Fleas are the bane of every dog owner, regardless of whether your dog is of royal stock or a mutt. Though they lack wings to fly, these dark copper-colored insects have strong hind legs that enable them to jump from one dog to another. Fleas are ectoparasites that scurry along your dog’s skin, where they remain well-concealed by fur. How often you see fleas on your dog depends on his habits, the type of place you live, and the time of the year. Fleas thrive best during spring and summer. Although these ectoparasites only have 30 days to live, they are also capable of hibernation; thus, they hibernate during the cold months and continue their remaining days as soon as the temperature rises again. If you live in tropical areas, then flea infestations can be a year-round problem for you. One female flea alone can produce roughly 50 eggs a day.
Fleas normally gorge on animal blood, they also bite on humans for an occasional snack. Flea bites cause itchiness and inflammation to the host. If left untreated, irritation could lead to life-threatening diseases. So, how do you know if your dog has fleas?
1. Watch out for behavioral changes
Fleas depend upon your dog’s blood for nutrition, but a single flea bite can perturb your dog and causes him to scratch excessively. This is due to the certain compounds present in the flea’s saliva. Therefore, watch out for behavioral changes in your dog. If he has contracted fleas from his friends or from a particular place, he will experience severe itching and scratching. Chewing on certain parts of his body is also an indication that your pet is having a flea infestation.
Bear in mind that frequent scratching could lead to hair loss and crusty lesions, which could lead to a bacterial skin infection or flea allergy dermatitis. Therefore, it is wise to address the problem immediately to avoid complications.
2. Examine your dog for visible fleas and red bumps
Fleas are flat-bodied and dark copper in color but the more blood they ingest, the lighter they appear. These bloodsuckers hate being exposed to light and love to hide in warm, well-protected areas such as your dog’s armpits and inner thighs. They also like to scurry along your dog’s belly, groin area, tail, and rear.
You need to turn your dog onto his back to examine these unexposed areas. Chances are, your dog’s skin and belly will appear red and bumpy due to flea bites and excessive scratching. Flea bites are actually smaller than a mosquito bite, but some dogs are hypersensitive and exhibit a stronger reaction to the flea’s saliva; hence, causing larger red bumps. You may also notice some red bumps on your skin as well, which could be the result of flea bites.
Although fleas are relatively easy to find, they are quite impossible to catch as these insects are quite nimble and could easily jump from your dog to you.
3. Use a flea comb
On the other hand, it is hardly possible to check a fluffy dog for actual fleas. A good rule of thumb is to use a flea comb. A flea comb is a metal comb with a set of closely set fine teeth, which are designed to filter fleas and flea dirt that are hiding underneath your dog’s coat. Make a habit of running the comb along your dog’s back and underbelly using enough pressure so the comb comes in direct contact with your pet’s skin; thus, ensuring a greater chance of pulling out parasites.
Inspect the flea comb for fleas and flea dirt after each stroke. Prepare a small bowl of sudsy water to submerge any fleas you may pull up to ensure they won’t hop back onto your pet.
Flea combs are readily available from local pet stores or from veterinarians.
4. Perform a white paper towel test
Another way to tell if your dog has fleas is by doing a white paper towel test. You may also use a white cloth. Dampen your dog’s hair and rub the paper towel against it. If you see flea dirt on the paper towel, chances are, fleas are already taking residence on your pet.
Flea dirt looks similar to dirt. To tell their difference, lay the black specks onto a dry, white paper towel and sprinkle it with water. If the specks turn reddish brown, then you are seeing dried blood that a flea has ingested and then excreted out of its body. Otherwise, it is just dirt.
Also, check your dog’s bed for flea dirt. Wipe your dog’s bed using a damp paper towel. If the black pepper specks also turn red, then the specks are flea droppings as well.
5. Check your dog’s gums
Pale gums are an indication of anemia due to blood loss. Look into your dog’s mouth and see if his gums are still pink. Fatigue, lethargy, and low body temperature are also symptoms of anemia. Know that anemia caused by flea bites can be dangerous in puppies and small breeds.
Fleas multiply fast and hence, you need to eradicate every single flea regardless of its life stage. Submerge your dog’s bed covers and toys in hot water to kill flea eggs. Fleas are also good at hiding in the fibers of your carpet. Thus, vacuum your furniture and floors. Make sure you throw away the bag when you’re done vacuuming. Likewise, spritz an anti-flea spray all over your newly vacuumed furniture. You also need to perform general cleaning outside your house. It is best to fog your home, especially when the infestation is severe.
Knowing what to do next to prevent a flea outbreak can be difficult. That is why it is crucial that you seek your veterinarian’s advice as soon as you find positive signs of a flea assault. Your veterinarian will prescribe you effective and pet-friendly treatment options to eliminate existing fleas on your dog. This includes shampoos, powders, collars, and spot-on treatments, among others.