If you have a pet, at some time or another you’ve probably had to deal with fleas. And now that the weather is warming up, flea season is in full swing. Arming yourself with knowledge about fleas, can help you make your life, and your pet’s, much more pleasant.
Pets become infested with fleas when they live in an area that is conducive to the flea life cycle and appropriate flea preventative steps are not taken. Fleas thrive in warm, damp climates. An average temperature in the range of 70° to 85°F, in a moist environment, is optimal for these parasites. From a flea’s perspective, the hotter and damper, the better. Accordingly, dogs living in hot, humid areas tend to develop more severe complications from flea infestation than do dogs living in cold, dry climates. Dogs and cats can also get fleas by coming into contact with other animals that have a flea problem.
Fleas only spend a small part of their lives on the skin of a host animal. Adult fleas mate after they eat a large blood meal. Females lay their eggs within 1 to 2 days; they can produce upwards of 2000 eggs during their short 4-month lifespan. Fleas tend to like deep pile and shag carpeting, floor cracks, furniture and bedding.
In severe infestations, it’s easy to spot fleas jumping and moving on and off your dog’s body. In less obvious situations, you may notice that your pet is restless and is scratching, licking, or chewing more than normal on certain areas of her body. Shaking the head often and scratching at the ears is another indication of a possible flea infestation in your dog.
Check the Skin and Haircoat
In order to see actual fleas on your pet, you may have to look fast. Fleas can jump very fast and very high, and even at their adult size they are very small (1/16-1/8 in.). They are flat-bodied and dark brown, almost black, in color. The more blood they ingest the lighter in color they may appear.
To inspect your pet, turn her onto her back and check the areas that allow fleas to hide best. The armpits and groin are two areas that tend to be warm and protected, making them preferred spots for large flea populations. Check the ears carefully for signs of scratching, redness, blood, or dirt. These can all be signs of fleas. The skin on the belly, groin, or base of the tail may appear red and bumpy, especially if your pet is doing a lot of scratching. Hair loss may occur in certain areas that are being scratched excessively, and there may be black spots on the skin along with scabbing.
Get a flea comb (a specially-made comb with closely set teeth) and run it through the hair on your pet’s back and legs. The comb’s teeth are designed to catch and pull fleas out from under the haircoat where they are hiding. Make sure you get close to the skin when running the comb through the hair so you have a greater chance of getting to where the fleas are hiding out. Have a bowl of soapy water on hand to throw any live fleas into as you comb.
One trick that may help you if the fleas are hard to see is to place a white piece of paper (or paper towel) on the floor next to or beneath your pet while combing through her hair. Flea dirt (flea feces) will fall off of the your dog or cat’s skin and land on the paper.
Check the Environment
Fleas don’t just stay on your your pet. They can also be found all through your house, and especially in areas where your dog spends a lot of her time. Closely examine your pet’s feeding area, bedding, and her favorite locations for signs of flea dirt (black specks), or for the fleas themselves.
Get a Veterinarian’s Advice
If you can’t find any signs of actual fleas on your pet or in your living environment, or if you have done the full flea eradication treatment on your pet and home but your pet is still scratching excessively, it’s time to ask your veterinarian for advice. He or she will help you determine the cause of your pet’s discomfort and suggest treatment options. For more information on checking your dog or cat for fleas, visit this link: