Fleas: How to Check for an Infestation
Has your dog been itching and scratching more than normal? Are there certain areas of his skin that appear irritated or scabbed-over? Do you notice a foul odor emanating from your dog, even though he has recently had a bath? Unfortunately, fleas may be the culprit.
Fleas contain certain enzymes in their saliva which irritate dog’s skin. As a blood sucking insect, fleas use your dog (or cat, or even you) as a host for nutrients for their larvae. After finding sufficient sustenance, the fleas then form a nest, either in your dog’s fur, in the carpet, or on upholstery. What may start as one or two fleas can quickly become a full-blown infestation once the flea eggs have hatched, continuing this vicious cycle.
Some dogs suffer flea allergies worse than others. Flea bite hypersensitivity and flea allergic dermatitis are two common, yet excruciating, reactions for dogs. As few as one or two flea bites can cause extreme itching and scratching, which leads to skin inflammation, hair loss, broken skin, and possibly infection.
Fleas are also host to other parasites, such as tapeworms. When a dog ingests a flea (which typically occurs when the animal is grooming itself) a tapeworm can develop inside the dog’s digestive tract. Tapeworms cause even more serious issues than fleas, such as anemia or weight loss in severe cases.
Where do fleas come from? If not inhabiting your dog, they can be found in wooded areas during the spring, summer, and fall months. Anytime your dog is outside, he is susceptible to becoming a host to a flea. Although unable to fly, fleas are able to jump – up to 13 inches in one leap!
If you notice your dog scratching more than usual, perform a quick flea check. Pull your dog’s fur aside and check for what looks like moving black dots. For bad infestations, your dog will have visible “flea dirt,” which is the waste product of the flea and looks like dried blood or eggs. Take note of commonly infested areas, such as the dog’s head or base of the tail. These body parts are frequently targeted as they contain more blood.
If you do find that your dog has fleas, remove the infestation as quickly as possible. Besides treating your dog (commonly, a flea bath is used), you must also treat the entire house, including carpets and furniture. To entirely rid your home of fleas, you may have to perform multiple treatments.
Remember, flea infestations are almost entirely preventable in the form of topical products, oral pills, and flea collars. A small investment in preventative products can save a lot of time and effort down the road when trying to rid your home of fleas. These parasites are not only harmful to your dog, but can pass unwanted parasites onto humans as well. If having a difficult time removing an infestation, contact a veterinarian and/or exterminator.