Many dog owners feel that familiar pinch of worry when they spy their canines relentlessly scratching and gnawing at their fur.
Much as you might prefer this to stem from a skin condition, the cause could likely be fleas. Not only do they find their way to dogs, cats, and other animals with endless persistence, but they are surprisingly resilient insects that are often difficult to remove from households.
That is why learning to recognize and effectively battle fleas is important – to ease your pet’s discomfort and protect your home.
So if you suspect your dog of playing host to fleas, don’t panic. Check out the steps below for finding and addressing these problematic pests.
What are fleas?
Typically smaller than one-eighth of an inch and without wings, fleas do not seem like they pose much of a threat at first pass.
But with mouths that can pierce the skin to find blood vessels, these parasites are built to survive by sucking the blood of small mammals like dogs, cats, and rodents. Fleas will even bite humans, though they don’t live on people as they do with other animals.
Fleas can easily jump from one critter to another. The fine hairs covering their bodies help them stick to their hosts. A tough exoskeleton, or hard outer shell, makes squishing these insects a challenge.
Where do fleas come from, and how do fleas survive?
Many dog owners go to great lengths to guard their pets against fleas. But, like it or not, dogs’ energetic and social nature leads them to bound outdoors and sniff other animals.
How can this lead to fleas, you might wonder, and why do they choose to chomp on your beloved furry friends? The flea basics below will shed light on how this nuisance comes about.
Where do fleas live?: You can, unfortunately, find fleas living in many climates and environments; however, they prefer to settle in dark, moist places. Fleas feel at home in locations such as tall grass, doghouses, or woodpiles. Even inside the house, fleas get comfortable, primarily in carpeting and upholstered furniture.
What do fleas eat?: Fleas don’t consume blood their entire lives. Newly hatched flea larvae feed on organic material, such as a host’s skin cells, until adulthood. They then become hungry for blood. Females in particular need to ingest blood to lay eggs.
How do dogs get fleas?: Fleas launch themselves onto dogs from grass and other animals. This can occur during romps in the yard, visits to the dog park, the kennel, and the vet. If a pup curls up for a nap by a woodpile or in a doghouse where a flea resides, the insect can simply crawl onto its new host’s body.
How far can a flea jump?: Fleas can jump over 12 inches high. If this doesn’t sound impressive, remember that it is 200 times their body length!
What is the flea’s lifecycle?: After consuming blood, fleas typically lay eggs within 36 to 48 hours – up to 20 eggs at a time. The eggs hatch into larvae within roughly a week and feed on debris on a host’s skin. In the pupa stage, they form cocoons, then hatch again as adults. This can take weeks or months, depending on the temperature and humidity of the environment.
How long do fleas live?: With ample food available and comfortable living conditions, an adult flea can live for over a year. However, adult fleas won’t live longer than roughly two weeks without a host.
What makes fleas such a problem?
Don’t think fleas need your immediate attention? Flea bites not only torment animals with a tremendous itch, but they can also spread disease and infest a home.
Why do flea bites itch so much: In a word, saliva. When fleas feed, their saliva helps increase the host’s blood flow to provide a better feast. When they finish, their saliva remains on the host’s skin. Like mosquito bites, the host’s body senses the saliva as a foreign substance, which triggers the immune system to produce the chemical compound histamine, resulting in swelling and itching.
What happens when fleas go untreated: Even a single flea bite can make an animal miserable, and a flea situation only becomes more serious with time. Not treating for fleas can lead to lesions, infection, and even severe diseases. Dogs can even experience anemia if too many fleas suck their blood.
Can fleas be dangerous: While rare in the United States, fleas can transmit diseases that threaten humans. Fleas played a key role in the Bubonic Plague that swept across medieval Europe by biting plague-ridden rats and passing the disease along when they siphoned blood from humans.
How do fleas infest a home: Fleas don’t remain on animals their entire lives. They can drop off pets and nestle into carpeting, bedding, and furniture. When fleas lay eggs on their hosts, roughly 50 percent of them drop off the animal, particularly when the pet shakes and scratches. As a female can lay as many as 500 eggs in a lifetime, this quickly leads to many unwelcome house guests.
How to tell if a dog has fleas
Many issues can cause your canine to scratch and bite at its fur, like skin problems or behavioral issues. There are several ways to confirm if fleas are to blame.
Common signs of fleas: When your pup starts scratching, keep an eye out for common flea symptoms such as red bumps on the groin, stomach, and at the base of the tail. Another red flag is when a dog scratches enough to result in hair loss and dry skin.
How to find fleas on a dog: Catching a glimpse of tiny fleas can prove challenging. Combing your dog carefully can help to identify fleas. As you brush, keep checking the comb or brush for fleas. You will likely see them weaving through your pet’s fur or sticking to the animal’s skin.
How to make sure it’s fleas
You might see an insect on or near your pets or even scuttling around your house – but are you sure it’s a flea? Knowing what to look for can help.
What does a flea look like: While small, adult fleas can still be seen by the naked eye. They are dark and reddish-brown, with an oval shape and hard shell.
What is flea dirt: Flea dirt refers to the fecal matter that fleas leave on their hosts. It appears as small, black spots scattered on your dog’s fur and skin. Because it’s comprised mostly of blood, flea dirt will leave a red residue if you wipe it with a moist towel. Finding flea dirt will certainly prove the presence of fleas.
What do flea eggs look like on a dog: Spotting minuscule flea eggs can also help to determine the insect’s activity on your pet. Roughly the size of a grain of sand, they are oval-shaped and white and feel slippery and spread easily. You might also find flea eggs in your carpet fibers or furniture.
How to eliminate fleas
So, you know for sure that fleas plague your pup. Now you just want their itching to stop and for the fleas to leave this host for good! You can try a variety of measures to achieve this, ranging from tried-and-true tools to natural remedies.
Talk about these methods with your veterinarian to confirm the best way to tackle fleas in specific stages of their life cycle.
How to use a flea comb: Flea combs offer a simple, affordable option to rid a dog of fleas. A flea comb offers finely spaced teeth to catch and remove fleas and flea eggs from a pet’s fur. Before diving right in, however, you need to be fully prepared.
- Lay down newspapers or trash bags below your dog to catch any falling fleas while you comb. Combing outdoors will make this easier and ensure the dropping insects don’t hide in your home.
- Prepare a deep bucket filled with hot water and soap. Continually rinse your comb in this as you proceed. Use this bucket to deposit fleas and eggs – the deeper the bucket, the less likely they will escape.
- Comb slowly and gently through your pet’s fur, starting at the head, neck, and shoulders and working down the whole body to the paws and tail. Be sure to focus on your pet’s stomach and neck, where fleas often fester. A flea comb will work best on dry fur.
- After you comb over your entire pet thoroughly, comb everywhere again to catch any fleas that avoided the comb the first time.
- Wait roughly 15 minutes before pouring out the water – this should give enough time for the soap-and-water mixture to kill the fleas. Dispose of all the newspapers and trash bags you used, and if you combed indoors, clean the floor rigorously.
Can flea shampoos help?: Pet flea shampoos, a medicated shampoo, can also work effectively with addressing fleas. The shampoo can be applied like any normal shampoo, then left on the animal for several minutes to effectively kill fleas. Many also contain ingredients that will protect and improve an animal’s coat, soothe their itchy skin, and even continue to repel fleas for weeks. As not all shampoos offer a long-term solution, many people tend to use flea shampoo in conjunction with other treatments.
Which flea sprays work on animals: If the comb or shampoo sounds overly labor-intensive, some flea sprays made with natural ingredients can be safe to use on pets, such as Natural Care Flea and Tick Spray, Frontline Flea and Tick Treatment, Zuba Flea and Tick Spray for Dogs, and Vet’s Best Flea and Tick Home Spray.
Many sprays made with strong chemicals should be used for cleaning your home only, though, and not applied directly to pets.
How does flea medicine work?: You will find a variety of flea medication available, including over-the-counter and prescription options. One such option is spot-on treatment, a liquid medication applied directly to a pet’s skin. Its ingredients absorb into the dog’s oil glands and quickly disperse to kill fleas all over its body.
You can also obtain oral prescriptions, some of which prove highly effective with ingredients that target eggs, larvae, and adult fleas. These comprehensive prescriptions include insecticide to kill adults, plus a hormone growth regulator that prevents eggs from hatching and stops larvae from developing into adults.
What essential oils are good for fleas and ticks on dogs: Some dog owners prefer an all-natural approach to fleas for peace of mind with the materials involved with their pet’s health. Keep in mind that some essential oils – compounds extracted from plants – can still be harmful to pets, so check with your veterinarian before using them.
That said, many praise some oils as highly effective in tackling fleas and ticks alike, such as rosemary, peppermint, tea tree oil, and Neem oil. Simply add several drops of the essential oil to a cup of water, shake it well, and apply it to a pet’s fur with a spray bottle.
How long does it take for fleas to die after treatment: The impact on fleas depends on the treatment you use. Many sprays and medications claim to kill all of the fleas on a dog within 24 hours.
What to do for flea bites
Even with a treatment applied, dogs will still look to you in desperation to relieve their itchy, swollen bites. A pet can keep itching for up to two weeks. Some pets even experience flea allergy dermatitis, a common skin disease that can compound their misery.
When searching how to help flea bites, simple solutions can work best. A cool bath with soothing, itch-relief shampoo can reduce a pet’s discomfort. Prescription skin and coat shampoos are even available with antifungal and antibacterial ingredients to combat itchiness.
How to stop flea infestation
As if fleas on your pets isn’t bad enough, these insects’ tiny, flat bodies make them highly adept at hiding throughout your home. And with half of the flea eggs dropping off their hosts, home infestations can likely occur, so treating your home is a necessity.
How to get fleas out of the house: Simple as it sounds, cleaning rigorously and thoroughly tops the list for ridding your home of fleas. Vacuuming proves especially important, as fleas and their eggs could lie throughout cracks in tile and hardwood floors as well as carpet fibers. Vacuum all floors, carpets, and furniture. Launder bedding and clothing on the hottest possible cycle. Also, use your usual home cleaning materials to provide a deep clean for your entire house, especially dark areas where fleas could hide.
How to use Diatomaceous Earth for fleas: Those who opt for natural substances to control fleas might try sprinkling Diatomaceous Earth around the house. This powdered substance, made from a sedimentary rock, contains abrasive particles that damage fleas’ exoskeletons, cling to their bodies, and suck up their moisture.
Be sure to use non-hazardous, food-grade Diatomaceous Earth. Sprinkle the substance across all floors and furniture, then leave it in place for roughly three days.
Some experts caution that this won’t contain an infestation on its own. Wear a mask and gloves around the substance, as Diatomaceous Earth can dry and irritate the eyes, skin, and lungs.
How can home remedies help: You can also arm yourself against fleas with simple household materials. Some experts recommend creating your own flea trap by filling a bowl with warm water and soap and placing it in high flea activity areas. Some also hail that rubbing baking soda into your carpeting or sprinkling salt across your floor before vacuuming can help conquer fleas.
What keeps fleas away?
Knowing how to treat and remove fleas ranks as vital information – but preventing them proves just as important. You can take a range of steps to prevent further encounters with fleas.
What is the best flea prevention for dogs: You can choose several kinds of preventative tools, many of which require little inconvenience. These include:
- Topical preventatives: Effective at killing and preventing fleas, topical solutions must be applied to one spot on an animal’s skin, usually just once a month.
- Sprays and shampoos: If you find that the flea sprays and shampoos mentioned earlier effective, you can also regularly apply these to a dog’s skin and coat for ongoing prevention.
- Flea pills: Some vie for oral flea control products, many of which require a prescription. Depending on the product, some can be effective in killing and preventing fleas with just one pill a month, while others must be taken as frequently as daily.
- Flea collars: How does a flea collar work, you might wonder? Flea collars can function in up to two ways. Some emit a gas that repels or kills fleas when they bite, while others release a medication that disperses into the fat of a dogs’ skin and kills fleas on contact. Some even provide both of these functions. Flea collars can last up to eight months and are generally affordable. However, some veterinarians caution that flea collars often only protect a small area of a dog’s body against fleas, particularly the neck.
How to prevent fleas in the home: You can create a fortress against fleas in many ways.
- Make your overall property as uninviting to fleas as possible by trimming grass and bushes to discourage fleas from hiding there.
- You can also choose between various carpet sprays, some of which kill fleas at all stages of the life cycle. But be cautious with your choices. You might be tempted to explore how to use a flea bomb, also called a flea fogger, which releases pesticides into a room. However, many experts warn against these as they leave behind a chemical residue that can put people and pets at risk and often don’t reach all the spaces that fleas can hide.
- Vacuum your home weekly to suck up any fleas that might have snuck in on your shoes or pet. Also, change your vacuum bags regularly, as fleas can even live in your vacuum. Some veterinarians even recommend sticking a flea collar in your vacuum bag to kill any hoovered fleas quickly.
Know it’s worthwhile
Without a doubt, identifying, treating, and preventing fleas takes no small effort. This might feel overwhelming at times.
But just remember that when your happy, itch-free dog nestles in close, gives you an adoring glance, and offers a hearty tail wag, you will know every effort is worthwhile.