No one wants their dog to get fleas.
They’re itchy, they’re persistent, and they can even carry disease. Your dog doesn’t mean to be a flea magnet, but he is!
Consistency in applying/administering your dog’s monthly flea and tick prevention medication is usually enough to keep the creepy crawlies at bay, but nothing is 100% foolproof. Even if your pet is protected, fleas can sometimes still make their way onto his body…and into your house.
So, how can you tell if your dog has fleas?
You See Fleas (Duh)
If you see a flea in your home or on your dog, you’ve got fleas. Remember that for every one flea you see just hangin’ out that there are around 100 more lurking in various states of growth. Even if you find a dead flea on the floor, you should treat your pet (and your house) as if it was alive. You might only catch a glance of a flea – they jump fast and they’re very small, about the size of poppyseeds. Remember that if you “catch” a flea on your dog and try to squish it with your fingers, it should be relatively hard to do. Fleas don’t squish easily so you may have simply found another innocuous bug.
Perform a Flea Inspection
It’s a good idea to inspect your dog for fleas every couple of weeks, or more if you live in a flea-prone area. The parts of your dog that are warm and protected like his armpits, groin, or skin folds are prime candidates for stowaways. Even if you don’t see fleas themselves, red, tight, bumpy skin and/or patchy hair loss on your dog could be indicative of excess scratching, which is often caused by fleas.
If your dog’s fur is particularly long or dense, you may want to invest in a flea comb. These tools are specially designed to work right up to your dog’s skin, pulling fleas out as you drag them down. Protip: Place a white sheet or paper towel underneath your dog while you use a flea comb; if lots of black bits fall out (similar in appearance to ground pepper), you might be looking at flea feces. If the specks turn red when you dump them in water, they’re dried blood, which means fleas have been eating and pooping on your dog. We know, it’s gross. Call your vet ASAP.
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Bathe Your Dog
You’re probably already bathing your dog on the reg’, but are you actively looking for fleas? If you’re concerned about an infestation, keep some water in the tub while you use a flea comb on your dog’s fur. This is a good time to look for fallen fleas in the water, but don’t panic if you see one. (Do remove it and flush down the toilet to ensure it doesn’t hop out of the bath and lay eggs somewhere.) If you see peppery bits in the water, don’t panic that you’ve hurt your dog; you’re probably just seeing more delightful flea poop. Again, call your vet!
Look for Behavioral Changes
If your dog has fleas, he’ll probably let you know. Watch for subtle changes in his behavior to indicate an issue; restlessness, jumpiness, small yelps, and of course, excessive scratching or licking are all surefire signs something is going on with his skin. Shaking of the head and ear scratching can also be indicators of fleas…dogs can’t always localize the source of what’s “itching” him, but he’ll try.
Set Up a Flea Trap
Did you know fleas are attracted to light just like moths? One easy way to tell if there are fleas in your home is to set up a flea trap. All you need is a shallow pan filled with warm, slightly soapy water and a candle in the middle. Light the candle, make the room as dark as possible, then wait. Do not leave a burning candle alone in your house all night long! This can be easily accomplished in a couple of hours while you’re waiting safely (with your dog, so that goober doesn’t drink the soapy water) in the room next door. If there are fleas present they’ll jump towards the light, drowning themselves in the process. And remember, if you see one flea, you can bet they’re everywhere…and they’re like a heat-seeking missile for your dog.
Along the same lines, be sure to check all the areas your dog frequents as well as your dog himself. Fleas are nesting insects which means they want to be in and around your dog’s bed, his crate, and anywhere else he hangs out; he’s probably the most reliable food resource they’ve ever had. The same guidelines apply: actual fleas or flea feces spotted? Call your vet and an exterminator, too.
The best way to know for sure whether your dog has fleas is to talk to your vet. Talk to her about what to do once fleas are present and how you can prevent them from returning after you’ve gotten rid of them. And if you have concerns about your flea and tick prevention strategy? Ask! You’ve got more options than you think.