Anyone who has ever owned a dog has dealt with fleas, either on their pet or on someone else’s. These creepy-crawly bloodsuckers are a big nuisance, but they are also a serious threat to you and your dog’s health. Knowing how to properly shield yourself and your canine companion is the only way to keep fleas at bay.
Why Fleas Are Gross
Fleas are more than just jumping jerks with a taste for blood. They’re actually one of the dirtiest and most dangerous insects in the animal kingdom. According to pet control experts nationwide, the average flea can carry and/or transmit a wide variety of illnesses and disease despite being extremely small. In fact, it’s the flea’s unique combination of physical characteristics that makes it so lethal in the first place.
Fleas aren’t usually painted in such a frightening light, but a closer inspection may be alarming. The average flea not only reproduces at a lightning fast rate by burrowing into the flesh of your dog but it also carries one or all of the following life-threatening diseases (for both dogs and humans):
Typhus, also known as “spotted fever,” is a relatively rare infection disease that’s caused by rickettsiae and is spread through direct or indirect contact. It’s characterized by a nasty purple-colored rash, high fever, painful headaches, and sometimes delirium. Known as for its lethality during wartime and famine, typhus comes in many forms and is primarily transmitted via lice, ticks, rats, mites and fleas.
Bartonella, or cat scratch fever, is not as fun to have as the popular Ted Nugent song might suggest. Instead, it’s a highly infectious disease that’s caused by the scratch of a cat’s claw, thorn or splinter. While cat scratch disease affects every victim differently, it’s commonly categorized by a mild fever, inflammation of the lymph glands and painful swelling at the scratch site.
Tapeworms, or cestodes, are especially dangerous because, many times, their presence cannot be detected. As a parasitic flatworm, the adult spends its life in you or your dog’s intestines, siphoning out vital nutrients that should otherwise be going to support the body. Even scarier is the fact that the tapeworm’s body is comprised of segments that can detach to become independent.
- Bubonic Plague
While many people might assume that bubonic plague was wiped out in the Middle Ages, its presence is still prevalent in modern-day society. As an acute but severe disease, bubonic plague is caused by a bacteria called Yersinia pestis – a dangerous bacterium family that’s commonly found on rodents and fleas. In fact, rodents and fleas were responsible for the Black Death which swept Europe and Asia in the mid-1300’s.
Often referred to as “sand flea disease,” tungiansis is an inflammatory skin disease that originates from tropical climates such as Africa, India and South America. More common than more pet owners realize, this disease occurs when a female flea burrows into the skin causing localized redness, itching and pain. In extreme cases, it can even cause patchy hair loss.
Tularemia is an infection that is spread through insect and animal bites. Caused by a bacteria known as francisella tularensis, the subsequent symptoms depend on the infection site. For example, while it’s typically categorized as a skin infection, tularemia symptoms can include things like redness of the eye, chest pain, sore throat and exhaustion. Fortunately, it can be treated with antibiotics if it’s caught in time.
Because of the relative danger of the diseases listed above, those with pets are strongly urged to check for flea infestations regularly. However, it’s difficult to determine whether your pup has fleas if you don’t know what to look for. The following are clear signs you have problem:
- Any of the symptoms mentioned in conjunction with the flea-related diseases mentioned above
- Eggs on the base or shaft of the hair follicle
- Clumps of flea excrement near the skin
- Incessant itching and/or licking
- Look for whining or whimpering while itching/licking, as it may be a sign that you dog has an open wound due to incessant scratching.
- Skin redness (typically an indication of Tularemia)
- Hair loss (especially in patches)
- Pale-colored gums
- Development of internal parasites
If you think your sweet, loving dog is being bombarded by rambunctious fleas, it’s your responsibility as his caregiver to remedy the problem as soon as possible. Unfortunately, combatting fleas isn’t always easy, even for the most dedication paw-rent. Only by using the best flea treatments will you get anywhere close to making a difference for your dog.
10 Freaky Facts about Fleas
If you want to create an effective defense, it’s best to know what you’re up against. Just like when playing a game of chess, anticipating your opponent’s next move is the best way to win. In the same sense, understanding common flea behavior is an essential part of winning the battle against them.
The following are some of the most interesting, if not the most disturbing, facts about every pet owner’s worst four-legged foe, the common flea:
- There are over 100 species of flea that we know of so far. Scientists predict that hundreds more are yet discovered.
- A female flea can lay as many as 50 eggs every single day. Those eggs then begin a 4-part development process that makes them extremely difficult to eradicate. Many modern-day flea treatments kill adults but fail to kill eggs and larvae. Thus, repetitive treatments are usually recommended.
- As such, a female flea can consume 15 times her total body weight in blood. This figure can nearly double if she’s pregnant with those 50 baby fleas mentioned above.
- Even a small flea infestation on a dog can make it dehydrated and/or anemic. Not only do fleas reproduce at an alarming rate but
- Because flea saliva contains a dangerous allergen, your dog can actually develop an allergy to it and become very sick or develop an itchy rash as a result.
- Dangerous bacterium and diseases, especially those mentioned above, can easily be transmitted from fleas to dogs and humans – sometimes with deadly consequences.
- All fleas can jump up to 150 times their own body length. In fact, fleas have no wings and move from host to host exclusively by jumping.
- Newborn female fleas begin laying eggs within 48 hours of their first blood meal, which they seek fervently for the first seven days of life.
- Fleas, and infestations thereof, were even mentioned in the Bible. Chapter 24, verse 14 of the Book of Samuel describes a time when King Saul and 1000 of his men encountered David who said, “Who are you pursuing? A dead dog? Or a single flea?”
- Lapdogs were originally bred to distract fleas from biting the owner. Used as bait, the poor lapdog would feed the hungry bugs while the owner sat comfortably.
Obviously, fleas have developed some major survival skills and have played a big role in our society in the time they’ve infested the Earth. As fascinating as that may be to entomologists, theologists or historians however, it’s little more than a headache to homeowners and dog enthusiasts.
While completely eradicating the world’s flea population is unlikely, controlling an infestation in your home or on your pets is possible with the right measures. Aside from regularly bathing your pooch and keeping him or her away from animals that are obviously infested with fleas, there are a few other things you can do to prevent a hostile takeover.
The Seven Main Types of Flea Treatments for Dogs
There are several techniques that are used to control a flea infestation. All methods are unique in the way they work and in how they’re administered, including the dosage and timing recommendations for each. In addition, not all methods are ideal for all breeds. If you have questions or concerns, be sure to consult with your vet before using any kind of flea treatment on your dog.
Choosing the right one will determine the success of your flea-fighting endeavors, not to mention it can directly affect the health and safety of your dog. Below are the top seven most effective flea treatments for dogs and a brief description of each for your careful consideration:
- Spot Treatments
Spot treatments are a popular options for pet owners who want to eradicate fleas without a big mess. Administered via a pipette to the nape of your dog’s neck, the pre-determined dosage is tailored to your pet’s size, breed and age. This treatment is usually given monthly and can be obtained online, in-store or through a vet.
Flea collars are a skin-safe solution for minor flea infestations but are not typically used for major problems. In fact, most pet owners use flea collars are a simple preventative or protective measure only. Either way, they work by being impregnated with flea-repelling chemicals that can be worn around your dog’s neck under his regular collar day and night.
Tablets are a relatively small, generally safe and usually tasteless form of flea control. Given orally every two to three months, flea-killing tablets are to swallow or chew for most canine breeds. They are effective almost immediately but are (usually) only available through a vet. Because they work so quickly and efficiently, some flea tablets can be a little expensive.
Sprays are good for one thing and one thing only: saturating your dog’s coat after a bath or dip to create a protective barrier against jumpy, hungry fleas. Although the chemicals in the spray actively repel and kill fleas and their eggs for several weeks, the formula is quickly washed off as soon as your dog gets wet or takes another bath.
As one of the oldest flea control techniques, powders are generously sprinkled onto your dog’s fur before being rubbed into the skin. Somewhat messy and not exactly the most effective method, the extra powder is brushed out to reveal a fresh-smelling and flea-proof coat. NOTE: Take caution when using flea powders, as they can be harmful if ingested or breathed in.
Shampoos work as great intermittent flea control tool, but most shampoos are not strong enough to stand alone in your flea-fighting arsenal. Most are not potent enough to remedy the problem unless they’re used in tandem with other treatments like flea collars, tablets or sprays. On the upside, they have a variety of pleasant side effects like aromatherapy (for you and your dog), luxurious skin soothers and fur fortifiers that strengthen your dog’s coat and improve its appearance.
Dips are commonly performed by a dog groomer or licensed veterinarian because they use a potent, concentrated liquid to kill adult fleas and their eggs. The technique involves gently dipping the dog into a diluted version of that liquid before letting it air dry in a temperature-controlled environment. Considered mostly safe and highly effective in a temporary sense, this method still requires skill and caution to administer, plus it must be done often.
Tips to Help You Choose the Best Flea Treatment
It can be overwhelming to consider all the different flea treatment choices out there, especially when all you want to do is get rid of the infestation as quickly and painlessly as possible. It doesn’t have to be as complicated as you think. Simply ask yourself the following 3 questions before making your choice:
- What is my dog’s average temperament?
The way your canine behaves most of the time will determine which flea treatment is right. Does your dog hate to wear a collar? Perhaps he refuses to chew or swallow pills. Some dogs loathe bath time, and others lick so much they ingest the substance before it has time to work. That can be very dangerous if the flea treatment you choose is harmful when ingested (powders especially). Consider your dog’s unique personality before deciding on a treatment option.
- Can I keep up with the treatment schedule?
Not all flea treatments are the same. They differ greatly in things like functionality, effectiveness and cost. However, giving your dog partial doses or administering an incomplete regimen can do more harm than good. Make sure you can stay on top of the treatment schedule before committing.
- Is this treatment option safe for my dog and my household?
While some treatment methods are highly effective or safer than others, be aware that some may pose a danger to your dog or family, especially if someone has an allergy or chemical sensitivity. As always, when in doubt, talk to your vet about it.