Fleas are every responsible dog parent’s worst nightmare.
These pesky little bug parasites are capable of causing damages that go far beyond their actual diminutive size.
They’re easy to acquire, annoying for both the owner and the dog and hard to get rid of and exterminate.
Fleas are wingless, bloodsucking insects, with flattened bodies and three pairs of powerful jointed legs, which they use for jumping.
An adult flea is brown and about one-tenth of an inch long. Adult fleas can be easily seen with the naked eye.
Due to their powerful legs, fleas can move quickly through hair and are very difficult to catch.
Fleas thrive whenever and wherever humidity is above 50 percent and the temperature is over 68⁰F (20⁰C).
Although there is a specific dog flea, this flea is very rare. Most dog infestations are with the cat flea, Ctenocephalidesfelis. The human flea, Pulexirritans, can also be found on dogs.
Flea Life Cycle
Under ideal conditions, a flea can complete its life cycle in just over two weeks. However, when food is scarce, the period can be as long as 21 months.
The flea’s life cycle occurs in 4 different stages:
- Adult fleas
The pupal or cocoon stage can last from a few days to a year or even more.
Adult fleas start hatching from pupae in response to triggers indicating the presence of a possible host.
These triggers include heat, vibration, motion and an increase in the carbon dioxide levels.
Once an adult flea has hatched, it jumps onto the first available source of nourishment (dog, cat or another mammal).
Only a small part of the flea’s life cycle is spent feeding on the dog.
Most of the cycle is spent in the dog’s environment.
That is why it is important to understand that flea problems may return to an infested house even when it has been uninhabited by pets for well over a year.
It is also crucial to realize that for every flea on your dog, there are likely to be 100 more in the local environment at different stages in their life cycle.
Signs Your Dog Has Fleas
A dog troubled by fleas will scratch the affected area. The most commonly affected areas are the dog’s back, its groin, and its hindquarters.
Fleas can carry diseases, but flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), sensitivity to flea saliva, is by far the most common skin problem in the dog.
Flea allergy dermatitis initially causes immediate itching and scratching, followed by red, raised pimples.
These pimples are most likely to occur over the rump and in the groin.
Eventually, over time, the skin becomes thickened and darker and it may also be dry, sticky or scaly.
Why Fleas Make Dogs So Itchy
As the flea feeds, a certain amount of flea saliva is injected into the dog’s skin.
The saliva contains inflammatory inducing histamine-like chemicals.
In hypersensitive dogs, a single flea, taking a single meal, triggers a dramatically itchy response.
Finding Fleas in Your Dog
It is not always easy or necessary to find a flea.
Finding flea droppings is just as diagnostic as discovering the culprits themselves.
Droppings are shiny and black, like specks of coal dust.
They are easy to see on the skin of white or tan haired dogs but more difficult to find among dark hair.
To simplify the search, make your dog sit on a white surface and with your hand vigorously brush against the lie of the coat. This action dislodges flea droppings onto the paper.
Then apply a piece of damp tissue or cotton pad to any black debris. If mahogany to red color runs from the debris, it is flea dirt thus confirming the presence of fleas.
How Do Dogs Get Fleas?
Fleas are transmitted to pet dogs through direct contact with flea-infested dogs or picked up through contact with other flea-infested mammals (cats, foxes).
A dog can also get fleas if residing in an environment where a flea-affected dog has previously lived.
What Can You Do to Prevent Flea Problems?
If you want to ensure minimal flea problems, move to an area that is 5000 feet (1500 meters) above sea level.
That could include some places in the Alps and Pyrenees in Europe and large areas of the Western United States. Fleas do not like high altitudes.
They also find it hard to thrive in very hot, cold, dry or humid conditions. Unfortunately, these conditions tend to be uncomfortable for dogs and humans too.
Can Vaccuuming Get Rid of Fleas?
Thorough vacuuming of the home is a necessary part of dealing with fleas, but it will not remove all fleas, in all stages of the life cycle, from the dog’s environment.
Vacuuming and then applying insecticides is a fast way of getting rid of fleas.
Vacuuming sucks up different fleas in different stages of their life cycles and also straightens the carpet pile, allowing subsequent insecticidal sprays to penetrate deeper.
The heat and vibration from the vacuum cleaner also encourage adult fleas to emerge from pupae.
Since the content of the vacuum cleaner contains fleas in varying life cycle stages, it should be carefully disposed to prevent re-infestation.
Bottom line, when it comes to fleas, the old saying ‘’better safe than sorry’’ really works.
Preventing flea problems is much easier than dealing with the consequences of flea infestations.
The best of having a flea-free furry baby is to have it regularly treated with anti-flea products.
How regularly depends on the season and area you are living. If you are not sure, it is highly recommended to talk to your vet about possible dog flea prevention treatments.