Fleas in dogs

What are fleas?

Fleas are a type of insect which are relatively small, brown in colour, and survive on animals called their hosts. The fleas feed by ingesting the host’s blood after injecting their mouths and saliva through the skin. This is what irritates the affected hosts. Many affected animals can prove to be allergic to the saliva of the flea. Fleas can be carriers of many disease causing organisms. These diseases include the plague, haemobartonellosis, typhus and tularaemia. The endo-parasite tapeworm can also be transmitted by fleas. It is not unlikely for dogs to have fleas more than once in their lives although this should be avoided. Dogs which have a lot of contact with the outdoors and other dogs are prone to being affected with these insects.

Both male and female fleas feed on blood although they can survive for six months without a feed. During feeding, fleas inoculate saliva into the blood of the host which is used to prevent the blood from clotting and so the insect can continue to drink more easily. Flea eggs and larvae can be present in large numbers both in indoor and outdoor environments. Female fleas can lay as many as fifty eggs within a single day. As a result, once a dog has fleas it can become increasingly infested extremely rapidly. Fleas can jump relatively large distances in order to pass from one area to another, for example onto a host.

Dog fleas do not generally use humans as their hosts although it has been known for them to do so. Affected humans may notice that their ankles or wrists have slight red rashes which can be a little uncomfortable. Once the dog is treated, however, these reactions should leave fairly quickly. Despite this, there is a type of flea which is known as the human flea which can also affect dogs.

What fleas can dogs get?

Dogs can be affected by a large number of fleas many of which may prefer other hosts but will still feed on dogs. This means that dogs can become affected if they come into contact with all these other possible hosts. Even house dogs can acquire feline fleas from any cats which may be present in the home. 

The common dog flea, also known as Ctenocephalides canis, primarily affects dogs but uses other animals including humans and cats as its hosts. It can very easily pass from one dog to another. Additionally, one other type of flea includes the cat flea, called Ctenocephalides felis, which prefers dogs as its host. Therefore, if dogs come into regular contact with cats able to roam outside, then they are susceptible to becoming affected by the cat flea.

Some fleas which have other preferable hosts will also affect dogs. The rat flea is an example of this. It is also known as Xenopsylla cheopsis and carries diseases such as the plague. The human flea, called Pulex irritans, has been known to affect dogs as well as the bird flea, scientifically named Echidnophaga gallinacea. Overall, dogs can be at risk of fleas for a large part of their lives.

How do I know if my dog has fleas?

It is not uncommon for owners to never be aware of their dogs having fleas. This is because in some cases, the fleas may not appear to adversely affect the dog at all. Despite this, it is encouraged that owners should groom their dogs in order to be able to detect whether or not their pets have been infested. This is because, although the dog may seem healthy, the flea may pass on certain harmful diseases.

If owners run a hand or comb through a dog’s fur they may notice dark dirt. This is flea faeces and if applied on damp paper, the faeces will redden and swirl. Additionally, owners may even spot the fleas which appear as tiny, black, jumping insects. Some dogs experience allergic reactions to flea saliva and thus have rashes or lose their fur. In dogs, fleas commonly cause Flea Allergic Dermatitis which is an extremely uncomfortable skin condition. They will persistently scratch and may appear restless. In cases of high infestation, the animals lose enough blood to become anaemic. In some cases, for smaller dogs and puppies this may lead to death although this is a rare occurrence.

What do I do if my dog has fleas?

The majority of good flea treatments can be very easily acquired from veterinary practices. Internet or cheap store bought products are not guaranteed to be as successful as those bought from the vets. If the treatments are not effective then not only will this prolong the problem but also prove to be more expensive when more and more products are bought.

For the flea treatment to be effective, all other sources of infestation should also be treated. This includes other animals in the household such as cats. There are sprays available at veterinary practices which can be used on upholstery and carpets in order to destroy the fleas and their eggs which will be present here. If these are not treated then re-infection is able to reoccur easily. This is because fleas are able to survive outside of the hosts for many months.

Can I prevent my dog from having fleas?

Preventing fleas in dogs can reduce the stress caused from their infestations. This is especially true for dogs that have severe allergic reactions to the flea saliva. Spot on treatments can be used periodically throughout the year and many are combined to prevent and treat dogs for worms as well. If one animal has fleas then all susceptible animals should be treated in the household to prevent transmission.

Can my dog die from getting fleas?

Often dogs affected with fleas will not die as a result of the infestation. However, due to the diseases they can cause after inoculating their hosts, this can in turn prove to be very harmful to the dog, and perhaps even be fatal if left untreated. In addition to this, young puppies and small dogs can die from anaemia if they are infested by very large numbers of fleas.


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