When an dog picks up fleas its surroundings (usually your house) quickly become infested with eggs and larvae. Once the dog’s surroundings are infested it is a lot more difficult to eliminate fleas.
Prevention is much better than a cure.
Why treat My dog for fleas?
- Fleas cause itching and distress to your dog.
- The skin can become infected when the dog scratches itself.
- Flea bites can trigger an allergic reaction in some dogs, this can cause even more itching and distress.
- Large infestations of fleas can suck so much blood from an dog that it can become anaemic (low in red blood cells). This occurs most often with puppies or ill dogs.
- Fleas can carry tapeworm. dogs can become infested with tapeworm if they swallow a flea when grooming.
- Fleas can bite humans causing itchy red marks on some people.
How Do I tell if my dog has fleas?
- In a heavy infestation you may be able to see fleas. Fleas are reddish brown, wingless insects approximately 3 -4mm long.
- You may be able to see black particles of ‘flea dirt’, droppings formed by the adult fleas. To differentiate these from sand or dirt perform the wet paper test:
Wet Paper Test
- Comb your dog’s coat vigorously
- Collect any debris from the comb onto a piece of white, wet paper.
- Leave aside for a few minutes.
- If flea dirt is present you will see black particles surrounded by a rusty red pigment.
- The red pigment is your dog’s blood which has been swallowed by the flea. If you see this it means that your dog has fleas.
- Occasionally dogs will lick and groom themselves so much that you won’t see any of the above signs, even if they have fleas. If your dog is itchy always suspect fleas. The best way to rule out fleas completely is to treat regularly with a flea product recommended by your vet.
Preventing and Treating Fleas
To understand how to eliminate and prevent fleas you need to understand their life cycle.
- The dog picks up a flea outside the house, most commonly from another dog.
- Female fleas lay eggs in your dog’s coat.
- The eggs fall off the dog into the house or kennel.
- The eggs hatch into larvae.
- The larvae change into fleas which lie waiting in cocoons. These can survive in the house for months.
- Fleas hatch out of the cocoon when they are stimulated by heat and vibration when your dog is nearby.
- Newly hatched fleas jump onto the dog and the cycle begins again.
Flea eggs will be dropped everywhere your dog goes with the biggest concentration in its sleeping areas.
In general, fleas are only a problem when they have infested the dogs living area. If you see fleas on your dog it usually means that your house is also infested. To prevent house infestation treat your dog for fleas regularly, even when it doesn’t have fleas.
To get rid of fleas you need to:
- Treat your dog
- Treat your house
- Treat all other dogs and cats in the house
Treating your dog:
Get advice from your vet about the best form of flea treatment for your dog. Many ‘over the counter’ preparations do not work very well. To prescribe prescription only medicines your vet will need to see your dog.
Flea treatment products can come in ‘spot on’, spray or tablet form. Flea powders and collars are also available but are generally not very effective. Flea treatments work in two main ways:
- Killing the fleas
- Preventing reproduction (including preventing eggs from developing into fleas)
- If your dog has fleas it will need treatment that works in both ways. Some products do both. Two products can be combined to get both effects.
- If your dog does not have fleas at the moment products that prevent fleas reproducing will usually be sufficient protection. They mean that any fleas picked up outside will be unable to infest the house.
- If your dog has an allergy to fleas it may require flea treatment that works in both ways – ask your vet for advice.
Treating the house:
- Wash all of your dog’s bedding on a high temperature washing cycle.
- Turn the heating on and vacuum the entire house. The heat and vibration will stimulate the fleas to hatch out of their protective cocoons.
- Use a knock down spray to spray the entire house. (Some house sprays are poisonous for fish and caged birds – check the instructions before spraying.)
- Spray underneath furniture.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully
If you are concerned that your dog is itching or has fleas please use the Dog symptom guide to find out if you need to call the vets.