The Dangers of Fleas
By Arlo the Hound with help from Honor Tarpenning
If you have a dog, than you are probably at least somewhat familiar with fleas. This is the time of year they seem to come at your dog from every corner of the yard, the house, and the dog park. Did you know that the dreaded flea is not just an irritating, itchy hassle, but also a health threat to your dog and your family?
How do I know if my dog has fleas?
If your dog seems to never stop itching, he might have fleas. Run your hand along his coat against the direction the fur lays, or use a flea comb. Are there irritated, red bumps, fast-crawling brownish-red critters, or little black specks that look like dirt? Then your dog has fleas. Other indications include “hot spots” (irritated, moist/oozing, round, hairless spots on your dog’s skin) and trouble sleeping.
What kind of problems can fleas cause?
Fleas are annoying to both humans and dogs, but they can also cause serious health problems.
Some dogs are allergic to the flea’s saliva. Rather than developing little “bug bites” like most dogs and people, they break out in large welts and present with severe skin irritation and excessive shedding--the irritation results in your dog licking and biting at the site, which often leads to infection. This is called flea allergy dermatitis. It is a self perpetuating cycle because the more your dog licks and bites at the affected area, the worse the irritation gets and the more he will want to lick and bite. This cycle can be halted by getting rid of the fleas, and putting an Elizabethan collar on your dog so he cannot worsen the problem while it heals
Fleas carry several types of internal parasites. Flea larvae feed on tapeworm eggs which then makes the flea a carrier of the parasite. As your dog grooms, he can ingest an infected flea and become infected himself. The tapeworm attaches itself to your dog’s intestinal wall and sheds eggs, which pass through the dog’s system and out of his body. These eggs are then eaten by flea larvae and the cycle continues. Symptoms of tapeworm infection include weight loss, loss of appetite, nervousness, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and rectal irritation. Humans, especially children, can become infected with tapeworms through contact with infected fleas and contact with the waste of infected animals.
Fleas can carry the mites that cause sarcoptic mange, demodectic mange, and chyletilla deramatitis, all of which can be transmitted to humans as well.
Severe flea infestation can cause flea anemia, which is characterized by a reduced level of red blood cells or hemoglobin and causes lethargy, decreased appetite, discoloration of the skin, and episodes of collapse.
Fleas are also the carriers of the bubonic plague, and murine typhus.
How does one get rid of fleas?
The process of ridding your home and your dog of fleas must be considered from multiple angles.
The first step in ridding your life of fleas is cleaning everything. Wash your dog with a flea shampoo. Flea eggs drop off your dog and can lay dormant for months, so just getting the fleas and eggs off your dog isn’t enough. Wash his bedding with hot water. Vacuum your carpets and anywhere your dog hangs out (like your couch). Once you have vacuumed, immediately remove the vacuum bag, place it in a sealed plastic bag, and take it outside. Chances are, you have vacuumed-up a bunch of flea eggs which can hatch in the bag and continue to infest your house. You can also put flea powder in the vacuum bag before you vacuum, which will kill any live fleas that may end up therein.
Prevent fleas on your dog with a spot on treatment. These are gel medications that come in small, one-time use tubes. You apply the gel to one spot near the base of your dog’s neck and he is then protected from fleas for up to a month. Most spot on treatments are waterproof, so you can still wash your dog and let him go swimming.
Each spot on flea treatment has different advantages. Some protect against ticks and mosquitoes, some protect against hookworm roundworm and whipworm, and some even protect against heartworms and mites. Talk to your vet about which spot on is right for your dog.
In the southern half of the United States, the flea season can range from seven months to a year, so if you live below the Mason-Dixon line, in the southwest, or in Hawaii, it is recommended that you treat your dog year-round
You can also treat your carpets, your dog’s bedding, and your yard for fleas with various sprays and powders to take care of any fleas your family might bring in form outside.
Here's to a flea-free summer! Stay tuned for Monday's article on what to do when you find a stray.