Fleas are troublesome pests that most dogs and dog owners face sooner or later. In fact, a flea infestation is one of the most common but serious canine health problems. Fleas can torment dogs and cause a range of health problems in both dogs and humans. They can also be difficult to get rid of, however the good news is that now many products are available to make this process easier. Read on to learn about fleas, and how to prevent and treat them.
The lifecycle of the flea
Fleas are blind and flightless insects with very powerful hind legs that allow them to jump 150 times as far as their own body length. They are bloodsuckers with well-developed mouth parts that can pierce the relatively thick skin of dogs. When they feed, they secrete saliva to clot the blood. It’s the saliva that causes skin irritations and allergic reactions.
Fleas mate and the females lay eggs on a dog’s body. However, the eggs are not sticky and they can easily fall to the floor or on to bedding. The eggs become larvae after about a week, and the larvae feed on dead skin or hair. Larvae change into pupae, and the adult emerges from the pupae when conditions seem right.
Fleas can sometimes be seen as brownish-black dots moving through your dog’s hair, although they are difficult to spot.
Because fleas are difficult to spot, a flea infestation is usually diagnosed by the presence of flea dirt black flakes or specks that fleas leave behind. Flea dirt is actually flea excrement. Even if you can’t see them, if your dog has flea dirt, your dog has live fleas.
Fleas are usually found on a dog’s back, rump, stomach, and at the base of his tail. Your dog may scratch and bite himself if he has fleas, especially if the flea bites cause irritation or an allergic reaction. However, even if your dog does not scratch, the presence of fleas should still be of concern. If you suspect your dog has fleas, take him to your vet as soon as possible.
Flea allergy dermatitis : If your dog is allergic to fleas, one bite can be a misery to him. He may scratch and bite his own flesh in an effort to get relief from the itching. And, if he scratches enough to create an open sore, he is at risk of an infection. Flea allergy dermatitis, which describes the inflamed, itchy skin that results from a dog’s allergy to fleas, is the most common skin disease that vets treat. Even without an allergic reaction, flea bites can cause nasty skin irritations on both dogs and humans.
Tapeworms : Fleas also carry tapeworms and dogs can become infected with tapeworms if they swallow infected fleas while grooming. It’s also possible for children, if they accidentally ingest these fleas, to become infected with tapeworms.
Flea anaemia : A less common health concern is flea anaemia. Puppies are particularly at risk of flea anaemia, which results when fleas suck enough blood to cause a life-threatening condition. A dog suffering from flea anaemia will have pale gums. In advanced cases, the dog may become listless and cold. Check your dog’s gums regularly so you can recognize a change that may indicate a health problem.
Prevention and treatment
Prevention : A flea prevention programme will include keeping your dog’s bedding clean and vacuuming regularly. It’s also a good idea to use a flea comb regularly on your dog.
Talk to your veterinarian about flea prevention products, like a flea collar. An effective flea collar is one that is safe for your dog and will kill fleas, larvae and eggs.
Your vet may also recommend a monthly oral preventive medicine, which is sometimes combined with heartworm medication.
Take advantage of your vet’s expertise and the many new products available to prevent fleas. Remember, your dog is depending on your diligence to keep fleas under control.
Treatment : As mentioned, if you suspect your dog has fleas, take him to the vet as soon as possible. Your vet will examine your dog and prescribe a flea control programme.
When treating a flea infestation, you will need to treat both your dog and his environment as well as any other animals in the household. Wash all dog bedding and vacuum all floors, rugs, base boards, and furniture thoroughly.
Fleas and dogs do not go together like salt and pepper. These pests can, and should, be discouraged through prevention and treatment. With the treatments available today, no dog should suffer from a flea infestation.