Spring is well underway, and summer is right around the corner. Pet parents know what that means: it’s flea season. Pests of all kinds run rampant in the warmer months, but one of the most prevalent and frustrating infestations to deal with is fleas because of their ability to spread quickly, reproduce consistently and hide for months on end.
When taking your dog out for walks or playtime in the park, make sure you’re implementing flea protection measures to avoid bringing these nasty critters back to your home. And, make sure you know the signs so you can take action right away if your dog does manage to pick up fleas.
What you need to know about fleas
Fleas are parasitic insects that are notorious for causing frustration in pets and households around the world. Fleas don’t have wings and cannot fly, but they do have an incredible ability to leap from host to host, making them easily contagious. Most pets get fleas by having contact with another infected dog or by being in an outdoor area infested with fleas.
Fleas bite and suck blood, causing your dog to itch and scratch intensely. They don’t only affect dogs, though—they can also bite cats and even humans.
Adult fleas will actively suck your pet’s blood and lay eggs every day, which might stay on your pet or fall off into the environment or inside your home. From there, eggs hatch into larvae, which grow until they form cocooned pupa. The pupa are the most resilient and can live for months—even through the cold winter—until they emerge in warmer weather and begin their lives as adults.
Although fleas can still be active in winter, they are much more common in the warmer months, so pet owners should be cautious. The reason for this is two-fold. First, fleas can live inside during cold weather, but eggs are able to hatch outside in warm temperatures, meaning more fleas will be present outside. Fleas prefer temperatures of 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3-26.6 degrees Celsius).
Second, warmer weather usually means pet parents and their dogs are spending more time outside, which increases the dog’s risk of catching fleas. Your dog is also more likely to catch fleas from contact with another dog because of this.
Know the signs of fleas
Being able to identify when your dog has fleas is important, so you can begin a flea removal regimen before fleas can infest other animals or your home.
The major sign of fleas is consistent itchiness. Most dogs will react to flea bites by scratching, but if your dog has an allergy to flea saliva, the itching might be even worse, resulting in biting, licking and non-stop scratching. Other signs might be red, inflamed skin, hair loss and skin infections.
When you notice these signs, you’ll want to check for flea dirt—dark-colored specks—which will likely be present on your dog’s skin and fur. This “dirt” is actually feces produced from digested blood.
If you look closely, you may even be able to see fleas hiding between your dog’s hairs near the skin. Fleas are a dark brownish-red color and usually hide on areas like the stomach and legs.
Flea removal and prevention
If you discover that your dog has fleas, you’ll want to take action right away. Not only will you want to provide your dog relief from the constant itching it’s experiencing, but you’ll want to minimize the chances of fleas infesting your home and causing a long-term problem. Unfortunately, fleas are somewhat tough to get rid of, so a flea removal plan must be created and adhered to in order to make sure every flea is killed.
The first thing you should do is talk to your vet, who will be able to tell you what the most effective flea removal regimen will be. Your vet may prescribe some oral or topical flea removal medication that targets not only living, adult fleas, but also larvae and eggs. Dog flea shampoos may also be useful in ridding your dog of the parasites while soothing its itchy skin.
Additionally, special flea combs can help remove fleas and flea dirt from your dog’s hair and skin. Together, these techniques should be effective at completely removing fleas.
Aside from dealing with the fleas on your dog, you’ll also need to take steps to remove fleas and eggs from your home. Washing bedding and rugs and vacuuming can help rid your home of these pesky critters.
After your dog is flea-free, make sure you’re investing in flea prevention measures, which your vet can recommend. Pet-safe insect repellent is one good way to protect your dog from not only fleas, but mosquitoes, ticks and other pests.