In this article we are going to look at an itchy little problem, which a lot of dogs suffer from at some point in their lives. The arrival of fleas on dogs who share our homes is not a pleasant experience. But where pets are concerned, fleas can be a fact of life. Especially if you also own a cat.
We are going to show you how to tell if your dog has fleas, giving you some dog flea symptoms to be on the look out for. Giving you tips for how to spot flea bites, on yourself as well as on your pets. We will also share with you the best ways to treat your dog and your home when they suffer from fleas, as well as how to prevent fleas returning in the future.
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What Do Fleas Look Like?
Fleas are minute parasites who live on the skin of other creatures. The most common type of flea is the Cat Flea. Although they are named for their most common host, the cat flea also loves biting dogs and humans.
They are very small, measuring in the region of 2mm. To the naked eye they appear to be black in colour, with flattened bodies which look narrow when seen from above. This allows them to have easy passage through your pets’ fur.
If you stroke a dog with fleas the wrong way, you can expose the fleas and see them on their skin. Although they will quickly disappear from view. The other visual sign of fleas you might see are their droppings, which look like tiny dark socks of dirt. If you rub your dog’s fur when he is laying on a white bed or carpet, you might well see this dirt fall to the floor with the shed hair.
Under the microscope fleas appear more reddish brown in color. They have a large body section, and very long back legs. Fleas can jump to proportionately quite amazing heights and distances, to move between hosts or find safe hiding places in the corners of your carpets or rugs. If your home is infested with fleas, it is also possible that you will see them occasionally jumping in the carpet. You might even see them on yourself!
Flea Life Cycle
Fleas are not creatures which will come and go quickly from your home. Adult females can live up to 2 years in the right environment, and during this time will lay literally hundreds of eggs. Fleas can last for several months without a host, and so can be living in your furniture or the edges of your carpet for a considerable period of time without your knowledge. This is why thorough cleaning is so important, even when symptoms of fleas are not showing. Especially if a cat shares your home.
Fleas are parasites, which temporarily attach to hosts. A flea bite occurs when the flea attaches by biting into the skin, in order to suck the host’s blood. Flea bites can be pretty nasty things, and the nature of the bite symptoms will differ slightly depending upon the host that they bite.
Does My Dog Have Fleas?
Dog flea symptoms are usually fairly obvious. Fleas make dogs very uncomfortable. They will bite and scratch repeatedly at their fur, shift around a lot and find it harder to relax.
You can also put a sheet of white paper under your dog and vigorously rub his fur. Black specks of flea dirt will probably fall onto the paper. If you make these specks slightly wet or rub them with your thumb, the resultant smears will be red if your pet has fleas. If you have any doubts about whether or not your dog has fleas having read this information, then simply pop down to your local vets. They will be able to confirm the diagnosis for you.
Flea Bites On Humans
Another good way to tell whether your dog or cat has fleas, is to see whether you have any bites. Flea bites will normally be around your ankles, and they will be very itchy indeed. The bite area will have a small red raised spot, of no more than 5mm in diameter. Try really hard to not scratch these bites, as it will make them more likely to hurt or even become infected.
My Dog Has Fleas
Now that you have established that your dog has fleas, let’s take a look at what you can do about it. Firstly, remember that if one dog has fleas then all of our house pets probably have them to. Don’t just flea treat your affected dog, make sure to treat any dogs in the house and any cats as well.
Warning: Flea products designed for dogs can be toxic to cats. If you have a cat she will need to be treated at the same time as your dog, but never with the same flea killer if it only specifies use for dogs. Cats have been poisoned because they simply slept in a bed with a dog who had been sprayed for fleas – so make sure that you thoroughly read the label before use.
How To Get Rid Of Fleas
Getting rid of fleas requires treatment of your dog, cat if you have one, and your home too.
Best Flea Treatment For Dogs
The best flea treatment for dogs will depend upon the area that you live in, as some fleas become resistant to the products frequently used in their locations. Before you buy a flea treatment for your dog, have a quick chat with your veterinarian to find out which brand of flea medicine for dogs they believe to be most appropriate.
Drop On Flea Treatment For Dogs
We use Frontline combined flea and tick treatment* on our pets, and find it effective where we live.
If you want to give Frontline a try, make a quick call to your veterinarian first to check that it is the right product for you too. Also, please remember that Frontline for cats* is a different product to Frontline for dogs. Do not use a dog flea treatment on your cat.
Flea Shampoo For Dogs
You can also use flea shampoo to treat dogs who are carrying fleas. Adams Plus Flea Shampoo is a popular and well received choice*. It kills fleas, flea eggs and flea larvae. Giving your dog protection for up to 28 days after use. You simply use it like a regular pet shampoo, applying to the coat and lathering with water. Then leave in for a few minutes (as instructed on the bottle) before rinsing, to make sure all the fleas present in the coat are killed.
Natural Flea Killer
You will find online a lot of people suggesting a natural flea killer for use on your dog. Some people regularly bathe their dogs in lemon juice or cider vinegars in the hopes of repelling fleas. Others use natural substances which they hope will dry out the fleas. This problem with natural flea killers is that when using untested products, it’s not possible to know for sure what the results will be.
Whilst we are all keen to use natural products where appropriate, when it comes to treating parasites on our pets it is important to use the right product. In this case, one which has been tested and approved under heavily scrutinised laboratory conditions, and that has the full endorsement of the veterinary profession is probably best.
Using these natural flea remedies might seem chemically kind or like a cheap fix, but they could well result in your dog, your family and your home simply remaining infested, and therefore uncomfortable and unhappy. If your Labrador has fleas, the best flea treatment for dogs is one which your veterinarian has approved of.
Worming Your Dog After Flea Treating
If your Labrador has been treated for fleas, then it is worth worming him a few days later as well. This is because fleas can transmit tapeworms to your dog, as well as leaving them with itchy bites. We use Drontal plus flavoured dog worming tablets on our Labradors, but have a quick chat with your vet to find out their recommended product.
Fleas In House
To kill fleas in your house will require a minimum of a very thorough vacuuming. Fleas lay their eggs in carpets, and intensive hoovering around the edges of each room can make a big difference. Make sure to wash your dog’s bed and vacuumed any upholstered furniture as well, as fleas can also live in these areas.
Fleas in carpets will normally be sufficiently cleared up by some extra attention during your cleaning routine, however in severe infestations you may find that even after this is done your dog and family are still being bitten. In this case, you may need to chemically treat your carpet. We highly recommend that in these cases you contact a professional pet control company. Flea fogger can be brought online, but when you have pets or children in a house then you will need to take incredible care not to cause them harm through their use.
Flea Prevention For Dogs
The best way to combat fleas in the long term, is to make sure that your dog and any cats are regularly flea treated using the same drop on flea treatments or flea shampoos mentioned above. Remember, the main source of fleas is normally the family cat. So make sure that they are also treated every 3 months (or as stated on your product’s packaging) to keep the house free from infestations.
Take care to wash your dog and cat’s beds regularly, on the hottest wash the label will allow. Also, make sure that you vacuum every day. Use the nozzle attachment to focus on the edges of carpeted rooms, and the crevasses of any armchairs or couches.
Talk To Your Veterinarian
If you have any concerns regarding your Labrador’s health, it’s always a good idea to make an appointment for a check up with the veterinarian. When giving flea treatments to your dog, or using strong chemicals in the house, always read the labels thoroughly. Check the dose is right for his age and weight, and if your dog has any side effects or the medicines appears to have failed to work, contact your veterinarian to be on the safe side.
Affiliate link disclosure: Links in this article marked with an * are affiliate links, and we may receive a small commission if you purchase these products. However, we selected them for inclusion independently, and all of the views expressed in this article are our own.
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The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website