Fleas – Tough Enemies

On a list of athletes of the parasite world, fleas would jump to the top (literally). These parasites can leap many times their own height, run very swiftly, and have become resistant to many anti-flea medications. They not only cause healthy dogs to itch but can stimulate severe allergic reactions and can also carry other parasites and diseases. Tapeworms can be transmitted by the bite of a flea. Life-threatening problems such as bubonic plague (not common, but seen in the Southwest) and a certain type of typhus may also be transmitted through flea bites.

A heavy load of fleas on a small puppy can cause serious anemia. Fleas will even enjoy a meal of your blood if they get the chance, along with any furry pets such as rabbits and cats. Dealing with fleas is like planning to fight a war!

Where Do They Come From?

Fleas are found in many areas, living for short periods of time on the ground or in houses, though they must be on their hosts to feed and breed. Fleas can jump from one dog to another and can be shared with cats, rabbits, squirrels, and other wildlife. Most of the fleas we see on our dogs are actually the cat flea — Ctenocephalides felis. Once adult fleas find a suitable host, they feed by taking blood meals. Then the females lay eggs, which may stick to the hair of your dog or fall off in the areas where he sleeps, lies, or walks in your house. Larvae hatch and go into a pupa where the adult fleas will develop. Adult fleas can remain safely in the pupa for long periods of time (months) until hosts show up. They can detect movement, warm temperatures, and even carbon dioxide, so they definitely know when a living being passes close by.

How can I tell if my dog has fleas?

Part the hair and look for tiny running bodies. It may be easiest to roll him over and look in the relatively hairless area of the groin. If you see or feel dark grit in your dog’s coat, take some off and put it on a white paper towel. Add a drop of water. If the grit dissolves and turns red, you know it is flea feces — the red is from the blood meals.

How to Win the War

Fighting fleas requires a concerted effort. All your pets need to be treated — even the cat and dogs that may not show any itching. You need to get rid of the adult fleas, stop reproduction, and with any luck prevent new fleas from joining the family.

When you’re treating fleas, remember that a flea bath will only get rid of the eggs and adult fleas on your pet at that moment. Once he jumps out of the tub all clean and flea-free, new fleas will immediately jump on from the carpet or ground. You need to follow up the bath with a dip, spray, powder, collar, or topical treatment to deter new fleas or even kill them if they try to jump on your dog. The rugs need to be thoroughly cleaned, as well as areas along walls and behind doors. You can also set off “flea bombs” to catch any fleas that are left. Outside you can try planting chrysanthemums, spreading borax or diatomaceous earth, and discouraging rodents (who may serve as hosts) from living near your home.


Preventing flea infestations is easier than getting rid of them once they have moved in. This means the best plan for fighting fleas is to take action before you see evidence of them. When warm weather approaches, start thinking about flea control, which is often combined with tick control. There are new medications that act as flea birth control by interfering with the development of the flea’s protective chitin covering. Insect growth regulators stop any fleas that get on your dog from successfully reproducing. Finally, you can also find drugs that act to kill fleas. Many of these medications now come in topical forms that can be applied to your dog once monthly. Pyrethrins (from chrysanthemums) are found in many flea-control products.

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