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4 signs that your dog has fleas and how to get rid of them

Summary List PlacementFleas are like vampires. They feed off the blood of our furry friends, which can lead to a variety of health problems if not treated quickly. They're one of the most common pet healthcare concerns, and it's crucial that as a pet parent you stay vigilant.  Here's how...

dog fleas

Summary List Placement

Fleas are like vampires. They feed off the blood of our furry friends, which can lead to a variety of health problems if not treated quickly. They’re one of the most common pet healthcare concerns, and it’s crucial that as a pet parent you stay vigilant. 

Here’s how to spot fleas, get rid of them, and prevent them.

How to tell if your dog has fleas

If your dog has fleas, there will be a few telltale signs that your pup is getting bitten. Here’s what you should do to check for fleas:

1. Notice if your dog is scratching more often: One of the tell-tale signs that your dog has fleas isn’t the flea itself, it’s your dog. If you notice your dog regularly scratching, biting, or chewing at their skin it could mean he’s infected with fleas.

2. Take a close look at your dog’s fur: Fleas are dark brown and very tiny, about 0.1 to 0.3 centimeters big, the size of a small crumb, but they’re still able to be seen with the naked eye, says Alison Meindl, DVM, DABVP, assistant professor at the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital

You can spot fleas by parting the hair of the dog and looking for them on their skin. If you find something that resembles a flea but you’re not sure, a good indicator is that they will jump, not crawl, around. 

Flea combs have very tightly spaced teeth, which are designed to pull fleas away from the hair to better identify them. Your best bet for finding fleas on an infested dog is to comb the hair at the base of your dog’s tail, Meindl says.

3. Look for flea dirt: You can identify fleas by the presence of “flea dirt,” says Gary Richter, DVM, veterinary health expert with Rover. This “dirt” is actually digested blood, and it looks like a dark, granular material, he says. If you put a little water on the substance, it will turn red. This is another surefire way to identify fleas.

4. Check for bites: You may also want to be on the lookout for flea bites, which look like small red bumps on your dog’s skin, says Richter. 

How to get rid of fleas on your dog

To get rid of your dog’s fleas, Meindl says you can use various topical products or flea collars that will both kill and repel fleas. Oral medications are another option.

Meindl says the most common ingredients in topical products and flea collars are:

  • Methoprene
  • Pyriproxyfen
  • Fipronil
  • Imidacloprid
  • Permethrins

Related Article Module: The 5 best flea preventives and treatments for dogs in 2021

Methoprene and pyriproxyfen are growth regulators, which means they work by preventing juvenile fleas from molting into adults. Whereas fipronil, imidacloprid, and permethrin disrupt cellular function, which ultimately causes the fleas to die. 

“All of these drugs are very safe for both humans and dogs since they specifically target neurotransmitters that are more sensitive in insects as compared to mammals,” says Meindl. 

Meindl says most oral drugs fall under the class of isoxazolines. These drugs work by causing uncontrolled neuromuscular activity, resulting in the death of the fleas.  

How to rid your home of fleas

You will also need to clear your home of fleas. “If fleas are found on a dog or cat, every animal in the household needs to be treated for fleas and placed on a flea preventive, and the environment must be cleaned well. If the environment and all animals are not treated, the flea problem will continue,” says Meindl.

In order to clean the environment, Meindl says you should:

  • Vacuum all flooring, especially under furniture
  • Wash all bedding
  • Dispose of loose brush or overgrown vegetation in the yard
  • Have the home and yard treated by a professional pest control company

Preventing fleas

The good news is that today we have more preventative medications to ward off fleas than ever before, says Christopher Lea, DVM, DABVP, clinician at the Auburn University Veterinary Clinic and associate professor at Auburn University. He says the newer isoxazoline class of oral medications is “unbelievably effective” at preventing fleas and ticks. Additionally, these drugs are very safe for dogs. 

Some examples of brand names for the isoxazoline class include:

It’s especially important that you use one of these preventative medications if you live in a warmer climate, Lea says, since fleas thrive in warm weather, or if your dog comes in contact with feral cats or other wild animals that may carry fleas. 

Additionally, Richter adds that you can take further preventative measures by regularly bathing your dog as well as avoiding taking them to areas where there may be a lot of fleas, such as dog parks or letting them go off-leash on trails. 

Insider’s Takeaway

Fleas are certainly pesky, but they are preventable. If your dog does happen to get fleas, there are effective methods that you can use to get your dog healthy and your environment free of fleas. However, keep in mind that it can take up to 3 months to completely get rid of fleas. Lea recommends seeing your veterinarian for regular annual checkups to discuss the best preventative medications for your dog as well as to check on their overall health.

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