Fleas are the most common external parasite in the world and are capable of making your pet absolutely miserable. If not promptly treated, fleas may even lead to serious infection or health issues. Here, our Provincetown veterinary team explains the early signs of fleas and what to do if your pet has fleas.
What are fleas?
Fleas are external parasites that rely on their host animal for their survival. Unless you are able to take steps to break their lifecycle, adult fleas will continually reproduce and thrive on your pet and in your home.
What signs of flea infestation should I look for?
Cats and dogs may be allergic to the protein in flea saliva, which is why they often start to scratch as soon as a flea bites their skin. Even one flea bite may cause pets to scratch excessively and become agitated.
BEsides the excessive scratching associated with fleas, pimples or red bumps may appear on their belly, at the base of their tail and on their behind, on their groin and under their legs. The constant scratching and itching of these areas will cause your pet to develop dry skin and lose some of their hair. Infection and lesions will also develop and lead to more severe diseases if they 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 routinely check your pet's comb or brush while grooming them, even if you don't suspect that they have fleas. If you need a closer look, have your pet lie on their side to see areas on their body with thinner hair like their abdomen.
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 no signs of fleas but your pet is still scratching, schedule an appointment with your vet, who can administer a skin test to check for flea allergies, in addition to other types of allergies during your visit. Your pet may be reacting to another type of allergy that's making them uncomfortable.
If my cat or dog does have fleas, how do I get rid of them?
There are a number of safe and effective treatments at your disposal to eliminate fleas, including sprays, shampoos, powders and topical liquids. You may need to visit your veterinarian for prescription creams and antibiotics if your pet is suffering from a more severe case.
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.