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Health & Wellness

Signs of fleas on dogs and how to get rid of them

Here’s why your dog has been scratching

You aren’t the only one who’d love to be around your pup 24/7. Fleas, which are wingless insects that feed on animal blood, love to hang out on dogs — and once they arrive, they're hard to get rid of. Almost immediately after a flea attaches itself to a pet, they start producing offspring. 

“Fleas can feed on an animal within minutes, mate and begin laying eggs,” Dr. Aliya McCullough, Fetch’s on-staff vet, explains to The Dig. “Females begin laying eggs within 24 to 36 hours after their first blood meal and can lay 40 to 50 eggs a day.”

Because fleas can spread easily and quickly, you should act fast at the first sign of a flea bite on your dog. Dr. McCullough is sharing treatment options for fleas on dogs and ways to prevent them from attaching to your pet in the first place. 

Signs of fleas on dogs

When a flea bites your dog, its saliva causes an intense reaction. Dr. McCullough says that when a dog is scratching or biting themselves, it’s a telltale sign that fleas are the culprit. Unfortunately, flea eggs are hard to spot because they’re small and white (almost transparent). Visit your veterinarian if you see your dog itching or chewing on their skin.

Some conditions like allergies, mites, lice and bacterial skin infections can mimic the symptoms of fleas on dogs. So, it’s essential to confirm the root of their scratching with your veterinarian early on. 

Flea bites on dogs

Spotting flea bites is just as challenging as spotting flea eggs. “Pet parents will likely not see flea bites on their dogs,” Dr. McCullough explains. “It’s more common to see flea dirt and/or evidence of self-trauma on their dogs.” And by flea dirt, she means flea feces that looks like brown oval dots on your pup. 

Ask your veterinarian about a flea comb if your dog looks like they’ve been affected by fleas. Dr. McCullough recommends brushing your dog’s back, tail and around their face and neck as these are the areas fleas like to cluster around. 

Unless fleas severely infest your home, don’t worry about them attaching to your family members. According to Dr. McCullough, fleas prefer to adhere to dogs and cats and will only temporarily latch onto people. To remove flea eggs from your home, Dr. McCullough recommends hiring a professional extermination service. 

What is the life cycle of fleas on dogs? 

Flea larvae, or the immature form of fleas, are deposited in an environment by female fleas and typically hatch between 2 to 12 days. The flea larvae can stay in their immature forms for up to a year but usually become adults when they sense that your pup is nearby. Once the flea has attached to your dog, it can live on and feed off of them for the flea’s entire life cycle — which can be anywhere between 2 weeks to several months. 

According to Dr. McCullough, dogs typically catch fleas in an infested environment rather than from another dog. However, to be super cautious, keep your pup away from other dogs if they have fleas. 

Are certain dogs more likely to catch fleas? 

Fleas don’t discriminate between old or young dogs, and they don’t care about breeds. But, geographical areas with higher flea populations mean there’s a higher chance of your dog catching them. 

Dr. McCullough adds that the southern states have active flea populations all year round, while northeastern and midwestern states typically only have a spike between May to November.

How to get rid of fleas on dogs

Dr. McCullough suggests asking your veterinarian about year-round flea control products. “Flea treatment options include both oral and topical products,” Dr. McCullough adds. “Most flea treatment products will start killing live fleas within hours and act as a monthly preventive.” 

Talk to your veterinarian about deworming your pup, too. Fleas can transmit tapeworm and bacterial infections, so deworming is a good preventative step. If your dog has a secondary infection from fleas, your vet may recommend antibiotics, anti-fungal medications and anti-itch treatments. 

Most flea treatments for puppies are the same for adult dogs, but your veterinarian can determine the proper treatment based on your dog’s age and weight. 

Home remedies for flea eggs on dogs

According to Dr. McCullough, there are no home treatments that cure fleas on dogs. However, in addition to hiring a professional exterminator, there are some things you can do around your space to reduce fleas, including: 

  • Discard or wash dog bedding
  • Vacuum daily (and keep the vacuum bags in a tightly-sealed trash bag)
  • Reduce humidity as fleas love warm, humid environments
  • Avoid excess carpeting
  • Cut your grass regularly
  • Remove excess leaves and brush from your outdoor areas

Essential oils for fleas on dogs

Most essential oils are unsafe to use around dogs — nor do they help get rid of fleas.

“Essential oils for flea treatment and prevention have been found to be ineffective,” Dr. McCullough says. “They can also cause skin irritation, drooling and stomach upset.”

Flea prevention for dogs

The best way to prevent fleas from attaching to your pet is to start your pup on year-round flea control medication (no matter where you live). Dr. McCullough recommends regularly treating your home and backyard for people living in areas with higher flea populations.

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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