Fleas on dogs, believe it or not, are most often – cat fleas! Did you know that? There is a species called dog flea (Ctenocephalus Cannis, if you’re interested in its Latin name), but the species called cat flea (want to know its Latin name too? didn’t think so) is much more spread. And, since fleas usually aren’t very picky about their snack, cat flea will happily feast both on a cat and on a dog. Oh, yes – on you too. Flea bites, you will possibly share them with your pet.
It doesn’t really matter what kind of flea made your dog its moving restaurant. Except from some minor differences in morphology, they all are bloodsucking parasites and you need to get rid of them ASAP! Easier said than done if you know anything about fleas (click the link if you want to learn more), but there are ways to do it…
How do dogs get fleas?
If you did click on the link above, you may have learned that fleas undergo some stages in their life cycle. What interests us are stages of pupa and adult flea. When in its pupate state, a flea feeds on the feces of adult flea (not so much yikes! – it’s dried blood actually) and lies and waits for an animal to approach. They react to vibrations, sound and heat, and when these conditions change, the flea will leave the cocoon and jump on the food.
Bad news – this form can be found practically everywhere: in the house, in the yard, on the beach, in the grass, on the sand… just waiting for your dog to come by.
Also, a dog can get fleas, adult fleas, form other dog – if your pet sniffs with other dogs or play with them, a flea can jump from one to another. Since fleas can jump several inches, the contact with another dog is all it takes for an adult flea to change host.
What do fleas look like on dogs?
What you will notice more often than the actual flea (unless your pet is suffering from a serious flea infestation) are tiny black dots in the fur that look like bits of black dirt. That’s flea excreta, dried blood to be precise. Easy to spot them if your pet has white fur, not so easy with darker furred animals. You can check more flea bite images here
Interestingly enough, pet owners rarely see the adult fleas running around. Fleas are sneaky: they move fast and avoid the light, so it often takes a lot of systematic coat searching in order to see the actual flea, so the poo they leave behind is their best telltale card. If you’re not sure if what you found on your dog’s fur is flea excreta or just some dirt, take a sample and put it on a white paper, then wet it and leave for a couple of minutes. If it’s flea excreta, it will leave red corona around it, since it’s full of blood.
Another thing to keep in mind. It’s rare to see fleas around the face of a dog, or cat. They usually hang around the animal’s thighs, tail-base, belly, rump, back line, places that are difficult for the host to reach by chewing or scratching, so that’s where you want to look for them.
On the left flea picture you can see an adult flea crawling through the fur of a dog, with tiny black dots around it. Again, it’s much, much easier to spot both adult fleas and their excreta on white animals. With the darker ones, you will need a comb and lots of patience.
Flea bites on dogs: what harm can they do?
A lot, actually. Even if there’s nothing more than just scratching, it can lead to hair loss and hot spots, because your dog becomes obsessed with cleaning itself by scratching and chewing. Some animals are sensitive to flea bites, so one bite can be all it takes for a dog to develop allergic reaction – and one single flea can bite more than 300 times a day!
The common risks also include flea allergy dermatitis, anemia, getting all sorts of other parasites, namely tapeworm as the most common… We have another section dedicated to flea bites on dogs, because it’s not a simple matter that can be covered in one paragraph.
How to get rid of fleas on dogs
Another complex one. Flea collars, topical treatments, oral medications, flea shampoos, combs and powders, you will need a few of those in your fight against fleas. Unfortunately, in most cases it doesn’t end here: as we already said, your dog has likely picked up fleas somewhere in the surroundings, so your home and your yard will need treatment too.
Fleas on dogs aren’t just adult fleas, and aren’t just on dogs. Unless you proceed with a proper flea control treatment of the environment, you’re facing another flea invasion as soon as larvae develop into pupae, and pupae feel the host approaching. We covered it in more details here: Get rid of fleas on dogs and Get rid of fleas in your house.