There are lots of things that can make your pet itch, but fleas are the first culprit that come to mind for most pet owners. When fleas shelter in your pet’s fur and start biting, they cause serious discomfort, and can even lead to grave illness.
If your pet has a severe flea infestation, the signs can be hard to miss. Once an infestation is in full swing, you may even be able to see fleas hopping about on your pet’s fur and skin. Adult fleas are small but, at 1 – 8 mm, they’re visible to the human eye. They are wingless insects with flat bodies that appear black, brown, or dark red. Though they cannot fly, they are fast moving–though you may be able to catch one or two between your fingers to confirm your suspicions, removing them will require a more measured and meticulous approach.
While we generally recommend to speak with your veterinarian about flea preventatives, here’s everything you need to know about removing fleas from your pet:
How do Pets get Fleas?
Pets can pick up fleas pretty much anywhere, but there are places they’re more likely to encounter them. During warm weather, fleas look for cool shady places in backyards, dog parks, and other areas where they can shelter in vegetation. You or your pet can bring home hitchhiking fleas anytime you enter an area where fleas are sheltering.
Many pet owners treat their yards with flea and tick repellent products, but fleas in neighboring yards and parks still pose a risk of exposure. Whether fleas enter your home on your dog’s back or your child’s pant leg, they can spread to other pets in the house and lay eggs that lead to future infestations.
How to Spot the Signs of Fleas on Your pet
Your pet may let you know right away that they’re in pain by scratching and whining, but some animals can mask their discomfort. Thankfully, fleas leave behind some telltale signs that pet owners can use to identify and eradicate fleas before they become a bigger threat to otherwise healthy pets.
Brushing your dog or cat every week is recommended, and this is a good time to look for signs of fleas, as well. You may see signs of flea bites or, in some cases, even bald spots or raw wounds or scabs.
“Flea dirt” is sometimes the only evidence of fleas that owners will see. Though the name may suggest otherwise, these black flakes in your pet’s fur are actually flea feces. Using a fine-toothed comb or flea comb can help you remove flea dirt from your pet’s fur. Once you’ve removed a few flakes, you can confirm your suspicions by pressing them against a white piece of paper with your finger. If it’s flea dirt, it will leave behind a reddish smudge.
Fleas on Dogs
Dog fleas symptoms can include:
- Hair loss
- Small, red, pimple-like bumps
- Matted hair
- Open wounds or scabs
- Black flakes on skin and fur
- Pale gums
- Restless, irritable, or unusual behavior
You can find fleas anywhere on your dog’s body. Fleas on dogs tend to flock to a few favorite places, including the thick fur around your dog’s neck and near the tail, groin, rear legs, and belly. Bites typically appear as small, red bumps and may appear in clusters or lines.
If your dog has an allergic reaction to flea saliva, they may scratch with such frequency that they break the skin. Not only does this cause your pup pain, but it can lead to secondary infections that require further treatment. Dogs can also develop anemia or become host to tapeworms as a result of flea infestation.
Fleas on Cats
Cat fleas symptoms include:
- Excessive grooming
- Hair loss
- Avoiding areas in your house
- Acting agitated or restless
- Scabs or open wounds
- Small, red, pimple-like bumps
- Black flakes on skin or fur
- Pale gums
Some pet owners find it’s more difficult to find fleas on cats. When a cat has fleas, you may notice they’re more restless than usual. They may excessively scratch, chew, or lick the same spot on their body, or you might notice them shaking their head and scratching at their ears.
Cats are fastidious groomers and can groom evidence of fleas out of their coats before you see them. Using a flea comb, you may be able to find flea dirt or fleas themselves, though the absence of either doesn’t mean they aren’t there. If your cat is scratching and you don’t know why, a visit to the vet is in order.
Left unmanaged, fleas can cause more than just itching. Fleas can lead to anemia and severe hair loss in cats, and may expose your cat to tapeworms or the blood-borne parasite haemobartonellosis.
How to Remove Fleas From Your pet
Before you invest in flea shampoos or treatments, talk to your veterinarian. If your pet has flea allergy dermatitis (an allergic reaction to fleas), hot spots, open wounds, or other skin irritations, the chemicals in flea treatments and shampoos may cause more irritation. With your vet’s guidance, removing fleas from your pet will include some or all of the following steps:
- Bathe your pet with a vet-approved flea shampoo or with mild soap and water.
- Comb your pet using a fine-toothed flea comb, paying close attention to the areas around the neck and tail where fleas most commonly feed. Flea combs are designed to remove fleas, flea eggs, and flea waste from your pet’s coat. After each pass of the comb, dunk it in hot soapy water to kill the fleas.
- Your vet may recommend a flea treatment product to kill any remaining fleas on your pet. Make sure to follow your veterinarian’s instructions when applying topical solutions or administering oral treatments, and follow up with a visit to discuss preventative flea treatments.
- Once you’ve eradicated a flea infestation on your pet, stay vigilant looking for future signs of fleas, and continue using the flea comb once a week to look for signs of re-infestation. Follow your vet’s advice to identify the best flea treatment for dogs and cats in your home, and make sure to maintain the regimen unless your vet says otherwise.
How to Prevent Fleas on Your pet
To prevent future infestations, you need to consider each of the four stages of the flea life cycle:
- Eggs: While adult fleas are pestering your pet, they’re also laying eggs. As your dog or cat scratches, shakes, and plays their way through your house and yard, they leave flea eggs in their wake.
- Larva: Larvae hatch from the flea eggs left behind in carpets, furniture, blankets, mattresses, pet bedding, and anywhere else they’ve been overlooked.
- Pupa: The surviving larvae form cocoons to complete the pupa stage.
- Adults: After pupating, new adult fleas emerge from cocoons, ready to re-infest your pets, your home, and even you.
To prevent flea eggs from hatching in your home and causing another infestation, wash all bedding, blankets, and pet beds in hot, soapy water. Vacuum carpets, furniture, and window treatments, and sweep and mop all hard floors. It can take up to 4 months to completely eradicate a flea infestation, so you’ll need to exercise patience and caution until you’re certain they’re gone.
Talk to your vet about an appropriate preventative flea treatment for your pet. There are many over-the-counter flea preventative products available, but they are not appropriate for every pet. Cats are particularly sensitive to some of the chemicals commonly used in flea collars, for example. Before considering cat flea collars, talk to your vet about a safer, long-term solution designed with cat health in mind.
The ingredients in these products can affect each animal differently depending on various factors. Flea medicine for dogs can lead to serious illness or even death when used on a cat, while flea medicine for cats may not provide your dog with the protection they need. The best and safest flea protection for your pet is the one prescribed or recommended by your vet.
We know that when your pet is uncomfortable, you want to do everything you can to help. At Continental Animal Wellness Center, we share the same goal. Our practice provides comprehensive compassionate care with a focus on our patients’ health and well-being. Whether you’re visiting us with healthy pets for their routine check-ups or one who is feeling under-the-weather, our staff is committed to providing the highest level of care while keeping your pet comfortable and safe.
Our state-of-the-art facility is equipped to provide complete care for large and small animals, including routine exams, diagnostics, sick visits, and surgeries.
Does your pet need flea treatment or preventative care? Contact us today to schedule a visit for your pet with one of our veterinarians.