It’s April! If you’ve not started planning your strategy for the war on fleas already, you’re most likely looking at an uphill battle. Getting rid of fleas is tough enough when you aren’t behind. Once you start seeing fleas, even one or two, you are already behind and looking at a long and arduous process to get ahead. If you live in a part of the country that has bitterly cold winters you may question whether you really need to treat your dog or cat with flea/tick medication throughout the winter. After all, birds fly south, bears hibernate and most living things that flourished outdoors are either dead, frozen or in hiding. But what about fleas and ticks?
Cold Hard Facts
Did you know that fleas can live outdoors in temperatures as low as 33 degrees for up to five days (long enough to hitch a ride on your dog, come into your home, and bask in the warmth of your living room?
Did you know that flea eggs can live year-round in protected areas such as crawl spaces or porches?
Although ticks are certainly more active in late summer and early fall, even in winter, if the temperature exceeds 40 degrees (which it can do in most places) ticks will become active again. Some experts think the threshold is more like 32 degrees, so on those “balmy” winter days (above 32 degrees) when you take your dog out to enjoy the “warmth” of the day, you’re exposing him to ticks.
Consider the fact that just one flea on your dog can signal a huge problem. One flea can lay up to 50 eggs in one day! These eggs then roll off your dog and infest the environment. Where your dog goes, fleas and their eggs go too. That’s how just a few fleas can quickly become hundreds, or even thousands, and infest and bite your pet.
The Four Life Stages of Fleas
Stage 1: Flea Eggs
One flea can lay up to 50 eggs in one day, falling off your dog anywhere it goes. While female fleas can only reproduce for a month or two as adults, they can release over 2,000 eggs in this short time. As your dog moves around, flea eggs disperse into the surroundings including carpet, bedding, and the backyard.
Stage 2: Flea Larvae
Flea larvae hatch from the eggs in one to 10 days. They feed on organic debris, don’t like sunlight and live in moist, dark areas such as:
- in carpet
- under furniture
- under baseboards
- in bedding
- in shady areas of your yard
Stage 3: Flea Pupae
Larvae turn into pupae by enclosing themselves in a sticky, silk-like cocoon. They usually emerge as adult fleas one to two weeks later, but can stay in their cocoons for weeks or months waiting for a host, like your dog, to live on. This is why many people experience flea infestations and flea bites after returning from vacation or moving into a house. If a flea cannot find a dog or cat to jump on, it is not uncommon for them to jump on and bite people.
Stage 4: Adult Fleas
Full grown fleas are the ones you normally see, and they begin biting almost immediately after getting onto your dog. Contrary to popular belief, fleas do not jump from pet to pet or fly because they do not have wings. They stay on one pet biting, feeding and laying eggs for up to several months.
“But my pet lives indoors, they can’t get fleas, can they?”
Yes, they can! Even if your pets don’t spend much time outside – or if you have indoor pets that never go outside – they can still get fleas!
Just like mosquitoes can sneak in through an open door or in the holes in your window screens, fleas can find their way inside!
Many wild animals (like squirrels, raccoons and foxes) can carry fleas. Outdoor cats, especially feral cats, also commonly have fleas. As they pass through your yard, they can drop flea eggs or even fleas on your lawn. When your pet goes outside, the flea will jump on to hitch a ride AND get a meal.
Even if you never see that little mouse hiding in the walls, he can leave lots of flea eggs lying around. As those eggs hatch, the fleas will head out to find another host to live on – probably your dog or cat!
Fleas are attracted to warmth. If you walk through an area with fleas, they can jump onto your clothing or shoes and be carried until they find a more suitable host. Most fleas prefer to live on animals, but can bite people if they can’t find another, more suitable host when they are hungry. You can carry fleas on your clothing, when you get home they will jump off you and find your pets.
Common Flea-Related Ailments
Fleas and their bites can irritate your dog and not just in the “annoying” sense of the words. Fleas can spread diseases to dogs and affect the bond you share. After all, no one wants fleas inside their home and fleas can lead to health concerns.
1.) Flea Allergy Dermatitis
Many dogs suffer from flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), an allergic condition caused by flea bites. In fact, it is one of the most common reasons pet owners take their dogs to the veterinarian.
When fleas bite, substances in their saliva can enter your dog’s skin and trigger an immune response. This can cause intense skin irritation and itchiness that extends well beyond the location of the bites, resulting in hair loss and skin infections that can make the problem even worse. Dogs with FAD will continue to experience these miserable symptoms until the fleas are controlled.
While chewing at skin irritated from flea bite, or even while licking a leg to remove dirt, dogs can swallow fleas. If those ingested fleas happen to be infected with tapeworms, there is a very good chance the dog will become infected as well. Once in the dog’s digestive system, the tapeworms will attach themselves to the intestinal lining using sharp, beak-like mouth parts. While tapeworms rarely cause noticeable signs of illness like vomiting, the thought of a tapeworm clinging to your dog’s insides is definitely unpleasant.
If your dog is infected with tapeworms, you may see pieces of worms stuck around your dog’s anus. These pieces, which look like white grains of rice, are actually packets of tapeworm eggs. If you look closely, you might even see them moving. Once the outer casing of these packets dries out, eggs will be released into the environment where the cycle can be repeated.
While thought to be a concern only for cats, there’s increasing evidence that dogs too can be infected with a bacteria called Bartonella. While the source of infection is not as clear-cut as in the cat, infection with the Bartonella bacteria in dogs has been linked to fleas. Veterinarians are finding more instances of the bacteria in dogs, and the resulting effects are being reported more often, thanks to greater awareness and improved diagnostics. However, there are still a lot of unknowns (especially in dogs) about the related disease, called Bartonellosis. Affected dogs typically do not show any clinical signs. However, the bacteria has been linked to medical conditions associated with the heart, eyes, and liver.
Thinking about just one flea being on your dog is terrible, let alone thinking about hundreds. But that’s just what happens if your dog ever has the unlucky experience of being infested with fleas. If a large number of fleas bite and take blood meals (yes, fleas drink your dog’s blood), your dog can develop anemia. This is a very serious medical condition, especially in puppies, that must be promptly addressed through veterinary care. Symptoms include weakness, lethargy, rapid breathing and potentially, death if the fleas are not killed and the anemia condition corrected.
How to Tell If Your Dog Has Fleas
Facing a flea infestation on your dog may make you feel like you’ve let them down. But fleas are stealthy, hitching a ride on your dog during neighborhood walks, puppy play dates, backyard business, even through human contact. Some telltale signs of a flea infestation on your dog include:
- increased scratching, biting, and licking
- loss of fur
- flea dirt in fur that resembles dark pepper or fine, dark dirt
- brown parasites observed jumping or crawling in fur
- pale gums (a sign of anemia)
- red bumps or scabs
- behavior changes, such as anxiousness or nervousness
Getting Rid of Fleas on Your Dog
Fighting a flea infestation on your dog can be emotional and a lot of work. It’s important to first treat the existing fleas. Fleas are annoying, stubborn and determined to keep coming back. Simple actions on your part can help get rid of fleas on your dog and help reduce the risk of reinfestation:
- treat your dog with a fast-acting oral flea treatment — dead fleas are easier to wash away
- use a flea comb — dip the comb in a mixture of dish soap and water to kill remaining fleas on the comb
- bathe your puppy or dog with a specially-formulated flea shampoo
- treat your dog with a flea spray
- use a flea preventative year-round
- continue to inspect and comb weekly to monitor a flea infestation on your dog
A critical component to help get rid of fleas on your dog – and even more importantly, discourage them from returning – is to use a flea preventative.
Effective flea prevention can break the flea life cycle, be achieved through flea collars, topical flea treatments, or oral flea products, and can last anywhere from 30 days to 8 months. Choose the prevention method that works best for you and your dog. Keep in mind that preventatives work best when used regularly year-round; simply applying for one or two months can leave your dog unprotected. If one pet has fleas, they may all have fleas. Apply preventives to every pet in your home – both indoor and outdoor pets – to help keep an infestation from spreading and help reduce the risk of fleas coming back.
Getting Rid of Fleas in Your Environment
If you have a flea infestation on your dog, there’s a good chance you will be fighting one in your home and yard. Take the few extra steps to treat your home and yard to help give you extra peace of mind. Start by cleaning, REALLY cleaning – Spring cleaning, fall cleaning, in-laws-coming-to-visit cleaning! Baseboards, crevices, and upholstery are favorite hiding places for fleas and their eggs. Begin by vacuuming everything, floors, carpets, area rugs, and furniture. Throw vacuum bags away (outside) or empty the vacuum canister outside in the trash. Wash all pet bedding, including covers and inserts in hot water. Wash your family’s bedding in hot water, and bathroom rugs and throws/blankets as well. Basically any place your pet likes to sleep or lounge.
Remember adult fleas are only 5% of the flea population, and adults are the only ones that are visible. Use a spray labeled for home flea treatment on upholstery, furniture, and crevices. Fog your home, choosing a fogger that kills multiple flea life stages, and always follow label directions.
How to Know if the Fleas are Gone
Your home is clean! But how can you tell if fleas are truly gone from your house? There may be no definitive answer, but you can monitor your pets for scratching, chewing, hair loss, and touch sensitivity as signs that fleas are back.
How to Keep an Infestation from Coming Back
Getting rid of fleas is hard enough, but keeping them from coming back is just as tough. During your initial efforts, you worked to get rid of fleas in your home, but the entire cycle can start over! Ongoing vigilance combined with flea protection and prevention is the key to success. It may take up to 3 months in a row to adequately clear out the flea infestation. Remember to vacuum thoroughly and regularly. Clean the interior of your car – you never know when fleas hitched a ride with you. Clean pet bedding every week. Treat your yard and all pets as directed by the product label. Be sure to set reminders to apply or administer treatment and prevention products and follow the products recommended schedules. Be sure to check your pet for fleas weekly and look for new signs of itching and scratching.
“How to Get Rid of Fleas in the House.” Bayer PetBasics. 06 April 2018.