Fleas in dogs

Why do dogs get fleas?

Dogs and cats are often infested with fleas through contact with other animals or contact with fleas in the environment. The strong back legs of this insect enable it to jump from host to host or from the environment onto the host.

What is a flea’s life cycle?

It is important to kill fleas quickly before their life cycle can be completed and an infestation develops. The flea life cycle can take as little as 12 to 14 days or as long as 180 days. Under typical household conditions, a complete lifecycle usually takes 3 to 6 weeks.

  • An adult flea can lay hundreds of eggs in a matter of days
  • Flea eggs fall off pets onto carpet, bedding into floorboards and onto soil
  • After hatching, larvae eat the faeces of adult fleas and other organic debris before spinning a cocoon and pupating
  • The pupa can stay in the cocoon for up to a year, waiting for the right conditions to emerge.

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What are the signs your dog has fleas?

The first sign of fleas for many pet owners is their dog's repeated itching, scratching and chewing. You may see fleas or flea dirt (flea faeces) on your dog. A dog's constant itching and scratching may lead to visible patches of hair loss and reddened, irritated skin.

Although many dogs are very itchy and uncomfortable, some dogs may show no signs at all and fleas can be difficult to see. In addition to making your pet uncomfortable, fleas can also transmit other parasites, such as tapeworms, to a dog.

What harm can fleas cause?

Fleas can cause serious disease in cats and dogs, such as flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) and even anaemia. Fleas can also carry tapeworm larvae, which your pet can become infected through accidentally ingesting fleas while they are grooming themselves.

What to do if my dog has fleas?

Find a suitable flea treatment for your dog and any other pets in your house. Many products kill adult fleas on the pet as well as larvae in the home and if you have an infestation of fleas in living in your carpets, ensuring you treat the environment is also essential.

What flea treatments are available?

There are a number of flea treatments available and many treat a number of other parasites too. Different products also have different lengths of intervals between treatments so it is important to ensure you follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and seek guidance from your vet. 

How often should I treat my dog for fleas?

This will vary product to product and it is important you read the product guidelines.

How do I treat my home for fleas?

Fleas can survive without a host for many months; clean bedding regularly and vacuum furniture, floors and skirting boards to help destroy fleas at each stage of their lifecycle; Throw away the dust bag from your vacuum after each use. Suitable environmental measures are also recommended. Regular use of an effective ectoparasitide will prevent re-infestation

How can I prevent fleas?

  • Fleas and ticks are external parasites that can cause extreme discomfort and serious illness in pets and even people.
  • Fleas and ticks are easily prevented from bothering your pet with safe, easy to administer, effective products.
  • Parasite prevention also may require treating your home and keeping pets out of areas where fleas and/or ticks are likely to lurk.
  • Flea or tick control products meant for dogs should never be used on cats and vice versa

What can I do when fleas keep coming back?

Due to the flea lifecycle, new fleas may continue to emerge in the home for 6 weeks or longer after initial application of an effective flea treatment to your pet, therefore more than one treatment may be required. It is also recommended that all cats, dogs and rabbits in the household be treated. Suitable environmental measures are also recommended. Regular use of an effective flea product will prevent re-infestation.  If you are still receiving problems having treated your home environment too, it maybe you need to call out a local pest controller to treat your home.

Who can I contact for further advice?

The Kennel Club is not a veterinary organisation and is unable to provide general or case specific veterinary advice.  If you have any questions regarding any of the issues discussed in this article then please contact your local veterinary practice for further information.

This article was written by Luke Gamble, CEO of Worldwide Veterinary Service and Mission Rabies and star of Sky One's Vet Adventures who has given the Kennel Club kind permission to replicate this article.  

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