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Dogs and fleas: What you need to know

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If your dog is scratching more than usual, it could indicate a flea infestation. Find out everything you need to know about fleas and dogs.
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flea free dog lying in bed

What are fleas?

Fleas love dogs, but the feeling definitely isn’t mutual. These parasites can jump on your dog when he’s playing with other flea-infested pets, or visiting places where flea-infested pets have been. They can also travel into your backyard or home on the fur of a visiting animal and find their way to your pet. They then stay alive by sucking your dog’s blood and can transfer diseases and parasites in the process.

In short, you don’t want fleas, and neither does your dog.

What do dog fleas look like? 

There are about 2,000 varieties of flea in the world, but the most common flea found on dogs is, surprisingly, the cat flea. Cat and dog fleas are only a few millimetres long. They appear brown or black in colour but are difficult to spot because they burrow deep into the fur and move fast.

It’s easier to detect fleas by checking for flea droppings, which you might see in your pet’s coat, especially at the base of their tail, or on their bedding as tiny black specks. Brush them with a bit of damp white paper and they will turn reddish brown.

What is a flea’s lifecycle?

The cycle begins when a female flea lays tiny white eggs in your dog’s coat. These eggs fall off your pet as they move around and hatch into flea larvae within a few days. These larvae move away from light, burrowing deep into carpets, or bedding or between floor boards and under furniture, surviving on flea droppings and dead skin cells. They then enter a pupal state, spinning cocoons around themselves to develop into adult fleas. Inside the cocoon, the fleas are protected until the conditions are right for them to hatch. They can lie dormant for up to a year or more. The whole cycle can be completed within a few weeks if conditions are right, and in warmer climates and in heated homes, fleas can be a problem year-round.

What problems can fleas cause?

In addition to irritating your dog with bites, fleas can cause a number of health problems for your dog – and you.

  • Skin issues: Flea bites can trigger flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), an allergic reaction to flea saliva that irritates the skin and can cause intense itching in your dog.
  • Tapeworm: Dogs can get tapeworm by accidentally ingesting infected fleas while grooming.
  • Bacterial diseases: In one study, 50 percent of fleas were found to be carrying at least one bacterial disease.1
  • Trouble for owners: Fleas also bite humans, leaving a red spot that’s incredibly itchy. Even worse, people can become infected with potentially serious bacterial diseases via flea bites, or through contact with flea faeces when they touch a flea-infested pet.

What can you do about fleas?

Fortunately, dog owners can choose from a wide variety of effective flea treatments to protect their dog and their home from these persistent pests. Find out more about flea treatment and prevention with our comprehensive review of dog flea treatments.

1.Shaw SE, Kenny MJ, Tasker S, Birtles RJ, Vet. Microbiol. 2004 Sep 8;102(3-4):183-8. Pathogen carriage by the cat flea Ctenocephalides felis (Bouché) in the United Kingdom.

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