Fleas On Dogs, And What You Can Do About Them
The topic of fleas is one that pet owners dread, especially during the summer months. Here comes summer – and fleas! Both pets and their humans can start to feel the itch when fleas come into their own in mild, damp weather.
Some pet homeowners might say, “Oh, my dogs would not get fleas. My house is always clean!” However, let me shine some light on this misconception, or better yet, a microscope because fleas can affect dogs in even the cleanest of households. According to RSPCA, it’s estimated that 95% of flea eggs, pupae and larvae live in the environment, and not on your pet.
Flea eggs lie latent for long periods until a change in temperature (such as the start of summer or when you switch on the central heating in autumn) spurs them into life.
How Do You Spot Fleas On Dogs?
Fleas in general, are dark copper colored and about the size of the head of a pin – fleas dislike light, so looking for them within furry areas and on the pet’s belly and inner thighs will provide your best chances of spotting them.
Flea bites are quite an itchy distressing feeling for your pets that can make them uncomfortable but they can also bring a host of other problems. You may have experienced a bite before and found it to be annoying, but it can be much worse for your beloved pup, especially if they also have allergies! If they’re scratching, you can comb them with a flea comb onto some white paper in order to detect whether or not the cause is actually fleas. If you see speckles of black which change to red when you wet the paper this is flea dirt and there will be fleas around even if you can’t see them.
Other options can include wearing a pair of white socks and walking around the areas of your home where your pets spend a majority of their time. If you see black specks on the soles of the socks, which may dissipate to red in water, then you know you need to treat your home for fleas too.
How Do Fleas Affect Your Dog?
Pets can be hypersensitive to flea saliva and suffer an allergic reaction. Fleas feed on blood, so young or frail animals can become weak and even die as a result of blood loss. Flea larvae can become infected with tapeworm eggs. If your pet eats an infected flea it can become host to this parasite. If your pet has fleas, you should also make sure your pet is treated for worms.
Fleas can also pass diseases to your pets. For example, myxomatosis is a serious disease in rabbits which can be spread by fleas.
Understanding The Flea Lifecycle
As usual in the world of science – or maybe just Star Wars movies – in order to defeat the enemy, you must understand its origins and its life cycle.
The flea’s host, also known as your little canine friend, is a warm-blooded animal. However, the various flea stages are quite resistant to freezing temperatures. A female can lay up to 50 eggs per day and 1,500 in a lifetime. That’s a lot of eggs, right? Especially if your pup is covered in the little pests! These eggs drop off the animal, form into larvae and then an adult flea. This cycle can occur in as little as three weeks. These eggs fall off of the pet into the yard, bedding, carpet, and wherever else the animal spends time. So, it doesn’t take long for a flea population to build up in your house. Gross!
These eggs then proceed to mature and further develop where they have landed. Since they are about 1/12 the size of the adult, they can even develop in small cracks in the floor and between crevices in carpeting. The egg then hatches into larvae. These tiny worm-like larvae live among the carpet fibers, in cracks of the floor, and outside in the environment. They feed on organic matter, skin scales, and even the blood-rich adult flea feces.
They can survive quite a long time, waiting until your poor pooch walks past! Then they emerge from their cocoons when they detect heat, vibrations and exhaled carbon dioxide (your dog’s breath). The newly emerged adult flea can jump onto your pup immediately (as a side note: fleas don’t have wings, so they can’t fly. It might sound obvious, but this is a common misconception.).
If your pets do not have fleas but they have exposure to them, it’s best to prevent an infestation rather than treat one by using a good topical or oral product during the flea season. There are several products on the market, both topical and oral that combine heartworm and flea control in one application.
Knowing this life cycle allows us to understand why it has always been important to treat both the host animal (your pooch) and the indoor and outdoor environment in order to fully control flea numbers. Simply sprinkling some flea powder on your pet will not work; simply vacuuming the home vigorously will not work, simply placing a flea collar or using a flea topical on your pet will not work.
So, How Do You Properly Remove Fleas?
If your pet has fleas, you have to treat every animal in the house and all outdoor pets at the same time. There are a wide variety of flea products on the market today, but the newer prescription products are finally taking the frustration out of flea control with popular and highly effective brands.
Shampoos and dips will only kill fleas for a few days. Shampooing your pet with any shampoo will usually wash off the flea eggs and droppings. The top-line topical flea products will usually kill fleas for three to four weeks. It is important to keep in mind it may take anywhere from three to twenty-four hours for topical products to kill adult fleas. Also, as newly-hatched adult fleas emerge in the house and yard, they will jump onto your pet. When you see these newly emerged fleas on your pet you may assume the flea product is not working, however, it will eventually kill these new fleas. You will continue finding new, adult fleas on your pet until all the fleas in the environment are eventually killed. There are oral products sold by veterinarians that can help control fleas if you prefer not to use topical products.
In some cases, it is even possible to gain control by treating only the pet. Some of these flea products do not harm the adult flea but instead prevents her eggs from hatching, thus breaking the life cycle of the flea; with no reproduction the flea population eventually dissipates as long as the pet isn’t coming in contact with new fleas continually.
Spraying your yard for fleas is usually a waste of money, so save it for better things! Newly-hatched larvae need a warm, moist place out of the sunlight to survive, so most flea eggs that drop off in your yard will be eaten by other insects or will not survive once hatched. If you want to spray effectively outdoors, you should spray under bushes or decks where it is warm, moist and dark. Spraying inside your home with a product that kills adult fleas and keeps the eggs from hatching is very beneficial. Be sure to treat all pets before treating the house.
Some pet owners may complain that the treatments failed or that it never worked to begin with. However, most treatment failures are due to poor owner compliance, not treating monthly and not treating every pet in the house or outdoors. Therefore, it is advised that pet owners not be lenient or negligent when it comes to maintaining flea treatment.