How to Get Rid of Fleas: Detection and Prevention

A vet treats a dog with fleas.

Although fleas can be a problem for your pets all year, flea populations typically explode about five to six weeks after the weather starts to warm up. So pay special attention to flea prevention in the spring and early summer months and make sure you know how to get rid of fleas.

Spotting the Culprits

Black specks on your dog or in your dog’s bed may be “flea dirt” – the fecal matter from adult fleas. There are two easy ways to check for black specks:

  • Run a flea comb over your dog, making sure the comb reaches the skin through the coat. If black specks are on the comb when you pull it off, they might be flea dirt. If fleas are on the comb, drown them in a bowl of soapy water before they can get away or jump back on your dog. You can get a flea comb from your vet or pet retailer. Metal ones are the best.
  • Or place a white paper towel beneath your pet and rub your hands across its fur. If black specks appear on the towel, it may be flea dirt.

If infested with fleas, your dog may become very nervous, annoyed and may scratch excessively. When you discover fleas on your dog, your home is probably already part of the problem. There will be eggs, larvae, and pupae wherever your dogs like to lie around or sit. It’s time to take action!

Treating Flea Infestation

There are four parts to the treatment of a flea infestation:

  1. Kill adult fleas that are already on your dog.
  2. Kill newly-arriving adult fleas on your dog. It may take three or flour months to kill all the new adult fleas emerging from pupae in the household environment.
  3. Prevent further infestation of the home by using an insect growth regulator (IGR) to inhibit the hatching of viable flea eggs and prevent the development of larvae into adult fleas.
  4. Clear the home and the environment of flea eggs, larvae, and pupae that are already present.

You can achieve the first three by treating your pet regularly with a product that contains two active ingredients (one to kill adult fleas, the other to prevent the development of eggs and larvae.) Ask your veterinarian for the appropriate recommendation for your dog.

Flea pupae are protected by their cocoons – all pupae will have to hatch out and be killed as adult fleas on the pet. It can take several weeks for all pupae to hatch in an infested environment. If undisturbed, pupae can exist for many months in the environment, which is why encouraging them to hatch (by allowing your pets to roam their usual haunts) and regular flea treatment are important in helping to rid a home of an infestation.

Be sure to treat all dogs and cats in your home, using appropriate treatments recommend by your vet. Some pets are good at masking the signs of a flea infestation. But if one pet is infested, all pets in the household can be. This is why knowing how to get rid of fleas ahead of time can prove to be very beneficial.

Preventing Future Infestations

In addition to applying a vet-recommended flea prevention product, the following steps can also help prevent fleas from infesting your dog:

  • Frequently vacuum the areas your dog frequents, especially carpeted areas in your home, any furniture that is frequented by your dog, and your car (if your pet rides in your car). This will clean up as many immature fleas (eggs, larvae and pupae) as possible.
  • Regularly wash your pet’s bedding, blanket and other washable items in the hottest water possible (check the laundering instructions to make sure that washing in hot water won’t harm the item).
  • Keep your yard neat. Mow your lawn and rake up any leaves, brush or clippings.
  • Periodically hang door mats, rugs and other non-washable items in direct sunlight.

It’s Worth the Effort

In addition to extreme discomfort, fleas and ticks can also cause serious health problems in dogs and people.

  • When a flea bites your dog, it deposits a small amount of saliva in the skin. Your dog can develop Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD) in reaction to this saliva, which causes severe itching. In addition to your pet scratching or biting excessively around the tail, groin or backside, scabs or bumps may also appear on your pet’s neck or back.
  • Anemia may occur in pets if too many fleas suck their blood. The signs of anemia include pale gums, weakness and lethargy in your pet.
  • Dogs may become infected with tapeworms by ingesting an infected flea. Pets may have intense anal itching, and tapeworm segments may be seen around the anal area or in the feces.

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