At the first sign of your dog repeatedly scratching themselves, every dog owner dreads one thing: fleas. The most common parasite on dogs, your dog is quite likely to get fleas unless preventative steps are taken, no matter how clean your house and your dog. So, how do you know if your dog has fleas?
And what steps can you take to prevent fleas on your dog and get rid of fleas if your dog gets them?
How Do Dogs Get Fleas?
There are multiple ways that dogs can get fleas, whether directly from other animals (or their bedding) or simply from being in an environment where other animals with fleas have been.
Firstly, fleas can jump directly from host to host, without regard for the type of animal. So, your dog could get fleas from being in contact with other dogs that have fleas at the local dog park, or from getting close to cats or the local wildlife. Humans are also possible carriers of fleas, in particular clothing.
Secondly, your dog could get fleas from the local environment. This might be your own backyard or while out on a walk. Female fleas lay hundreds of eggs per day, which fall off into the surrounding environment. The eggs hatch into larvae which burrow into small crevices, forming a cocoon and entering their pupae stage. Flea pupae can remain in this state for over a year, with an adult flea only emerging once it senses that there is a suitable host nearby. And up it jumps onto the new host, such as your dog.
Common Signs that Your Dog Has Fleas
The most common sign that your dog has fleas is persistent scratching. If your dog keeps on scratching over and over, it’s time to check for fleas. Another sign is your dog over-grooming themselves, leaving bald patches on their coat. Some dogs also spin around quickly to chew themselves when a flea bites. If your dog develops an allergic reaction, they may also have scabs and red, sore areas on their skin.
However, not all dogs are as sensitive to fleas, so also keep an eye out for fleas when grooming your dog. The most common fleas you’ll encounter are called dog fleas. They're dark brown and about the size of a pinhead. You might spot the tiny creatures moving through your dog’s coat. A fine-toothed flea comb can help.
If only a few fleas are present, you might only spot tiny black specks in your dog’s fur or on their bedding, which could be flea dirt. To test whether a black speck is flea dirt, put it onto some damp tissue paper. If it's flea dirt, the specks will turn reddish-brown because of the digested blood they contain.
Best Products to Prevent and Treat Fleas on Your Dog
There are multiple options when it comes to preventing and treating fleas on your dog. Generally, most flea treatment products will both kill any existing fleas on your dog, plus repel fleas in the future.
One of the simplest options is to use a treatment shampoo. In place of your dog’s usual shampoo, use a shampoo that both kills adult fleas on your dog and repels fleas. An example is Dogphora Flea & Tick Pet Shampoo, which also soothes and relieves your dog’s dry, itchy skin.
Alternatively, you may want to use a spray, skipping the need to bathe your dog. After all, many dogs are not fans of a bath! Wagberry Flea & Tick Dog Spray is made with neem, citronella and eucalyptus to repel and kill fleas, ticks and mosquitoes quickly.
Another common treatment method is a spot-on treatment. These treatments consist of a small vial of liquid that is dabbed onto the back of your dog’s neck, onto the skin after parting their fur.
There are also multiple tablets available that can treat fleas on your dog. Given orally, these are absorbed into the dog’s body and then either kill fleas when they bite or prevent the flea’s eggs from hatching, breaking the cycle of fleas.
A final type of treatment is a collar. While old-style flea collars weren’t that effective, except for treating the area around your dog's neck, newer collars work by dispersing the active ingredient throughout your dog’s body. All collars should come with a quick release in case they catch.
Note that some of these flea treatment options may require a prescription from your vet. Some treatments also only target adult fleas, while others target flea eggs and larvae as well. It is best to ask your vet to recommend the best option for your pet. In particular, if your pet is allergic to fleas, they will require a product that also repels fleas, not just kills them. Two products might work best together.
Comparing Natural vs Chemical Flea Treatments
Many flea treatments rely on the use of chemical products to be effective. In particular, many dog flea treatments contain permethrin, which is toxic to cats. If you have both dogs and cats, your pets need to be treated separately and kept apart for a period of time, or else use an alternative treatment which isn’t toxic to cats.
On the other hand, some natural products may not have been thoroughly tested, and may not be as effective as other flea treatment products on the market. If in doubt, check with your vet before using any product.
When to Use Flea Treatment Products
As a flea infestation is difficult to defeat, it’s always best to use preventative treatment before fleas become a problem. You should use a flea treatment product regularly, ideally year-round or at least during the warmer months of the year. Check your product’s label for the recommended interval between treatments.
If your dog already has fleas, start using a flea treatment product and keep it up, to prevent the fleas returning. You’ll also need to treat your pet’s bedding and your home, to get rid of any fleas they harbor. Your dog’s bedding should be washed or even discarded, while any carpet should be thoroughly vacuumed and steam cleaned. A flea spray may also help to kill fleas inside your home.
WRITTEN BY SHANDOS CLEAVER