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Those Annoying Dog Fleas:
Stress on your dog
Distress on your purse

Dog Fleas are one cause of scratching in dogs.

Dog Fleas may not be your puppy’s worst enemy, but it can cause much distress and even disease.

When we think about external parasites on dogs, the first critters that come to mind are fleas, ticks and mites.

These tiny insects can become problems for your small dog as well as you, causing itchy skins, loss of hair and some are capable of transmitting diseases such as bubonic plague, typhus, and Lyme Disease. 

No external parasite is more well-known and frustrating than the dog flea.  Fleas are a major problem in warmer climates, especially those that also enjoy a high relative humidity. 

In places such as the southern US, fleas thrive year round, whereas in colder climates, dogs may never be exposed to these pesky creatures.  Flea infestations can be treated and controlled, but no prevented. 

To understand how to protect your small dog from fleas, a quick lesson on the flea life cycle is in order. 

Observing Dog Fleas

Fleas are tiny brown bugs that hop rather than fly.  Fleas are not always easy to spot on a long haired small dog due to their extensive coat.

The fecal remains of the flea or flea dirt are easier to observe than the quick adult flea.  

Flea dirt looks like fine grains of black pepper.  An easy way to spot fleas is to use a fine toothed comb, often called a flea comb. 

Run the comb over the under belly of your dog and if you “catch” any adult fleas place them in something that will kill them such as hot soapy water or rubbing alcohol. 

Another easy way to spot fleas is to place the dog on a white towel and brush especially on the abdomen, inner legs and neck areas.  If black specks collect on the towel, suspect flea dirt and where flea dirt accumulates, fleas are present.

Life Cycle of Dog Fleas

The Dog FleaFlea

Fleas proceed through four distinct stages, eggs, larvae, pupae, and adult.

Life begins for the flea when an adult lays eggs which take about 2 to 7 days to hatch. 

If the adult lays the eggs on the dog, the eggs can roll off onto bedding and carpeting. 

Once hatched, the larvae prefer dark places, finding anything organic to munch on.  If there is an adequate food supply, these larvae form a cocoon within a couple of weeks. 

In the pupae stage, they rest until the environment signals through vibrations, heat, and carbon dioxide that a warm host is near.  The adult flea emerges and must find a warm blood meal to survive. 

Once fed, the adults are ready to lay eggs and the cycle begins again. 

Problems Associated with Dog Fleas

Fleas will move towards any warm-blooded source of food (blood) including you.  On humans, flea bites resemble mosquito bites.  On dogs, the first reaction is scratching, biting, licking, with loss of hair and red spots following.

The flea injects saliva into the dog as it feeds on his blood causing an allergy.  Called flea allergy dermatitis, much money is spent at the vet’s office trying to treat this side effect of flea infestation. Besides causing untold misery in the dog (and human) another danger that fleas impose is their ability to transmit disease including tapeworm infections, typhus and bubonic plague.    

To treat completely, fleas must be eliminated from the dog as well as his environment.  Simply treating adult fleas will not cure the problem.

Treatments For Dog Fleas

There are a variety of products available, some more effective than others.  Flea treatments are specific to the species they are intended for and should never be shared such as using a dog shampoo on a cat.

Flea Shampoos

Flea Shampoos are effective at killing adult fleas but do not provide any residual protection.  Flea Dips are stronger and will provide control for up to two weeks and kill mites and ticks too.  Since dips contain harsh chemicals, they are not always recommended.

Flea Powders & Sprays

Flea powders and sprays may work for a couple of days, killing adult fleas and some protection against the juvenile stages of the flea.  They are not used as often as they once were as newer products seem more effective in flea control.

Spot on Treatments

Spot on products such as Advantage ™Frontline®, and Bio-Spot® are applied between the shoulder blades and typically last about a month. 

They kill adult fleas and inhibit the growth of egg and larval stages.

Oral Treatments

Another product, Capstar®, offers no long-term residual effect but knocks out the live flea population on your dog within thirty minutes.

It safe for puppies weighing two pounds or more as well as pregnant or nursing dogs and can be used as often as needed with no harmful effects.

Program® and Sentinel® are products that are given once a month and acts as flea birth control so that when an adult flea bites the dogs.  The flea ingests the chemical that causes eggs and larvae cannot develop into adult fleas.  It is used in conjunction with a flea shampoo. 

Treating the Environment

The environment must be treated when fleas are present on the dog. 

Vacuuming daily helps remove eggs, larvae and pupae. 

Washing all bedding and soft toys in hot water will drown and kill any fleas present.

Using a commercial insecticide spray or fogger will remove the last remnants of your flea problem. 

Foggers require that all pets and people leave the premises and not returned until all is dry. 

All food stuffs and dishes need to be put in cabinets. 

These products should only be used as a last resort and package directions should be followed precisely.

The order in which treatment is most effective is:

1.Treat the dog(s) and other pets in the house

2. Vacuum

3. Wash dog bedding and toys in hot water

4. Spray and/or Fog

5. Continue to Vacuum daily and Wash dog bedding and toys in hot water

6. Treat the outdoors

Best Advice for Dog Fleas

Prevention is easier than Treatment

Treat the moment you see the first Flea