What is a flea?
These wingless bloodsuckers love to set up shop in an animal’s warm coat or between a bird’s feathers — meaning all companion animals are susceptible. A little bit bigger than a poppy seed, fleas can be seen with the naked eye, but that doesn’t make them easy to catch. Adult fleas’ bodies are thin and flat, with six little legs that can propel them great distances, should they need to jump from one host to another. Their bodies are covered in teeny tiny hairs that help them grip on to their chosen animals.
There are more than 2,200 species of fleas recognized worldwide, but actually, only a handful of those affect dogs. The cat flea most often infests dogs and causes more than itching. Fleas can cause allergies and anemia and transmit tapeworms; they are also the agent that causes cat scratch disease. To pick the best anti-flea weapons, you must first understand the enemy. The adult flea you find crawling through your puppy’s fur represents only the tip of the iceberg.
How To Know If Your Dog Has Fleas
So, the first question you will undoubtedly have is, are there fleas on my dog? To determine this, you will want to do a thorough inspection of your pup. PetMD recommends getting your dog to lie down on their back like they would for a belly rub (if your dog is a belly-rub addict like mine, this won’t be a problem). Comb through their fur with your fingers or a comb, paying special attention to warm, protected, tender spots like ears, armpits, and the groin area. These are the spots where fleas like to make their home.
Signs Your Dog Has Fleas
- Flea Dirt– Fleas are small, dark, and fast, so you might not see them. What you will see, though, is the “flea dirt” that they leave behind. This “flea dirt” will look like black pepper or really fine, dark dirt.
- Redness, Scratching, Biting, And Licking– Abnormal amounts of this can be a sign your dog has fleas. Your dog may also develop red patches or lesions on their body if they are very sensitive to flea bites.
- Hair Loss– Alopecia may be experienced in some dogs either from the flea bites themselves or from all of the scratching and licking that are a reaction to the itchy bites.
- Pale Gums– This may be a sign of a serious flea infestation, and an indication that they need immediate relief. Pale gums in dogs are a sign of anemia and can mean that there are so many fleas that your dog’s body can’t keep up with the demand for new blood cells.
Causes of Fleas in Dogs and Puppies
Fleas, members of the order Siphonaptera, are flightless external parasites of both birds and mammals. About a tenth of an inch long, they have flat bodies and strong claws that make it easy to cling to a host’s skin, hair, fur, or feathers. Fleas have mouthparts that allow them to pierce skin and drink blood. When on the move, fleas can hop long distances. Adult fleas represent only five percent of the total flea population; the remaining 95 percent, composed of flea eggs, larvae and pupae, lurk in the environment.
Flea bites cause itching; in allergic hosts they can also cause swelling and hair loss. Fleas can also carry a wide range of diseases, some of which are deadly. Flea-borne diseases have ravaged human communities and can have a devastating impact on pets.
Fleas can lay 20 to 40 eggs per day, and 10 female fleas can create almost a quarter of a million different life stages in a month. Newly emerged flea larvae can survive two weeks without a blood meal, and pre-emerged fleas (pupae/cocoon stage) can survive six months without feeding.
How to Get Rid of Fleas on Dogs
1. Soak and lather in a flea bath
There’s good reason why a flea bath is the first line of defense against a flea infestation – it allows you to quickly and easily kill off a good chunk of fleas living on your dog and it provides your dog with some immediate relief from the pain and itchiness of flea bites.
To do it, you’ll just need to choose a flea shampoo. Here are your options:
- DIY flea shampoo.If you prefer a natural – and immediate – flea solution, you can make your own flea shampoo using what you’ve got in your kitchen. One option is to mix a 1/2 cup of water + 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar and 1/4 cup of Dawn dish soap. Lather the mixture into your dog’s coat just like a shampoo and let is sit for at least 5 to 10 minutes before rinsing it off.
- Flea shampoo.The best flea shampoos for dogs contain a combination of ingredients that kill fleas and soothing ingredients to alleviate the irritation from flea bites. The best thing about them, though, is that they can effectively wipe out the majority of fleas living on your dog in one, easy go.
2.Treat your home
When your home becomes infested with fleas, most of the flea eggs eventually wind up in the carpet, which is why this is a crucial step to getting rid of fleas for good. Even if you eliminate all the fleas on your dog and his bedding, if there are still fleas lurking in the carpet, it’s only a matter of time until your dog is infested again.
And nobody’s got time for that. So here’s the game plan…
- Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum
The vacuum cleaner is one of the most important flea-fighting tools you have in your arsenal so use it wisely and consistently to suck fleas, eggs and larvae out of your carpet and furniture.
- Steam it up
Fleas at all life stages can’t survive temperatures above 95 degrees. And even if the steam doesn’t reach deep enough to kill all the fleas hidden in the carpet, the heat alone could be enough to stimulate dormant flea pupae to leave their cocoons.
It’s also a totally natural, non-toxic way to kill fleas and sanitize your space at the same time.
- Bust out the flea killers
A smart thing to do is to constantly rotate the vacuum and steaming with flea killers. When it comes to things that kill fleas, you have an array of options, ranging from natural flea killers like baking soda and salt to more potent solutions like insecticides, which is best for severe infestations.
3. Prevention and Treatment
The best way to deal with fleas is prevention. Flea and tick preventatives kill fleas that come in contact with your dog, preventing your pup from bringing them home in the first place. There are several options out there, from flea collars to liquid applicants and pills. Talk to your vet about the flea preventative that is right for your dog.
If your dog already has fleas, these preventatives will still kill them, but you may need to take more aggressive action, like a prescription preventative. You can also use a flea shampoo or a fast-acting chemical treatment, such as a pill that kills the fleas on your dog within hours.
Consult with your veterinarian about how to best to protect your puppy in the bug wars. Some products only are available by prescription. If you choose an over-the-counter product, look at the label and follow product instructions to ensure the health and safety of your pets.