furniture; the new adult fleas will, in turn, find their new home (either human or animal).
- Fleas can consume 15 times their own body weight in blood, which can cause anemia or a significant amount of blood loss over time.
- This is especially problematic in young puppies or kittens, where an inadequate number of red blood cells can be life-threatening.
- Some pets have heightened sensitive to the saliva of fleas, which can cause an allergic reaction known as flea allergy dermatitis.
Consult your veterinarian if you suspect your dog has fleas. It’s important that all of your pets are treated for fleas, including indoor and outdoor cats, and that the environment is treated as well. Once your veterinarian confirms the diagnosis, a treatment plan may include the following:
- Topical or oral treatment or the use of shampoos, sprays and powders on the pet.
- Thorough cleaning of your house, including rugs, bedding and upholstery. Severe cases may require using a spray or a fogger, which requires temporary evacuation of the home.
- It is very important not to use products on your cat that are intended for dogs.
- Lawn treatments may also be needed if your pet keeps getting re-infected every time it goes outside.
- Use a flea comb on your pet and wash his bedding once a week.
- Keep the outside of your house free of organic debris, like rake clippings and leaves, and know that fleas like to hide in dark, moist, shady areas.
- There are many preventative flea products available, either with vet prescriptions or over-the-counter formulas.