Few things can be quite as frustrating to a dog owner as dog fleas. They can give painful bites and in some cases transmit disease. An infestation is irritating but manageable and with just a little work they can be treated and prevented.
What are they?
The first step to dealing with fleas is to make sure you understand them and their lifecycle. Fleas are small, flightless insects that survive on blood. They should be visible to the naked eye but if your dog has dark fur you may have an easier time seeing them against the skin. Otherwise, you have to hunt for them.
An irritant at every stage
A flea goes through four stages in its lifetime: egg, larvae, pupae and adult. Adult females lay eggs in batches of 20. These are laid on the host but are usually quick to fall to the ground. Eggs are very small, oval shaped and grey or white in colour.
Once the eggs hatch, larvae emerge which feed mostly on debris such as faeces, dead insects or vegetable matter. Within a week or two the larvae will spin cocoons and pupate for another one to two weeks. Adult fleas emerge and must immediately find a host for a source of blood.
Fleas tend to specialise in a particular kind of host. The type you'll find on your dog won't normally feed on humans but there are always exceptions.
It is much better to prevent a flea infestation in the first place than to try and eliminate one later. Unfortunately it 's difficult to guess the source of a flea infestation until you've already had one.
Careful vacuuming with particular attention paid to nooks, crannies and upholstered furniture will go a long way towards getting rid of eggs, larvae and cocoons.
If you've never had fleas in your home before, the most likely way for them to get in is to be carried from outside by your dog.
If you know he has been infested after a trip to a certain location (a friend's house for example) then in future, you should bathe and comb him whenever he returns home from that particular place. Use a fine-toothed comb and keep soapy water on hand to drown the fleas.
If the outdoor source is as close as your front lawn then there's little you can do besides taking extra precautions during flea season.
Spotting the signs
You can tell if your dog has fleas when he is scratches or bites excessively or develops a rash on his skin, Eggs or flea dirt (dark, hard pellets of digested blood) either in his fur or on his bedding are also a good indicator.
Your vet can recommend a number of treatments to help quickly eliminate fleas and their eggs. These usually work by killing adult fleas (and turning your pet into a walking flea death trap!) or by weakening larvae.
Because treatment usually only affects fleas in one of their life stages it is important to supplement any treatment with diligent cleaning of your dog's bedding.
Be wary of flea treatment products not provided by your vet. As ever, it is always wise to consult with your vet before beginning any sort of treatment on your animal.