Does my dog have fleas?

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Dog fleas - how to get rid of dog fleas. There's no doubt about it - the mighty flea is the bane of any dog.

Dog fleas are not easy to get rid of but help is available. They only have six tiny legs and no wings, but the little critters are capable of leaping on to even the tallest of dogs in a single bound. After just 24 hours of landing in the comfy fur of your dog, an adult female flea will start to produce around 50 eggs a day, which will soon fall off your pet and into every corner and crevice of the home. While on your pet adult fleas mate and within 24 – 48 hours the female begins laying eggs in your dog's coat. The mature larvae spin a protective cocoon around themselves to become a pupa and within this cocoon develop into adult fleas. They can survive in this state for up to one year.

Traditionally a seasonal problem, these itchy invaders are now a year-round nuisance thanks to central heating in the majority of houses. So how can you tackle these unwanted lodgers, and just what can you do to send them packing?

Signs that your dog has fleas

Frequent scratching, biting, chewing, licking, and rubbing himself can signal a flea infestation in your dog. Another telltale sign is pink bite marks on your dog's skin or even on your own ankles and lower legs. Some dogs can get allergic skin reactions from flea bites leading to inflamed, itchy areas which can develop into large, open sores and lead to hair loss.

Flea check

A good way of checking for fleas is to look for flea droppings in your dog's coat. They will resemble dark specks. Flick the dirt off with a brush on to a piece of damp white paper and if it is flea dirt it will dissolve and show up as reddish-brown stains.

The flea life cycle

Stage one

While on your pet adult fleas mate and within 24 – 48 hours the female begins laying eggs in your dog's coat.

Stage two

After one or two days the eggs hatch into larvae, which avoid light and feed on environmental debris such as adult flea droppings and human skin scales. They can be found deep in carpet fibres, mattresses or sofa stuffing materials.

Stage three

The mature larvae spin a protective cocoon around themselves and develop into adult fleas. They can survive as pupae for up to 1 year.

Stage four

The fleas within these pupae cannot be killed by household sprays! They are stimulated to hatch by a combination of warmth, CO2 and vibrations – ie a signal that their blood meal is nearby. They can hatch out in less than a second and jump onto the pet (or you!), bite and then start to feed.

Flea treatments for dogs

A wide variety of anti-flea products can be found on the shelves and at the vet's in many different forms so it's important you ask a professional which one would be best for your pet. There is no such thing as a flea repellent as nothing will stop a flea from jumping on but as long as you use a good product regularly, you can rest easy knowing that any fleas you do see on your pet will be killed within 24 hours before they can start to lay eggs.

Always wear disposable rubber or plastic gloves when applying treatment and follow the guidelines on the packaging. Making a visit to your vet is a good first port of call for advice on suitable treatments for your dog.

Help protect your pet and home from fleas

1. Treat all pets in the household

Treat all pets in the household. Treat them all on a regular basis all year round. Remember it is much easier to prevent a home infestation than to treat one. Fleas also carry tapeworm and can transmit them from animal to animal so keep worming programmes up to date.

2. Home treatment

Sprays can help but do not rely on them on their own – you must still treat your pets! Remember that pupae CANNOT be killed by household sprays and must hatch out and onto a treated pet in order to be destroyed.

3. Vacuum

Blitz the house thoroughly with a vacuum cleaner, including soft furnishings, cracks, and skirting boards as fleas, their eggs and larva can lurk anywhere and everywhere. Regular vacuuming can be an effective way of helping to get on top of a home infestation but it will not get rid of pupae – it may encourage them to hatch out however, and then be killed by jumping onto a treated pet. Place an insecticidal flea collar inside the dust bag, seal, and dispose of it afterwards.

4. Groom

Regular grooming sessions can help. Flea shampoos are not recommended and if you're using a topical flea treatment on your pet be careful not to wash them too often as this can remove the flea treatment product from the pet's skin and make it less effective.

5. Wash

Stop fleas in their tracks by washing all your pet's bedding in hot soapy water as flea eggs and larvae will usually accumulate in it. Do not forget fleeces and throws used to protect furniture or car interiors.

Did you know?
  • 95 per cent of flea infestations live in rugs, carpets, sofas, and beds.
  • A flea accelerates 50 times faster than a space shuttle.
  • The most common species found on dogs is the cat flea.

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