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What are the different symptoms of dog fleas?

Brown dog scratching advice
© Shutterstock

As with anything that irritates or harms your dog, the sooner you discover the problem the better. This especially goes for a dog flea infestation.  

By Dawn Parrish

What are fleas?

Dog fleas are small, blood-sucking parasites. There are more than two thousand flea species worldwide, but unusually, the flea that bothers dogs the most isn’t the dog flea. This culprit is the Ctenocephalides felis, otherwise known and the cat flea. While it probably appears strange that the flea that bites your dog is a “cat flea”, certainly this species of flea is understood to plague more than fifty different bird and mammal specials worldwide. As your dog goes about his daily routine, he has many opportunities to pick up a flea!

Flea on a dog
How to recognise a dog flea © Shutterstock
 

How fleas affect your dog

Fleas are certainly more than just bothersome and irritating insects. They are known to be one of the main instigators of skin irritation, scratching and of course, itching in dogs. Just by crawling around on the dog’s skin, they will cause a degree of aggravation. Inevitably, once they settle on your dog, they will very quickly begin to feed. Dog fleas survive by biting into the host’s body and dining on the host’s blood. Due to these annoying flea bites, some dogs will have a mild reaction. However, others, particularly small-breed dogs and small pups can become seriously ill and anaemic as a result of the blood loss.

Dog flea symptoms to look out for

One of the most common problems that dog fleas cause is an allergic reaction. This hypersensitive reaction is the response to the constituents of flea saliva. Certainly, a dog that is hypersensitive to this saliva can suffer nasty reactions as a result of just a small number of flea bites. Their body will become terrible itchy. The areas of the body more frequently involved are the arm-pits, flanks, belly, and base of the tail, thighs and the dog’s bottom. If you think that your dog has fleas, check for these signs and symptoms in these or different areas.

  • Constant scratching
  • Licking   
  • Nibbling and attempting to chew the skin      
  • Rubbing against the furniture        
  • Sores on the body (sometimes bleeding/weeping/rawness)       
  • Scabs      
  • Infected puss oozing from the infected bites        
  • Alopecia (hair loss patches)       
  • Segments of tapeworm or larvae in the dog’s stool and around the anus

A flea bite is probably the main suspect if your dog begins to scratch for no apparent reason. You certainly need to do some investigating before you can definitely put the blame on a flea for your pet’s discomfort.

What does a dog flea bite look like?

When a flea bites your dog they will leave behind evidence of small, raised, red dots on the dog’s skin. Initially, they appear as tiny insect bites. Almost certainly, your dog will scratch these bites and the skin will become inflamed. Your dog may have a stronger reaction to a bite, resulting in a large, red inflamed area.

If a flea bites a human, tiny red dots will appear on the skin. Due to the fact that we don’t have dense fur layers, they are much more obvious and intensely itchy.

Other signs of fleas on dogs to look out for

First of all, we can diagnose dog fleas by the appearance of bites on the skin. You can also inspect the dog’s body and fur by searching for the parasites themselves, or evidence of their droppings. These pests are usually more prominent on the base of the tail, the abdomen, lower back, ears and the dog’s neck. Measuring approximately 1-3mm long, it’s quite easy to spot their black or dark brown bodies scurrying along. They are even more obvious on a dog with light-coloured skin or hair.

Fleas on dogs
Symptoms of fleas on dogs © Shutterstock
 

Signs of flea droppings

Flea dirt or droppings look just like specks of pepper sprinkled over your dog’s body. This isn’t actually poo remains, but are dried blood specks. You can verify this by placing some onto a damp piece of kitchen paper. As a result of the rehydration, they will turn from dark brown to red. The most suitable way to hunt for these pests and their droppings is to groom your dog using a fine-toothed comb on your pet’s fur. This should confirm any flea activity on your dog.

The best way to prevent these pet parasites in the first place is to ensure that your dogs and any other pets at home are treated regularly with specific shampoos or medications. If you discover an infestation, the goal is obviously to provide relief against the pain and itchy discomfort that accompanies these bites. Even more important is the elimination of the fleas from your pet’s home environment.