the most common dog parasites. Even with regular bathing and grooming, the tireless critters can find their way to the tender flesh of unsuspecting dogs (and dog owners). The bloodsuckers not only don’t pay rent, they cause itching and can transmit diseases to their hosts.
Happily, controlling fleas has become much simpler, safer, and more effective in the last few years. New products that break the flea’s reproductive cycle make it possible to keep the little biters at bay without exposing your dog to toxic chemicals.
Your dog’s continuous itching and scratching will probably be your first clue that he’s got fleas. If you look closely, you may actually see the little dark brown bugs. More likely, though, you’ll see what look like black and white specks. The black specks are “flea dirt,” or flea feces. The white specks are flea eggs. If you do see actual fleas, they won’t be easy to catch because they move fast and can jump farther than you’d think their tiny legs could take them.
If you think you’ve spotted some but aren’t quite sure, run a flea comb (a fine-toothed comb) over your dog’s back, groin area, haunches, and tail. These are the places fleas like most.
While some dogs experience nothing more than itching, others can develop flea allergy dermatitis. Heavy infestations can be serious enough to cause anemia. Some fleas carry diseases, such as typhus and tapeworm infections, that can be transmitted to your dog.
To really get rid of fleas, you have to disrupt their life cycle. Fleas thrive in moist, humid environments — that’s why they’re a much bigger problem in the summer than in winter.
A adult flea can live for four months on the body of a dog, but it’ll die in a couple of days without its canine host. After a nice meal of blood, fleas mate on the dog’s skin. The female can produce as many as 2,000 eggs during her short lifespan.
Those eggs fall off and hatch all over the house in the carpet, on the couch, under the covers. Eventually those newly hatched fleas will need to find a host of their own, and the whole cycle starts all over again. So it’s not enough to kill the adult fleas; you have to get rid of all the eggs and larvae, too.
How to prevent fleas
New products are less toxic than older remedies and have made it easier to protect your dog from fleas. Some of these options can be pricey, but the upside is that they work.
Three types of control. Different vets like to use different products for controlling fleas. The most popular choices generally include spot-ons, which are dabbed between a dog’s shoulder blades each month; pills, which are also effective for a month; and sprays for the yard, which can work for up to three months.
What doesn’t work. It’s generally agreed that collars don’t work well, particularly pricey electronic flea collars. Products using only permeation as the active ingredient usually don’t work well, because fleas have built up an immunity to this insecticide.
If you think your yard is where the fleas are coming from, you’ll need to treat it, too, with a spray product that kills fleas but is safe for pets and people.
Some of the effective flea control products are only available at a veterinarian‘s office. Those that are combined with heart worm preventive require a prescription.