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How Do I Know If My Dog Has Fleas?

There are a number of bugs that would like nothing more than to leach on and be fed by your dog. Read on to learn how you can keep your dog safe and bug-free all year long.


Writer Animalia Team

dog suffer from fleas

There are a number of bugs that would like nothing more than to leach on and be fed by your dog. Now, what goes on in the mind of a bug is well beyond us, but we know exactly what your dog is thinking – he’s in pain, feeling discomfort, and wants those intruders gone. Let’s see how you can keep your dog safe and bug-free all year long. 

Know your enemy: what are fleas?

There are over 2,500 tiny wingless insects worldwide and many of them are common threats to our pets. There is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis), the dog flea (Ctenocephalides canis), the flea of small mammals (Pulex simulans), and the poultry sticktight flea (Echidnophaga gallinacea). Ironically enough, the cat flea is the most common type of ectoparasite found on dogs.

These parasites feed on your friend’s blood, leaving behind irritating bites which cause them to scratch those affected areas. 

Ironically enough, the cat flea is the most common type of ectoparasite found on dogs

To make things worse, many dogs are allergic to flea saliva and will end up having a much more intense reaction. They may desperately scratch, lick, or chew at their skin, causing hair loss, wounding themselves, and possibly getting secondary infections as a result. Fleas can also bite and irritate human skin, and if your pet brings them into your home, the whole family could be in trouble. 

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, those bugs can carry with them a variety of pathogens and cause diseases such as tapeworm infections. 


Signs of flea infestation

There is one sure way of determining whether your dog has fleas – finding them in their fur. A flea is a dark reddish-brown colored bug with 6 legs, the back pair longer than the rest. You may see fleas hanging out or jumping around your dog’s coat. Fleas will often gather at the neck or shoulder blades. They also like to hang out at the back of the legs and the base of the tail.

The thing is parasites are hard to notice with a naked eye, being between 1/16th and 1/8th of an inch in size. So how can you know then if your dog has fleas?

Well, the answer is simple – as with diagnosing any disease, look out for the symptoms:

  • Pruritus – your dog may be scratching more than usual. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a result of fleas, obviously, but considering that flea bite dermatitis makes up around 50% of dermatological cases reported by veterinarians, it’s a likely cause.
  • Result of chronic pruritus – if your dog has been suffering an infestation for a long time or maybe suffers from allergic dermatitis, you will see other symptoms exhibited as a result – it might be alopecia (hair loss), irritated skin, scabs, self-inflicted trauma, secondary infections, and even anemia. To check for the latter, see if your dog’s gums seem pale.
  • Flea excrement – you can see “flea dirt” consisting of little dark specks left behind on your pet, their bed, the carpet, or your furniture. If you rehydrate the specks, they should turn a brownish-red color.
  • Flea eggs – these are tiny white ovals that you may find in your pet’s fur or their close surroundings.
  • Flea bites – these are red dots of varied width covering your dog’s skin. If the infestation has spread throughout your home, you may even find them on yourself or on other family members.
dog scratching

Treatment and prevention

As fleas reproduce and spread very quickly, an infestation can be tricky to deal with. To get a flea situation under control, you will need to treat both your pet and your home environment.

It helps to vacuum all over your surroundings before using insecticides, so you can get rid of as many bugs and eggs from the get-go. Remember to empty your vacuum outside. When using any insecticides, consult with your vet. Most products are safe for people and dogs, but it’s best to get an expert opinion.

Flea bite dermatitis makes up around half of dermatological cases reported by veterinarians

For your pet, there are many over-the-counter options, including shampoos, powders, sprays, and pills. These will, however, be less effective than prescription medications, so the best way to treat your pet is by consulting a vet.

The doctor can prescribe a more effective product, as well as one that caters to your dog’s specific needs. For example, if your pet has flea bite hypersensitivity, a product that targets adult bugs and contains a flea repellent, might be best.

When treating your pet, you will also need to treat any issues caused by the fleas, such as tapeworms, secondary infections, or anemia.

Finally, treatment is one thing, but pet owners, especially those in warmer climates, should consult with their veterinarians about flea prevention. This can take the form of topical liquids or gels, oral medication, or flea collars.


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