Fleas are some of the most common external parasites in the world and are capable of making your pet absolutely miserable. If not promptly treated, fleas may even cause serious infection and disease. Here, our Tucson vets explain what to look for when it comes to early signs of fleas and what to do if your pet has them.
What are fleas?
Fleas are external parasites that rely on a host animal for survival. Unless steps are taken to break their lifecycle, adult fleas will continue to reproduce and thrive on your pet - and in your household.
What signs of flea infestation should I look for?
Cats and dogs are often allergic to a protein in the saliva of fleas, which is why they will often start itching as soon as a flea bites their skin. Even just one flea bite will often be enough to cause pets to begin scratching and become agitated.
Besides scratching, red bumps or pimples may appear on their belly, at the base of their tail or on their behind, on their groin or under their legs. The constant itching and scratching of these areas will cause dry skin and hair loss. Lesions and infection can develop and lead to more severe diseases if fleas are left untreated.
How can I check my pet for fleas?
Adult fleas are small and brown. They are relatively easy to spot with the naked eye.
It's generally a good idea to check your pet's brush for signs of fleas while you groom them. Have your pet lie down on their side to reveal areas of their body with thinner hair, like their abdomen when you're checking for fleas.
You may see "flea dirt". This looks similar to tiny grains of sand, or black pepper when wet. To check for flea dirt (feces), use a fine-tooth flea comb available at your vet's office to comb along your pet's back and underbelly. By standing your pet on a white towel or cloth while brushing them, you will be able to easily see any black droppings that fall from their fur.
What if I can’t find any fleas, but my pet is still scratching?
If there are signs of fleas but your pet is still scratching, schedule an appointment with your vet. They will be able to administer a skin test for flea allergies on top of their kinds of possible allergies. If your pet is excessively scratching but you can't find fleas, their behavior may actually be in response to another allergy entirely.
If my cat or dog does have fleas, how do I get rid of them?
A number of safe and effective treatments can be used to eliminate fleas, including shampoos, sprays, powders and topical liquids. You may need to visit your vet for prescription creams and antibiotics if your pet's case is more severe.
Early treatment and prevention are the first methods of choice to ensure your dog doesn't develop more serious issues in the future, as a result of fleas.