Dog Fleas

FleasOf all the common insects and parasites that can affect your dog, fleas are among the most annoying.  Not only do they cause discomfort to your pet, but if not treated immediately they can spread to the rest of the house and even bite human family members.  Both long coat breeds such as Cavoodles and short coat breeds such as Puggles are just as susceptible to these annoying parasites. Listed below is what you need to know about fleas, as well as how to treat and prevent them. 

Where do fleas come from?

Fleas are native to wooded areas, such as forest or scrub land, but will happily take up residence in shrubs, bushes, or anywhere they can find crevices to hide out until a potential host comes by.  As animals pass by these areas, fleas jump from brush to animal in search of a meal of blood from this host animal.  A dog can get fleas from being outside or near another animal that is already infested, as well as from birds or rodents that visit the backyard unbeknownst to everyone who lives there.

What are the symptoms of fleas?

“Flea dirt”

Initial symptoms of fleas include excessive scratching and shaking, especially at the base of tail or on the head, where most blood is concentrated.  To check for fleas, pull back your dog’s fur to look at the skin.  Fleas will look like moving black or brown thin bugs, and in a particularly bad infestation may reveal literally hundreds of fleas on a dog. “Flea dirt,” which looks like specks of black soil in the dog’s coat is usually what gives the presence of fleas away. It is the flea ‘poo’. If you are not sure if what you are seeing is dirt or flea dirt, take some of the grains and place them on a wet paper towel. The dirt will stay black while the flea dirt will go red when smudged into the paper towel. 

How should fleas be treated?

A flea infestation should be treated as soon as possible.  The first step is to treat the dog by administering a flea bath or spray.  These products contain insecticides that kill adult and juvenile fleas, or render them unable to reproduce.  Next, the entire house must be treated, as well.  Once the flea is finished sucking your dog’s blood, it will find a place to lay its eggs, such as upholstery or carpet.  It is important to kill any remaining fleas in the house, or else the flea cycle will continue.  Products are available at pet stores to help with this process. In extreme cases, an exterminator may have to be called.  Additionally, it is recommended to treat your house and dog multiple times to ensure all remaining fleas are killed.

What diseases do they spread?

Besides causing allergic reactions in many dogs, fleas can also contribute to the spread of disease.  If a dog uses his mouth to bite and scratch at fleas and accidentally ingests the insect, he is at risk for developing a tapeworm infection.  Tapeworms live inside an animal’s digestive tract and steal vital nutrients from the animal’s diet.  Extreme infections of tapeworm lead to weight loss and anemia. 

How can fleas be prevented?

Fortunately, fleas are entirely preventable.  A number of products exist that are designed to be regularly administered to dogs.  One option is a topical gel or liquid, applied monthly, that contains an insecticide that is metabolized by the dog’s skin.  When a flea bites a treated dog it ingests the insecticide and is killed on contact. Some of the brands of these topical preventative treatments include brands such as Frontline and Revolution. Other popular options include monthly oral tablets or topical sprays.  Additionally, some products are multifunctional and combine heartworm, flea, tick, and worm protection.  Overall, fleas are one of the easiest problems to prevent, and a small investment for monthly protection more than outweighs the cost of treatment.