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Why is my dog suddenly getting fleas?


The dark speck that suddenly appears when you walk across the carpet, then disappears, is likely a flea. It’s a bloodsucker, reddish-brown, about one-eighth of an inch long. Using a magnifying glass, you’d see the flea’s body is flattened from side-to-side and it has long claws on its legs – both are adaptations for traveling between hair shafts. The flea also has spines on its mouth, legs and back to help prevent it from being groomed off.

Nevertheless, a dog will probably pick off many of the cat fleas it hosts. Cat fleas(Ctenocephalides felis) are more common on cats, dogs and humans than dog fleas(Ctenocephalides canis) and human fleas (Pulex irritans). Each has its preferred hosts. The human flea prefers the blood of humans and pigs. Cat and dog fleas prefer cats and dogs, though children can become infested when pets sleep or rest on the same bed. Cat and dog fleas also will infest certain types of wild carnivores, including opossums and raccoons, but not squirrels, rats or mice. While these two species do not carry human diseases, they can carry tapeworms (Dipylidium caninum) that infect dogs.

Other flea species occasionally encountered by humans include the oriental rat flea(Xenopsylla cheopis) and the northern rat flea (Nosopsyllus fasciatus). These fleas live on Norway rats and roof rats, and are capable of transmitting plague and murine typhus to humans.

Fleas and Disease

Fleas often probe the skin before taking a blood meal. After 30 minutes, lines or clusters of itchy red marks appear. On sensitive persons, bites develop into raised bumps within 24 hours after being bitten.

Fleas have been associated with humans and other animals for thousands of years. A bacterium (Yersinia pestis) spread by fleas killed 25 million people, more than a quarter of the European population, in 14 th century Europe. This was the “black plague.” Epidemics also occurred in Egypt, Africa, China, India and even the U.S., before the discovery of antibiotics. All told, perhaps 200 million people have died of plague – more than have died in all the wars in history.

Today, plague occurs worldwide. Each year, a few cases of bubonic plague are recorded in the United States, mostly in the Southwest. The disease is typically carried by wild rodents, and transmitted to the fleas that bite them. The digestive system of an infected flea can become blocked by rapid reproduction of the bacteria, causing the flea to bite repeatedly in an attempt to avoid starvation. Humans typically contract the disease from the bites of infected fleas, or through skin abrasions that contact the blood of infected animals or the feces of infected fleas.

Bubonic plague occurs most often where persons live or participate in outdoor activities in close proximity to wild rodents, such as rock squirrels, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, chipmunks and rats. Pets also bring plague-infected fleas into the home. Cats are highly susceptible to the disease. Outbreaks can arise in urban and rural areas, especially where conditions are primitive or unsanitary.

Symptoms of bubonic plague develop within one week of exposure to the bacterium, and may include headache, fever, weakness, fatigue and painful, swollen lymph nodes known as “buboes.” The disease responds well to antibiotics, but untreated persons may die within a week of showing symptoms.

Another disease transmitted by fleas is murine typhus. In the United States, only a few cases are reported annually. These typically occur in Texas, or result from travel abroad, especially to tropical countries. Transmission of a bacterium (Rickettsia typhi) that causes murine typhus takes place in rat-infested areas, in the same manner as mentioned above for bubonic plague, and by inhalation of airborne flea feces. Headache, body aches, fever and, occasionally, a rash and other symptoms develop within two weeks after infection. Like plague, murine typhus responds well to treatment with antibiotics.

The Secret Lives of Fleas

We are most familiar with adult fleas, those specks that jump and occasionally bite, but spend most of their lives on cats and dogs. Fleas reproduce rapidly. Eggs are laid on the animal while it sleeps or rests. They are not sticky and fall down into the pet’s bed – where the offspring are most likely to find food.

The eggs hatch into tiny (1/8-inch) larvae; white, worm-like, legless and blind. They shy away from light and wiggle their way down into the animal’s bedding, carpet, grass, etc. This stage has chewing mouthparts and does not suck blood. They do, however, feed on digested blood in the form of feces from the adult fleas, as well as bits of dead skin, feathers and other organic debris. After growing through three molts (shedding of the exoskeleton) the larvae become pupae, spinning silken cocoons, which they camouflage by attaching bits of debris.

Perhaps a month after the eggs are laid, adult fleas emerge from their pupal cocoons. Emergence of adults is triggered by heat (of people and pets), carbon dioxide (breath) and by physical pressure (e.g., from people and pets walking or lying on them). Thus the movements of unsuspecting humans can attract newly-emerged cat fleas that would otherwise prefer cats and dogs. To improve chances of contacting a passing host, newly-emerged fleas tend to move upward on vegetation, carpet, drapes and furniture. Their eyes are most sensitive to yellow-green light – the color of vegetation – and they are attracted to dark moving objects against a light background, such as a dog against foliage, or a person against a wall. To contact a host, they jump a distance of up to one foot after detecting the presence of warmth and carbon dioxide. Once it makes contact, the cat flea begins feeding on the host’s blood. If dislodged, it usually dies within two days.

Managing Fleas

Knowing the cat flea’s life cycle is critical to successful management of flea infestations. Control measures should focus on where the fleas are found and where they are suspected to be. Adult fleas are found on their hosts, so, pets should be treated with prescription or over-the-counter treatments. These include products containing fipronil or imidacloprid, active ingredients that kill fleas but have relatively low toxicity. This allows them to be applied as spot treatments directly onto pets. Another, containing lufenuron, is a systemic product taken internally. It kills fleas when they feed on the pet. As with other pesticides, misapplications may unnecessarily expose people and pets, and may not provide adequate control. To get your pet treated, you may want to visit a veterinarian. Or, if you choose to treat the pet yourself, be sure to select the correct product and follow the label’s directions.

Newly emerged adult fleas, flea pupae and larvae, are found where infested animals rest and sleep. Typical flea “hot spots” include pet beds and bedding. These should be washed regularly. Other hot spots are rugs, furniture (including spots under the furniture) and outdoors in and around dog houses, under porches and bushes. Carpeting, rugs and furniture should be vacuumed thoroughly and frequently. Promptly dispose of vacuum contents in sealed containers, such as plastic bags. After vacuuming, steam cleaning of furniture and floor coverings will help eliminate remaining fleas.

Flea traps also can be useful, placed wherever adult fleas are found or suspected. These devices are electric light traps. They emit light and warmth, attracting adult fleas, then capturing them on sticky inserts that are easily removed and replaced. Flea traps are a non-toxic supplement to other control methods, and valuable as monitors to discover and pinpoint flea activity. Flea traps alone, however, should not be expected to eliminate flea infestations.

The benefits of vacuuming cannot be overemphasized as a means of flea control. Vacuuming picks up all stages of fleas, directly reducing the population. It also removes dirt and spreads carpet fibers that can interfere with the penetration of pesticide applications (one reason why total release aerosol “bombs” are not very effective against fleas). In addition, physical pressure on the carpet from vacuuming can trigger the emergence of fleas from their pupal cocoons, exposing them to pesticide applications.

After vacuuming and cleaning, pesticides labeled for flea control can be applied as spot treatments. Products containing permethrin or pyrethrins may kill adult fleas, but not flea eggs and pupae. Dust formulations, such as those containing boric acid, silica or diatomaceous earth, will kill flea adults and larvae. These materials can be applied as a very fine layer of dust to areas likely to harbor fleas, such as rugs, carpeting, cracks in flooring, beneath furniture cushions, in crawl spaces and under porches.
“Broadcast” applications of pesticides to the entire carpeted area of a residence were once common practice for flea control. Today, few, if any, products are registered for this type of application because of concerns about pesticide use, and because fleas typically occupy certain spots within a structure. Fleas are unlikely to be in the center of a spacious room or sunny yard. This is because pets typically do not rest in these spots and they lack enough organic and fecal debris (from the feeding of adult fleas) to feed developing larvae. Also, fleas require relatively high humidity for development. A sunny spot in the middle of a lawn would usually be too hot in summer and have insufficient moisture and humidity to support fleas. Thus spot applications of pesticides are most effective.

Growth regulators such as methoprene or pyriproxyfen are another effective and less toxic alternative. Active for several months, growth regulators provide no “knock down” of adult fleas, but effectively disrupt the flea life cycle by preventing larvae from maturing into adults.

Note that where liquid pesticides are applied, all pets should be removed from the premises. Birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish are extremely sensitive to many pesticides. Before applications are made, pets should be removed or their containers tightly sealed. Aquarium filters and air pumps should be unplugged. Always read the product label for directions. After application, pets and people should be kept off treated surfaces until the surfaces are completely dry. Treated areas can then be vacuumed again to trigger the emergence and movement of fleas, increasing their exposure to the pesticide.

If you employ the various methods listed above, you should see a significant reduction in your flea population. You should not, however, expect to immediately eliminate all of the fleas. In the pupal stage, fleas are resistant to pesticides and may remain hidden in their cocoons to emerge weeks or even months later. Also, pesticides such as dusts and growth regulators, work slowly. In addition, you may have overlooked some flea hot spots. Infested items, such as furniture, may have been brought in, adding to the flea problem.

Occasionally, household pets are not the source of flea infestation. Opossums, raccoons and stray cats living in attics, crawlspaces and under porches can harbor fleas, making it necessary to eliminate these animals from the premises. Please contact the Illinois Department of Natural Resources at 217-241-6700 for information on controlling wildlife.

Flea problems can be challenging. Complete control requires knowledge, attention to detail and perseverance. Those unwilling or unable to conduct a complete flea prevention effort should consider hiring a pest management professional.

Illustrations courtesy of University of Missouri, University of California and North Carolina State University.
For more information, contact the Illinois Department of Public Health, Division of Environmental Health, 525 W. Jefferson St., Springfield, IL 62761, 217-782-5830, TTY (hearing-impaired use only) 800-547-0466.

How do I know if my dog has fleas?

dog has fleas

Fleas are the most common parasite affecting dogs and can be easily spread to your pet from the environment or close contact with other infested animals. How do you know if your dog has fleas?

Fleas often cause scratching and skin damage, which can be distressing for everyone involved, but your dog won’t always show you when they are suffering from fleas.

Did you know, not all dogs with fleas scratch!

The reaction to the presence of fleas varies between animals. The clinical signs of a flea infestation will vary depending on how often your pet is exposed to fleas, how long they have had a flea infestation, if they have other skin disease present and if they have developed hypersensitivity to flea saliva.

Why is my dog itchy?

One flea bite is mildly irritating for your pet, however, the majority of cats and dogs exposed to fleas on a long-term basis will develop hypersensitivity.

Symptoms can vary from the occasional scratch in non-allergic animals to severe itchiness causing self-mutilation and secondary infections. Many dogs who are allergic to fleas will suddenly spin round to nibble at the site of a flea bite.

What is Flea Allergy Dermatitis?

Flea hypersensitivity is thought to be due to the development of an allergy to flea saliva and is called Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD). FAD is the most common cause of itchy skin disease. Classic signs of flea allergy in the dog involve a skin reaction on the lower back, around the tail base and down the backs of the legs. The hair is often short and stubbly due to nibbling and secondary infections of the skin often occur secondary to self-trauma.

How do I check my dog for fleas?

The best place to find fleas is around your pet’s tail base or ears. A flea comb can be used to find adult fleas and their faeces. Flea faeces are digested blood, and they look like small specks of dark red dirt.

A useful test is the white paper test; brush your pet’s coat vigorously over a sheet of white paper to look for fleas and their faeces. Moistening the paper will cause a red halo to form around the flea faeces, this is useful for distinguishing between dirt and flea faeces.

What to do if my dog has fleas

When it comes to fleas, all the experts agree, prevention is better than cure. The only way to prevent fleas is to use a high-quality flea treatment at the interval recommended by the manufacturer. A Protect My Pet subscription box provide a convenient solution to fleas. High quality market-leading products are delivered to your door just as they are required. When it arrives in the post it’s time to dose!

For further information on keeping your dog parasite-free, see our other flea blogs.

Written by Lindsay Rose MA VetMB CertAVP CertVBM MRCVS.

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The Beginner’s Guide To Fleaing Your Dog

Fleas are wingless insects that can cause significant harm to your beloved dog. It is tough to find fleas on your pets because they are small in size, but this tiny creature can cause anemia, scratching, and parasitic infestation in your dog, and great distress in your life.

However, if your pet does contract a flea infestation, it is tough to get rid of them because a single flea can lay thousands of eggs in its life cycle.

If you want to control fleas, it must require an appropriate approach, and you should see your vet from time to time for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Here in this guide, you will get complete information about fleas, the risk associated with them, and how to control them in dogs.

When are dogs at risk of fleas?

Mostly, the summer and spring seasons are the peak season for flea infestation. This is because fleas grow well in hot, humid climates. The ideal temperature is around 21⁰C for flea growth and survival. However, that doesn’t mean your puppy or dog can’t get fleas at other times of the year.

Dogs are at continuous risk of flea infestation even in winter because the flea egg can withstand extreme temperatures and lie dormant for a long time until it finds a suitable host. Thanks to double glazing and central heating our homes are like a greenhouse in the winter- meaning any eggs that make it into the house will hatch and thrive in the cosy warm conditions.

A recent survey of flea infestation involving UK veterinary practices indicates a 6.82% prevalence of fleas in dogs.

Can fleas kill my dog?

Fleas can cause serious harm to your pets, some dogs are very sensitive to flea saliva, and a single flea bite can cause severe itching. This problem can be treated if it is managed in the early stages, and if left untreated, it can turn into an infestation. When fleas feed on your dog’s blood and transfer parasites, and you leave them untreated, it can become fatal.

Should I speak to my vet about my dog’s flea treatment?

Many pet owners are very concerned about flea treatments on their pets and often ask questions like how much flea medicine for dogs is appropriate?

Typically, if there are no signs of fleas but your pup is still uncomfortable, see your vet. He will do a skin test and check for fleas and other allergies. Before beginning a course of flea treatment always consult your vet in the first instance, especially if your dog is still a puppy.

Many preventative flea medications are available in the market, like spot-on treatments, spray, powder, shampoo, tablets, and topical liquid. Your vet is best placed to advise you on which treatment is right for your pet.

What is the best flea treatment for my dog?

When it comes to stopping fleas on your pets, preventative treatments are the best way to protect your pets, as they ensure that your pup doesn’t develop any serious problems. Your vet is the best person who can guide you on the proper treatments; however, one of the best flea preventative medications available on the market is Flerm flea treatment.

Using Flerm regularly will protect your pet from fleas, worms, and ticks. The feature that makes Flerm most promising among other flea treatments is that other flea treatments only kill fleas, whereas Flerm can break their life cycle and destroy eggs and larvae. By breaking the life cycle of fleas, your dog, home and family remain protected.

When should you flea a dog?

It can takes weeks, if not months, to get rid of a flea infestation. Therefore the best way to deal with your dog’s flea treatments is not to wait for your dog to have fleas and be itchy and uncomfortable, but to take a regular preventative approach to flea treatment. This is why most vets recommend treating your pet for fleas regularly and all year round.

How often do you flea a dog?

This is the most common question dog owners ask: how often should dogs have flea treatment? The most common belief is that fleas are seasonal, but this is not true. Fleas are present throughout the year.

That is why it is essential to treat your dog for fleas regularly. Generally, monthly flea treatment is considered best for flea prevention.

How often do you flea a puppy?

Your vet is the best person to advise you when to flea treat puppies. But mainly, the first flea treatment is carried out on puppies from six to eight weeks. However, the exact dosage and treatment depend on the weight and treatment methods used for the puppies. According to William Miller Jr, “fleas are a special danger to your puppy.”

How do I know my dog’s flea treatment is working?

If your dog is severely itchy and remains in discomfort due to fleas, you should treat them immediately. Once treated your dog should become more comfortable and visibly less itchy within a matter of hours. However, please note, when flea medicine is used, fleas become hyperactive before dying. Therefore, you will see fleas come to the surface of your pet’s fur, and your pet may feel a little itchier before the flea dies.

Flea medicine does not kill fleas immediately. For the flea product to work, the flea has to come in contact with the medicinal ingredient, absorb it, and then the medicine will work. The working procedure of treatment is a bit similar to that of you catching a cold. Some time will pass between infection and suffering illness.

Flea spot-on treatments for dogs

Topical spot-on treatment is one of the easiest flea treatments. You just have to apply them on your pet’s body, and your pet will remain protected for a long time.

How long do flea spot-on treatments take to work?

The spot-on treatment works differently from pills. The active ingredient works by spreading throughout the body, including hair and skin, and when a flea comes in contact with the active ingredient, it dies. This means that your pet does not need to be bitten by fleas. Spot-on treatments also reduce the risk of other infections that occur as a result of flea bites.

The spot-on treatment also kills pupae in the house because they will get killed when they try to reach your pet’s body. A spot-on treatment usually takes 24 hours to work fully.

What if my dog licks their flea treatment?

Flea spot-on products, when applied to the body of dogs, contain an active ingredient that protects your pet’s skin and remains on the coat for a long time. If your puppy can lick the product suddenly after application while still wet or scratches his body, then he can lick it off. To avoid this happening you should always apply the liquid from the pipette to the back of your dog or puppies neck where they cannot lick and find it difficult to scratch.

The first reaction your dog will show is that he will immediately start salivating and foaming from the mouth due to the bitter taste of the medicine. Sometimes your dog may also feel nauseous and start vomiting, although this is rare.

Some dogs become hyperactive and run around the house. All this happens due to the bitter taste and systemic toxicity of the product. The best thing to do in such conditions is to feed your pup a tasty treat and encourage him to drink more water and clean his mouth with luke warm water.

For some sensitive dogs, a chicken-flavored or meat-flavored treat will help eliminate the bad taste from their mouth. Symptoms of toxicity are mild and self-limited. You can prevent this reaction by not allowing your dog to lick the product until it is completely dry. Because once the product dries, it won’t show the same reaction.

When can I bathe my puppy/dog after applying a spot on flea treatment?

You can bathe your puppies after 48 hours of flea treatment.

Flea tablets for dogs

Flea tablets for dogs are one of the available options for treating fleas. The only problem with the flea pill is that it is difficult to give your dog medication. You should gently press their lips against their teeth and encourage them to open their mouth.

After that, slide a finger into their mouth, and then press the roof of their mouth to open their mouth wide. Then by the other hand, push the pill to the back of the tongue and then close the mouth until it swallows.

How do flea tablets work?

The mechanism of the flea tablet is very simple; it works by entering into your dog’s bloodstream. So it means that fleas have to bite your dog in order to be exposed to the active ingredient. If a dog suffers from flea dermatitis then this type of flea treatment won’t help in preventing fleas from biting your dog’s skin.

How long do dog flea tablets last?

Flea tablets usually last at least a month, and in some cases, eight to twelve weeks. In case of a missed dose, there will be a treatment failure and your pet won’t be protected from fleas.

Flea collars for dogs

There are different types of flea collars available on the market, and they all vary in terms of the protection they provide.

How long does it take for a dog flea collar to work?

The flea collar works by two methods, either by emitting a pesticide in the area around the neck or by releasing an active ingredient that is absorbed into your pet’s skin. Some collars are beneficial and protect the entire body, while others protect only the neck area.

It takes 24 hours for the active ingredient in the flea collar to cover your dog’s skin and coat and begin to show its action. A single flea collars can provide protection for almost eight months, but this can vary depending on weather conditions and whether the collar gets wet repeatedly.

How often to use flea shampoo?

If your pet is infected with fleas, give him a bath with flea shampoo right away. Most veterinarians recommend using flea shampoo every 7-14 days. Don’t bathe your dog with flea shampoo daily, as it will dry out their fur and skin and, instead of protecting your dog, they will end up having skin problems.

Do I need to flea my dog all-year-round?

Yes, it is essential to flea your dog throughout the year. You will often listen pet owners say that they do not use flea treatment in the cooler weather because it is not necessary. Please don’t listen to those people; it is not true and will put your pet at risk of flea infestation.

According to Dr. Lindsay Starkey, fleas are not a seasonal problem; they are present throughout the year. Mostly, the vet recommends fleaing your dog year-round because it only gets one flea to enter in your home or on your pet and there will be flea infestation.

These pests can live outside your home in cooler temperatures for more than five days until they find a warm spot inside your home. Flea eggs can even live for years in sheltered places like porches and garages.

Should I flea my dog before I go on holiday?

It has been reported many times that a family goes on vacation and closes the house, and sends their dog to boarding. When they return after a few weeks, their house is full of fleas as if an army of fleas has attacked their home. But what is the real reason behind this?

Well, the real reason is that you think there were no fleas in your house before you left, but it’s not the case that there were fleas, but you didn’t notice them. Fleas are tiny and hard to see, but they are present on carpets, pet bedding, and under sofas.

According to Patrick Mahaney, “once fleas get on your dog, they will jump, crawl. They will hide in the areas that are hard to reach like neck, head, tail, and armpits.”

Fleas that live on your pets continually lay eggs that fall to the ground. So whenever you plan to go on vacation, it is necessary that you flea treat your pet and house. Otherwise, you will find it challenging to fight fleas.

Are flea treatments safe for pregnant dogs?

There is a bit of confusion about flea treatment for your pregnant dog. Most vets suggest stopping flea treatment until your dog gives birth to the puppies. Similarly, it is also essential to consult your veterinarian whether to use flea treatment on a pregnant mother or not. There are different flea preventive products that claim that they are safe for pregnant animals but don’t use them without consulting your vet.


Fleaing your dog is critical, and you should do it according to the advice of your vet. Initiate flea treatment in your puppies early on and then continue on a regular basis all year round. This comprehensive guide on flea treatment will help you make decisions about flea treatment. For further questions and inquiries, you can consult your own veterinarian.

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