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You've noticed your dog scratching more often but you didn't think much of it — that is, until today, when you noticed fleas on their belly as you were rubbing their favorite spot. Fleas on dogs may make you squirm, but fortunately for your pup and your household, flea treatment for dogs can help keep these pesky insects away.
What Are Fleas? How Long Do They Live?
Fleas are small, flightless insects that survive by feeding on the blood of their host, which in this case is your dog. According to Pest World, fleas will feed on any warm-blooded animal, including humans — though they prefer hairy animals, such as dogs, cats and rabbits.
According to Pet Basics, fleas can carry diseases and cause your dog various health issues, including flea allergy dermatitis, tapeworm, bartonellosis and anemia.
It's important to understand that a flea goes through four life stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. So, though you may only see adult fleas on your dog's body, there are likely eggs elsewhere on their fur or in your house. The eggs will then cycle through the life stages, making flea extermination a potentially long process.
When Are Fleas a Problem?
Depending on where you live, fleas may either be a year-round concern or just a nuisance during the warmer months. The American Kennel Club has a helpful guide that you can use to determine your state's flea season. Just keep in mind that an earlier spring or longer fall means flea season will start earlier or end later. To be safe, many veterinarians suggest year-round prevention.
Your dog can get fleas almost anywhere. Dogs can bring them in from the outdoors, or get them from another animal. They can also enter your home through your own clothing, so be sure to do a thorough clothing wash if you find fleas in your home.
How to Prevent a Flea Infestation
It's always best to prevent a flea infestation rather than try to eliminate one. But that's somewhat easier said than done as it can be tough to guess the source of an infestation until you've already had one. The first step is to do a thorough vacuum of your home, paying particular attention to nooks and crannies and upholstered furniture. This can go a long way toward getting rid of eggs, larvae and pupae.
If your dog has had fleas before and you know it happened after a trip to a certain location, then be sure to bathe and comb them whenever they return home from that particular place. Use a fine-toothed comb and soapy water to drown the fleas.
Using a preventive flea treatment is also an option. Talk with your vet to decide if an oral or topical drug could be helpful for your dog.
How to Tell If Your Dog Has Fleas
One of the easiest ways to tell if your dog has fleas is by examining their body. However, because fleas are so small and camouflage themselves so well — especially in dogs with dark hair or fur — they can be hard to spot. One way to help guide your search is to put a belt around your dog's waist. Generally speaking, the most common places you'll find fleas hiding is behind that belt near their rump and tail base.
You'll also want to look for other signs, such as flea dirt, a brownish-black mixture of flea excrement and dried blood. You may also notice flea eggs, which are transparent or white minuscule sacs, though these may be even harder to see than the fleas themselves.
Don't just search for fleas on your dog's body. Any bedding or fabric they spend time on, such as pillows, blankets or carpet may have fleas, flea eggs or flea dirt on them.
Flea Treatments for Dogs: Medication Types & Talking to Your Vet
If you think your dog might have a flea problem, contact your vet as soon as possible to figure out what type of treatment to use. Different types of treatments include oral or topical medications, shampoos and medicated collars. Flea treatments and medications work in a couple different ways: some that will kill the flea on contact and some that work when the flea tries to bite. They both have their effective applications, so make sure to ask your vet which one is right for your dog. These treatments don't usually require a prescription, but the most effective ones will still require you to speak with your vet. Also, be sure to ask your vet about possible side effects and drug interactions if your dog is taking other medications.
While flea treatments will kill adult fleas and weaken larvae, remember that fleas have various life cycles, so a one-time treatment won't solve a flea infestation. You'll need to continue the treatment as long as your veterinarian instructs, but it is advised to continue year-round treatment to ensure that eggs don't have the chance to hatch (and that no adults lay eggs), and mitigate any other health risks. Fleas on dogs can be a huge headache to deal with, but by using flea treatment for dogs and careful grooming habits you can help avoid a more serious infestation.
Erin Ollila believes in the power of words and how a message can inform—and even transform—its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print, and includes interviews, ghostwriting, blog posts, and creative nonfiction. Erin is a geek for SEO and all things social media. She graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.