Are you a dog owner that is dealing with a flea infestation? Is this the first time you have dealt with fleas? It’s just miserable isn’t it? For your dog and for you. They are not a fun problem to have.
The thing about fleas is that even if you have been extremely cautious and careful about prevention, an infestation can still happen. It says nothing about you, as a pet owner, if you have found yourself dealing with this problem. They have a way of inviting themselves into your home and onto your pet. The reality is, even if your dog is rarely outside, fleas are a concern. There is simply no way to prevent them all from being outside. They can, and will, catch a ride on animals of all kinds (squirrels, birds, chipmunks, and the list goes on) and land in your yard, which puts your dog at risk of being its next host.
If you are wanting to get to the bottom of how to avoid them altogether as well as how to get rid of them once they are there, you must first learn the basics. What are fleas and how do dogs get them are two questions that you might be asking yourself. Let’s discuss this today and let’s get you, your dog, and your home back to being flea free!
Table of Contents
- 1 What are fleas?
- 2 Are fleas worse during a specific time of year?
- 3 What diseases can be caused by fleas?
- 4 Can humans transmit fleas?
- 5 How do dogs get fleas?
- 6 Tips for keeping your dog flea free
- 7 Tips for keeping your home flea free
- 8 What should you do if you are dealing with fleas on your dog and in your home?
What are fleas?
First things first, what are fleas, anyway? They are tiny, wingless insects that live on mammals and birds. There are about 250 species just in North America.
Their bodies have tough skins which makes them really hard to kill. And they can jump!! As a matter of fact, they can jump over 200 times their length in distance. Their mouthparts are designed to suck blood.
Most females lay eggs in dirt or lint. Some will even attach their eggs directly to a host’s hair (or feathers). Females can lay around 500 eggs in her lifetime and she can live up to 18 months (if well fed). They go through a complete metamorphosis—eggs, larvae, pupae, adults. The larvae emerge from eggs in about 9 days. They are worm-like and use hooks at the end of their abdomen to hold on to host’s hair. They eat organic matter and are not parasitic in this phase. After about a month, they then pupate in silken cocoons for about another month. They can remain dormant in this stage for more than six months. They emerge when they start sensing vibrations from potential hosts.
Are fleas worse during a specific time of year?
Fleas tend to be more of an issue during the warmer months (think April through October), however in warmer climates, fleas can be an issue year round. They prefer warm, somewhat humid weather.
What diseases can be caused by fleas?
Fleas are not only annoying, but they are also known to carry a variety of diseases, some of which have had disastrous impacts on the world. For instance, fleas are thought to be the main carrier of the bubonic plague in Europe. In addition to the plague, fleas have been known to transmit diseases such as tapeworms, cat-scratch fever, murine typhus, and more through their bites.
Most of the time, you don’t really need to worry about serious complications unless your dog has flea allergy dermatitis. This is one of the most common causes of itching in dogs. When the flea bites to obtain a meal, it injects a bit of saliva which acts as an anticoagulant. This can cause a very itchy response and red bumps on sensitive dogs.
Can humans transmit fleas?
Not to freak out anyone, but there is a species of human flea called Pulex irritans. But in general, humans tend to just be carriers. You may want to be aware of this if you happen to visit anyone with pets, or if you happen to visit or hike in a forested area where fleas are prevalent. Additionally, people who visit your home may be an unwitting carrier of fleas as well.
How do dogs get fleas?
Unfortunately, it is quite easy for dogs to get fleas. They simply need to visit a place where fleas are, or even get near another animal that has fleas. Fleas have impressive jumping skills and can easily move from dog to dog, or animal to dog, or ground to dog. It is almost instantaneous and even if you are right there with your dog you likely will not see it happen.
Fleas like to live in moist, shady places. You will not find them in areas that will be hit with full sunshine for most of the day. They can be found in tall grass, shrubs, wood piles, piles of leaves, a dog’s house, and any other moist areas.
Tips for keeping your dog flea free
In order to keep your dog flea free, it is imperative that you be proactive on a regular basis. They are good at what they do, you need to be good too, especially during the peak of flea season.
Did you know that some plants repel fleas more than others? If you are planning to do some landscaping on your property, you may want to look into what plants would be best for this. Some examples of common plants which you may want to consider include:
Some people say that spreading food-grade diatomaceous earth on their lawns really helps to prevent infestations. Some people suggest carefully sprinkling some on your dog as well, but just avoid their eyes and muzzle areas. I wouldn’t suggest this as it can be really drying to your dog’s coat. I put some on Dylan and Rainey over the summer. While it didn’t cause any issues with Dylan, on Rainey, it caused severe irritation.
Another option we have read is introducing a certain species of nematode to the yard. Nematodes are microscopic organisms which can be parasitic to flea larvae. They don’t however harm any of your vegetation or cause any harm to your pets or yourself.
The simplest thing to do is to keep your grass cut short, trim your shrubs, and rake out leaves. This will help to limit the areas where fleas love to live. You can also look at cutting some tree limbs and branches to expose more sunlight into your yard.
There are many options available including pills, collars, sprays, and drops. They have more all-natural versions which act as repellents as opposed to killing the fleas. You can get medication that will kill the pests on contact. Or even some that just contain birth control to break the life cycle.
Speak to your veterinarian about the medication that would be best for your dog. Using over-the-counter medications can be risky, especially if your dog has special needs (old age, underlying health conditions, etc), so speaking to the vet first is the safest choice.
Always check your pet for fleas
After taking your dog out on a walk, to the dog park, or even out in your yard, be sure and check your dog for evidence of fleas. Well do your best anyway, those buggers can be hard to find depending on length and color of your dog’s fur. But it’s a good idea anyway as you may find some ticks wandering around.
Regular grooming and flea combing
Keep your dog groomed and brushed often. In between grooming sessions, regularly comb your dog with a flea comb to catch any rogue fleas that you may come into contact with. Make sure to have a bowl with soapy water next to you—that’s the best and easiest way to kill the ones you get with the comb.
Tips for keeping your home flea free
One way to keep your home flea free is to vacuum regularly. This habit alone can help to ward off a flea infestation. Make sure to vacuum everywhere in your home, putting extra focus on the places where your pet sleeps and spends the most time. Empty your vacuum canister as soon as you are done, or toss the vacuum bag and immediately take your trash outdoors to prevent any possible fleas from getting out of the vacuum.
What should you do if you are dealing with fleas on your dog and in your home?
If you are already dealing with an infestation, here are the first steps you should take to remedy the situation:
For your dog:
- Use a flea comb. A flea comb (the kind with long, thin teeth) does a great job of getting rid of fleas. Here are some tips on making the best use of a flea comb:
- Be sure to take your pup outside in lots of natural light so you can see well, and so you are not just letting fleas loose in your home.
- Focus on the base of the tail as well as the neck. These are the places that fleas tend to gravitate toward.
- After each comb through your dog’s fur, dip the comb into a cup of warm, soapy water to drown the fleas.
- Bathe your dog. You can bath your dog using a dog/cat safe soap. Don’t stress that you need a special flea-killing soap because any soap will kill fleas.
For your home:
- Thoroughly sweep, mop, and vacuum all areas of your home, even areas that your dog does not frequent (like under the sofa or behind the dresser).
- Wash and dry all bedding in the house, using hot water.
- Steam clean all of the carpets in your home, again making sure to get all areas.
If, after completing all of the above steps, you are still dealing with a flea infestation, it may be time to call an exterminator.