A dog that never stops scratching can be seriously frustrating. If the scratching is due to fleas, this can often induce panic in owners, particularly if your pooch is an indoor dog.
Dealing with fleas whether on your dog or in your home is something that needs to be done swiftly and effectively to ensure no further infestations. So what should you be looking for and what treatment options are available?
In this guide, we will tell you everything you need to know about managing and treating fleas on your dog.
How Do Dogs Get Fleas?
There are many places where your dog can pick up fleas. From a play with an infested dog to visiting a home with fleas, a play at the dog park, the groomer, or a kennel or from you accidentally bringing them home as hitchhikers. Even wildlife that visits your yard can bring fleas along with them for the ride.
This is why it is so easy for your dog to get fleas and why it has absolutely nothing to do with how well you keep your home or how clean your pet is.
More Than An Itch
The challenge with fleas is that they're not only responsible for causing serious discomfort and annoyance to your dog through their bites, but they can cause an allergic reaction.
Known as Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD), this occurs when your dog reacts badly to the flea's saliva. This creates an itchy reaction alongside the initial bite that can lead to your dog obsessively licking, biting and chewing the areas as well as scratching.
Licking and chewing cause consistent wet patches in your dog's fur that can also lead to yeast or bacterial infections. These scenarios require either oral or topical antibiotics or other treatments to resolve, so you’ll need to make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible.
Signs Your Dog Has Fleas
Most owners discover their dog has fleas through the behaviour of their dog rather than seeing the fleas themselves. Some signs your dog may have fleas include:
The most obvious sign, the bites of fleas cause humans and dogs alike to become incredibly itchy at the bite location. If your dog is noticeably irritated and desperately scratching itself, this symptom is a good sign something is not right.
Hair loss with fleas is frequently seen around the base of the tail or backs of the legs. The hair loss is caused by excessive scratching, rubbing and chewing by your dog of their own hair to get to the flea bite.
Red, inflamed and weepy skin is another sign that your dog is dealing with fleas, it can also indicate they have developed a secondary infection due to FAD. Even once the fleas have been dealt with, FAD can mean your dog is left with continued skin irritation so always speak with your vet if you notice this on your pooch.
Incredibly rare and usually only seen in cases of severe infestation in small dogs and puppies, blood loss caused by untreated flea infestation can see a dog develop anemia. This causes lethargy and pale gums among other issues and requires the expert care of a vet to treat it properly.
Checking For Fleas
Fleas are small and quick, able to jump great distances and escape your gaze in a flash. This can make it hard to spot them.
If your dog is itching, but you cannot see fleas, you should also check for flea dirt (flea faeces). While this looks like regular dirt, if it stains a damp tissue red, you’ll know it's flea dirt.
To check for fleas or flea dirt, you should have your dog lie down and gently brush them with a fine tooth comb, checking the comb regularly for fleas. You may also like to separate the hair so you can see down to the skin and gradually move over your dog's body. As fleas suck blood for sustenance, they will usually be deep in the hair, close to the skin.
A flea is visible to the naked eye and will appear as a small brown insect no bigger than a sesame seed. If you look closely, you may even be able to see their legs. If you see fleas, flea dirt or both, you know you need to treat your dog as quickly as you can.
How To Get Rid Of Fleas
Once you have identified that your dog's itching is being caused by fleas you will need to take steps to treat the dog as well as its environment. If your dog is an inside dog, you’ll want to be very diligent in this or risk an infestation of your home too.
Treat your dog. A chewable tablet for flea treatment will make short work of killing any live fleas. Within 8-10 hours, any live fleas that were on your dog should be dead. Be sure to give your dog the correct dosage for their weight for optimal outcomes and follow this with a thorough wash in flea shampoo.
Should you prefer to try a natural remedy for fleas, you can use diluted vinegar to spray your dog before washing them. Placing a lavender or cedar oil-infused collar on them following this can help to keep them free of fleas.
Wash all pet bedding in hot water (over 60 degrees) and either dry in full sun or on the hot dryer cycle. This not only removes any dead fleas from the bedding but kills flea larvae and eggs.
For pet bedding that is unable to be washed, spray with a dilution of vinegar and lavender oil and let this sit before wiping hard surfaces down. For soft bedding, leave this mix on the fabric (it is not harmful to dogs) and leave bedding outdoors, in the sun for a few days.
Vacuum your home thoroughly, especially areas where your dog tends to lie down. If you have seen fleas in your home or have evidence of bites on yourself also, you may need to use a flea fogging product or flea bomb to kill them.
As flea bomb chemicals are harmful to both dogs and humans, these should be deployed only when you can leave the home for an extended period.
Clean up your yard. By mowing the grass short and removing debris such as leaves, you are given less safe havens for pests such as fleas and ticks to multiply.
If you believe wildlife is contributing to a flea problem in your dog, consider proofing your yard by covering crawl spaces and removing easy access points such as bins next to fences.
The Flea Life Cycle
As fleas have quite a long life cycle, you may find that it takes several rounds of treatment to completely eradicate them from your pet and home.
- Female fleas lay their eggs either in the fur or on the skin of their host. These eggs easily fall from the dog into the surrounding environment where they will hatch between two days a week later.
- Inside these eggs are flea larvae, when hatched they appear as tiny worm-like creatures that eat whatever organic matter they can find in their surroundings while transforming through several stages. The last of these stages is when they form a cocoon or pupa.
- Small but sticky, the pupa attracts dirt and debris to itself which helps give it additional protection. Pupae can hatch in as little as 10 days or as long as 6-12 months.
- Fleas in the pupal stage are acutely aware of temperature changes, vibrations or increased carbon dioxide levels and only hatch when they detect a nearby host. Usually feeding within moments of hatching they are ready to lay eggs within 1-2 days of emerging.
A flea's ability to remain in the pupal stage for extended periods, hidden deep in carpets or the garden makes them incredibly difficult to eradicate. This combined with their rapid reproduction makes them a serious pest.
Avoiding Fleas Altogether
The best way to keep your dog free of fleas is to prevent them in the first place.
This is readily achievable through preventative medications, most often in the form of a chewable tablet, these preventatives offer monthly or quarterly protection not only for fleas but often ticks, heartworm, worms and mites too. This is the single best dog flea treatment available.
Given consistently and at the right dose for your dog's weight, they ensure no unexpected infestations on your pet and no unwanted guests in your home.
Fleas are a normal occurrence that is bound to happen at least once throughout the lifetime of your dog. They are usually nothing to worry about and something that can be swiftly handled without the need for professional help.
However, if you are dealing with a particularly bad infestation or repeated infestations that are not responding well to normal treatment methods, it’s time to speak with your vet.
How to choose the right treatment for Dog Fleas, Ticks and Worms?
There are many safe and effective flea control products for dogs, many of them kill and prevent other parasites, too, including ticks, heartworms, intestinal parasites, mites, and biting flies.
Nexgard Spectra is an effective monthly chewable flea and tick treatment for dogs. Its key ingredients Afoxolaner and Milbemycin Oxime disrupts the signals transmitted in the nervous system of parasites, and eventually paralyses them. It is also protects your pet against heartworms, hookworms, ear mites, roundworms and whipworms and other parasites as it is a broad spectrum treatment. Available in variety of sizes and packs.
Bravecto is an effective treatment for fleas, ticks, gastrointestinal nematodes and heartworms and ear mites. Its key ingredient- Fluralaner has high potency against fleas and ticks, and provides immediate relief by breaking their life-cycle before they lay eggs. Bravecto is available in two forms: as a spot on and as a chewable.
Advocate is another effective treatment for dog fleas, but is also effective against roundworms, heartworms, whipworms and hookworms. It is a topical treatment, so it is applied on the dog’s skin. The treatment is effective for a month after application
Simparica TRIO is another effective chewable monthly parasite treatment. It starts to work within four hours and kills 100% of adult fleas on dogs within eight hours, it is effective for up to 35 days.
Frontline Plus has been used and trusted by pet owners for more than two decades. Frontline Plus for dogs is a topical 'spot-on' application for the treatment and prevention of flea infestation and control of brown dog tick, paralysis tick and biting lice on dogs and puppies. Frontline Plus has a rapid onset of action and kills re-infestations with newly acquired adult fleas for at least 1 month. Frontline Plus controls brown dog ticks for up to 1 month and paralysis ticks for up to 2 weeks after application.
Finding an effective and perfect flea and tick treatment for your pets can be quite a task, it is always advisable to consult your Vet before starting any type of treatment on your pet!