Published 03/19/2021

Dog Fleas: What You Need to Know

dog fleas
Although dogs are especially susceptible to fleas during the Spring and Summer months, year-round flea protection is a key component of your pet's overall health. Learn how to protect your dog against fleas, how to spot the signs of fleas, and how to treat an existing infestation.

What Do Fleas Look Like?

 Fleas are the most common external parasite your pet can come into contact with. While there are over 2,500 species of fleas throughout the world, the most common species found on dogs in the United States is Ctenocephalides felis, more commonly known as the cat flea. That’s right, the fleas on your dog are actually cat fleas!

Measuring between 1-2mm in length, fleas are typically brown or black in color and wingless. These tiny parasites feed off of the blood of their hosts and can reproduce fairly quickly. In fact, a single female flea can lay up to 50 eggs within 24 hours. Because fleas are such prolific breeders, it is important to treat an infestation as quickly as possible.

How do Dogs Get Fleas?

Fleas are most common during the Spring and Summer months, as fleas thrive in warmth and humidity. Especially when temperatures are between 65 and 80 degrees.

The most common way that dogs get fleas is through contact with other animals who have fleas or if fleas are simply in the environment. Fleas can jump a distance up to 12 inches so they can easily transfer from the grass or from another dog at the kennel or dog park.

Wildlife commonly found in your backyard, such as raccoons, mice, and possums can also leave behind fleas or larvae. This means your dog (or even you) can unknowingly invite these unwanted visitors into your home.

What Effects do Fleas Have on my Dog?

One of the most significant effects that fleas have on dogs is discomfort from the bites themselves. Fleas cause discomfort because of their irritating bites – constant scratching may lead to visible patches of hair loss and reddened irritated skin.

In addition to this discomfort, these bites can also pose serious health problems to your dog, including Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD), Flea-Bite Anemia, and Tapeworms.

How to Spot the Signs of Fleas

When it comes to looking for symptoms of fleas, seeing the actual parasite itself is the most obvious sign. In some cases, you may see a tiny black or brown flea rapidly moving across your dog’s coat, especially in warm areas of the body between their legs and on their bellies.

Another common way to detect fleas is by checking your dog’s fur (with your hands or using a flea comb to part the fur) for copper-colored specks known as flea dirt, which are flea feces. 

If you put this flea dirt on a wet paper towel, it should turn red because it is digested blood. Flea dirt can also be visible on your dog’s bedding.

Other signs of fleas can include:

  • Severe itching and licking of the skin – most commonly around the base of the tail, on the stomach, and along the inner thighs
  • Rubbing and chewing of the skin
  • Scabs, redness, or sores on the skin
  • Hair loss
  • Restless or anxious behavior
  • Pale gums caused by loss of blood

How Do I Protect My Dog from Getting Fleas?

The best way to avoid fleas is to keep your dog on year-round flea protection, as well as performing regular flea checks. Talk to your veterinarian to find out which flea protection is right for your dog.

How to Get Rid of Fleas on Dogs

Treat Your Dog and Other Pets for Fleas

If you find fleas on your dog, it is important that you contact your veterinarian to learn which flea options are best, even if you are exploring over-the-counter products.

There are a variety of treatment options when it comes to treating fleas including:

  • Oral and Topical Flea Control
  • Prescription Flea Medications
  • Nonprescription Medications

To ensure the success of any flea treatment, all of the animals in the home must be treated. However, be wary when using over-the-counter and prescription flea treatments around your other pets, especially cats. 

One common chemical to look out for is Permethrin, which is commonly found in over-the-counter dog treatments. This chemical is extremely toxic to cats, so it should never be used on or near cats, or on any dogs that live with cats.

Treat Your Home for Fleas

When it comes to ridding your dog of fleas, it is important to remember that you have to treat your house as well. You will need to wash all bedding and upholstery with soapy, hot water. 

You will also need to thoroughly vacuum all floors, carpets, rugs, and sofas. Make sure to dispose of the vacuum bag or inerts of the canister outside. If needed, you can contact a professional exterminator for more help.

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Still Worried About Fleas?

With the PetPro Connect app, you can schedule an appointment with your vet to discuss flea protection for your pet, and even order flea protection products directly from the app!

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