Your trusty guide to dog skin problems

Fleas On Dogs, Part One: Where, Why, How

Fleas. Say that to anyone who has a dog and they’ll start giving you looks of horror. “Oh god!” They’ll say, clutching their furry friends as though they’ll be parted forever at any moment, “You mean my dog has them?” Cue the frenzied ruffling through their furs before they let out an audible sigh, right before the attempt to strangle you.

You might laugh at their overreaction – it’s hypothetical situation, after all – but if you have a dog of your own, you wouldn’t be laughing either, would you?

Just in case you said ‘Oh sure I still would’, well… you shouldn’t.

Here’s why.

If your dog is a walking flea population center, he will die by getting his blood sucked out of him. His veins will be empty, his tongue a slight tinge of pink, and fleas will cover his body and drink to their hearts content.

Sorry, that was a little harsh. But do you see where I’m going with this? It’s really no laughing matter. If it goes unchecked, your dog’s life will be in danger. Fortunately, most dog owners will panic and send him to a pet hospital ASAP if the severity of the situation even exceeds half of that very grim picture I just painted above, but it’s good to know just how much damage fleas can do if left unchecked.

I once watched a program on the Discovery Channel about an emergency animal clinic. Can’t remember the name of the show (If you could tell me, I would appreciate it!), but there was this case where a puppy was neglected by his owners, and there were fleas just hanging out underneath his floppy ears. It covered the whole area like a cave full of bats. To tell the truth, thinking about it now still gives me the shivers, it was insane how bad it was.

The poor little guy’s gum and tongue were – you guessed it – light pink. He was severely anemic and he needed help at once. After a good verbal lashing by the lady heading the response unit, the puppy was brought to their lab, where they started helping him by plucking out every single flea they found. Still cringing at the thought, here.

Anyway, here are some spoilers: the dog was eventually healed and he turned out perfectly fine and full of energy, so that was a great ending to the story.

You’re probably panicking about the same happening to your dog. That’s great, but perfectly unnecessary. Great because you care about your dog, and people love you for that. Unnecessary because it’s near impossible for your dog to get like that, if you spend enough time around him. Remember that in the case from TV that I described above, the owners were plainly apathetic about the dog’s life. If that’s not you, then that’s not what your dog will be like.

However, having a couple of fleas sharing real estate on your dog is still a no-go. For one thing, they’ll multiply, and fast. Even two is enough to make your dog’s daily life a living hell. You’ll need all the information you can get to combat a case of fleas, and you’ll be given an education right… now.


What’s A Flea?

In very simple terms, a flea is a tiny six-legged insect that sucks blood. There are around 2000 species of them on Earth, but the ones that love drinking dog blood are the aptly-named dog flea, and the somewhat ironically-named cat flea. These guys are pretty tough and can live where there’s no food source for months at a time, until their prey unsuspectingly walks into the area and provides them with a good meal, or a thousand.

Their infiltration methods are many, but your dog would most likely get them by having a friendly greeting with other dogs in the park, or even within the park itself. In fact, they could originate from anywhere outside your home. It’s really hard to say.

The life cycle of the flea comes in four stages: the egg, the larva, the pupa and the adult flea. The female adult fleas can lay thousands of eggs onto suitable places, where they will hatch into the larval stage and start feeding on icky things like dried blood and poop. After that, they enter the pupa stage where they will hide in tough durable cases before emerging as fully-grown adults. These pupae are so resilient that no chemical pesticides can kill them, which is the reason why adult fleas seem to persist even after a really good spray that seemed to have had the potential to eradicate all life in the area.

Finally, the adult flea emerges, ready to suck on some blood and repeat the cycle anew.

It should be noted that if you do discover fleas on your dog, they only make up 5% of the total population within the vicinity. Where’s the other 95%, you say? Oh, they’re in the vicinity. That’s why you don’t declare a Mission Accomplished when your dog is free from the bugs, because there’s more where those came from and they can’t resist joining the roving buffet.


Symptoms of Fleas on Dogs

As anyone knows, fleas suck. Not just figuratively, but literally too – they survive by ingesting the blood of their prey. When they’re done with feeding, they’ll leave a small red dot on the skin. That’s usually called a ‘flea bite’. This is pretty hard to find on dogs though, so don’t immediately rule out fleas when you don’t see any of these.

The first sign that your dog is having a skin condition can be seen from the constant scratching and biting that he does, which usually means that he’s really itchy. Apart from the itching, other symptoms include hair loss in the affected area, as well as rashes, lesions and other infections. If your dog has Flea Allergy Dermatitis, it means he’s allergic to the saliva of fleas and he’ll develop the above conditions faster, along with more pronounced effects.

That’s all well and good, but we also know that there’s a ton of dog skin problems out there that have the same symptoms, right? How do you know if it’s fleas?

Here’s what you can do to be sure: First, place your dog on something disposable or washable, like a piece of newspaper, a towel, a basin or something. Then, grab a fine-toothed comb and start running it through the fur, and against the grain. If you’re lucky (or unlucky, depending on your perspective), you’ll see some dark-coloured bits dropping out of the fur and onto the newspaper/towel/what-have-you.

There’s something else you can do if you want to be sure. If you spot a few dark pellets that were just dislodged from your dog’s fur, take them and place it on a piece of tissue paper, then drip a bit of water on it. Rub it against the tissue paper if you want to hasten the process. If there’s a red stain that looks suspiciously like blood, you’re right. Those things are usually called ‘flea dirt’, but what they really are is flea poop. There is a quote that goes, ‘You are what you eat’, and this is exactly what’s happening.

Now that you’ve learned where they come from and how annoying they are, let’s move on to how they should be killed, down to the last bug. Put on your war paint, friends, because we’re declaring a war on fleas.

Head straight on to Part Two: Dog Treatments, here.

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