Did you know the average flea only lives twenty-one days? I have food with a longer shelf life than fleas. They’re creepy, wingless creatures that are essentially born to eat, lay eggs, and die. And the most disgusting thing about fleas is that, unless they’re full-blown adults, they can’t be seen because they’re so microscopic. Adult fleas visibly live on your pet and wreak havoc, especially in warm seasons like spring and summer. They live on or under your dog’s skin and feed on her blood.
If your dog has never had fleas, congratulations. You’re a rare find, and I wish you and your pup the best of luck. Fleas are the most common dog parasite, so no matter how clean your dog or home is kept, they make their unwelcome way to most dogs at some point. Fortunately, even though fleas are disgusting and make your dog extremely itchy, they’re very treatable.
How can you tell if your dog has fleas?
She will itch and scratch and be visibly annoyed. You know how you are when you get a bug bite? Yeah, she’ll be like that but 100 times more frustrated because they’re all over her and she doesn’t know why.
In addition to your dog’s scratching and blatant annoyance, you may also be able to see fleas on her, especially if her coat is a light color. They’re little, dark brown bugs. Remember, though, fleas are very small when they’re eggs, larvae, or pupae so you may not seem them at all. You may just see their feces (black specks) or eggs (white specks).
To know for sure, run a flea comb through her coat. It’s a fine-toothed comb (metal is best) that you can purchase from your vet or pet store. If you don’t have a flea comb, you can also take a paper towel, lay it on her coat, and run your fingers through her coat. If the black or white specks (or actual fleas) show up on the comb or towel, she has the nasty suckers.
Dogs can also contract tapeworms from an infected flea or get anemia if too many fleas are sucking their blood. And if your dog is allergic to fleas, they can cause even more problems than itching and scratching. Their presence on your allergic pup can lead to hair loss or skin infections.
How are fleas treated?
Fleas can live for months on a dog, but will die in mere days without him as a host. After they first feast on your dog’s blood, they mate and produce eggs (one female can make up to 2,000 eggs during her life!) on your dog’s skin. The eggs then fall off of him and hatch into larvae within one to six days all over your house.
Once they’re larvae, fleas crawl away from the light like mini vampires and creep into carpet and floor cracks to feed on skin scales and organic matter. The larvae then form cocoons and become pupae, lurking in the shadows and waiting for a new host. They can survive for a long time – usually four to six months but even up to a year – waiting for the perfect time to pounce and start the cycle again.
Because a flea can complete his whole life journey in as little as fourteen days, it’s important to be vigilant in removing all fleas (not just the ones you can see) from the dog and house. To get rid of them properly, you have to beat them at their own game:
Kill all adult fleas on your dog. You have to kill them all and prevent them from reproducing. I’m talking new fleas, old fleas, grandma fleas, and baby fleas. They all have to go. Talk to your vet about the best product to use. She will probably recommend a spot-on treatment or pill like Advantage, Capstar, or K9 Advantix. The product needs to contain two main ingredients – one to kill the adult fleas and one to prevent the eggs, larvae, and pupae from developing into adult fleas.
Don't use flea collars. Most vets agree that flea collars do not work because the fleas have built up an immunity to the collars’ main insecticide – permethrin. What’s more, the chemicals released from the collar are unpleasant and toxic to dogs and has even caused fatality in severe cases.
Treat other pets in the home. Just because your other dog or cat isn’t itching doesn’t mean she doesn’t have fleas or isn’t close to contracting them. Get her treated right away to prevent further infestations.
Treat your home and yard. Hold a séance and rid your home of the devil. Buy some flea killer carpet powders, sprays, and foggers and go to town on your home and yard. Wash your pet’s bedding, vacuum the whole house, and spray baseboards, moldings, and cracks. Clean every nook and cranny of your dog’s favorite spots. Talk to your vet about the best products to use, especially if there are other animals and children in the home.
How are fleas prevented?
If your dog has fleas, don’t blame yourself. Fleas infest the cleanest of dogs and the most immaculate of homes. However, there are ways to help resist their urge to lay claim on your pup’s body:
Get her on preventative medication. Talk to your vet about flea and tick preventative medication. There are various brands and applications so talk to your vet about the one that works best for your location, climate, and dog.
Keep a clean house and dog. Although it doesn’t prevent fleas, it does help. Make sure he’s regularly bathed, groomed, and flea-free. Wash his bedding. Keep your yard tidy. And when you clean your house, pay special attention to crevices and cracks in the wall and floorboards. Fleas love hiding out in those areas so vacuums and spray those rascals out of there.
Maintain vet visits. I write about dogs all the time and this is easily the most important piece of advice about dogs ever. If your dog is regularly going to the vet for checkups and vaccinations, he will generally be a happy and healthy dog. And when he’s not feeling too hot, your vet will be able to more easily detect what could be bothering him – fleas, ticks, or something more severe.
Although fleas are truly annoying, disgusting, and invasive (full disclosure: I had trouble researching and writing this article because I kept picturing them all over my dog and home), they are treatable. By keeping a clean home and dog, getting your dog on preventative medication, and maintaining regular visits to the vet, those nasty, wingless creatures will have to find a new host to infest this spring.
Image: Pingz Man