It’s starting to make her itch so badly that she has redness everywhere from scratching.
Fleas are the most common external parasite for dogs. There is so much to write about this subject, but I am going to focus on flea prevention on your dog.
If your dog has an active skin rash, you should see her vet for treatment. Some animals, in addition to being irritated by flea bites, are also allergic to them. If you have seen fleas on your pet and her skin is itchy and red, perhaps also with hair loss and tiny red bumps, then she is probably allergic to fleas. There are, however, other things that can cause similar symptoms, so don’t assume all itching is due to fleas.
To inspect for fleas, start by checking the skin around the base of her tail. For some reason, fleas like to hang out in this area. Use a flea comb or just part the fur and look for live fleas. You may also see specks of black “flea dirt,” which are flea feces. To differentiate between flea dirt and regular dirt, collect some of the flecks and place them on a wet paper towel. Gently rub the flecks into the towel. Fleas feed on your dog’s blood, so their feces are basically digested blood and will turn red when moistened.
I always tell my clients if they wait until they see fleas on their dog to start treating them, it is too late. Only the adult fleas are seen on the animal and cause the symptoms. However, if you see adult fleas, then there are many more immature fleas (eggs, larvae and pupae) living in your home and environment. Once there is a flea infestation in the home, it can take many months before it can be eliminated.
Adult fleas feed, mate and lay eggs on the dog. The eggs fall off all over your home, and are very resistant to insecticides and cleaning chemicals. The entire life cycle of a flea — egg, larva, pupa, adult, more eggs — can be completed in as few as 16 days. Once this occurs, you have an infestation that will grow and persist in your home.
The key is to prevent fleas on your dog. There are hundreds of flea control products on the market. Most are worthless or, at best, effective at killing some adult fleas but not actually preventing them. Some are actually harmful to the dog. Flea sprays, powders, dips, shampoos and collars are outdated methods of flea control. To date, there is no proven effective “natural” flea treatment, but there are many safe chemicals that have been used on dogs for decades.
There are safe and effective prescription-only flea preventives available at your vet’s office. These products often control other parasites, like heartworm, in addition to fleas. You can also find effective flea control products over the counter; however, as I mentioned before, there are many products available and they all claim to be safe and effective. Do not be fooled. Look for canine flea preventives with at least one of these active ingredients:
All of these products, except nitenpyram, are topical products that you apply once a month directly to your dog’s skin on a few spots along her back. Nitenpyram is a fast-acting oral medication that needs to be given more frequently. These are all safe for use in dogs, but be aware of different dosages and that some products formulated for dogs may also include chemicals that are unsafe for cats.
Find an over-the-counter product with some of the above ingredients, or buy something from your vet, and use it regularly — once a month, or as directed on the packaging. Fleas can be active in your home year-round, even in cold climates, so if you’ve had a problem with fleas before, use a flea preventive all year long.
– Matt Smith, DVM
Ask a Vet is intended for informational purposes only. If your dog requires veterinary attention, you should take him to your vet or animal emergency clinic for an examination. Click here to find a veterinarian near you.
Have a question concerning your dog’s health?