My Dog Has Fleas: What to Do If Your Dog Brings Fleas Home
Biting back: How to safely de-flea your dog and home so that you can keep your kids flea-free.
You've noticed some extra scratching, some sudden nipping at his own legs or haunches. Have you recently come to the realization, "My dog has fleas"? It happens. Even if you take the proper precautions, your pet is at risk for getting fleas. These hitchhikers can drop onto your dog, unseen, at any time.
And, because fleas live in long patches of grass in gardens and forests, your pet is exposed more often than you might think. Fleas thrive in hot, humid conditions, so they are most active during the spring and summer months. But, unfortunately, these pests are hardy -- and tricky. During the wintertime, they can live indoors on warm hosts.
How Can You Tell If Your Dog Has Fleas?
"If your pet shows signs of restlessness, scratching, licking or biting himself, fleas could be the cause," says Sandra Bonom, the owner of The Hairy Barker Inn and Spa in Darien, CT. But one surefire way to check if your dog has fleas is to get him wet. Fleas hate baths, and, just like in cartoons, you'll see the tiny black pests jumping for their lives once you immerse them in water.
You can investigate further by combing through your pet's fur with your fingers to expose the skin and look for fleas or flea excrement, says Lisa Hartman, a dog trainer and pet expert who serves as the editor and publisher of Hamptons Dog magazine. "Fleas are black and leave trails of black specks in their path," she says.
What Should You Do If You or Your Kids Have Flea Bites?
You may suspect that your dog has fleas if you, your kids or anyone else in your house suddenly gets little clusters of tiny, itchy bites. While the size and location of these bites can vary, concentrated pockets of bug bites on the ankles are usually a telltale sign that fleas are at work.
Fortunately, infections from flea bites are rare, and, unlike ticks and mosquitoes, fleas are not known to carry diseases. If you or your children get flea bites, you should treat them in the same way you would treat mosquito bites. Apply cool compresses and hydrocortisone cream. In cases of extreme itching, you can use an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen, as well.
"My Dog Has Fleas"...Now What?
There are various steps that you should take to get rid of your dog's fleas. "Start by bathing your dog with a natural pesticide-based shampoo," says Bonom. In order for this shampoo to be effective, you must leave it on your dog for at least five minutes before rinsing it off. Then, you should comb through your dog's fur while it's still wet to make sure all the fleas are gone. During this process, be sure to check the places fleas can hide, such as around the ears, tail and feet, Hartman adds.
Most importantly, as Bonom points out, thorough flea removal involves more than just tackling the fleas living on your dog. "The fleas need to be removed from your pet's living space or they will re-infect your pet," she says.
Fleas nest and breed in bedding, furniture and carpeting, which means that anything in your house that's cushioned and out of sight needs to be treated with a flea-killing product. Your dog's toys and the area in, under and around where he sleeps need to be treated, too. And don't forget to spray in your car and yard, reminds Bonom.
A wide range of flea-killing products are available, including a variety of inexpensive, all-natural options. Before you decide to purchase a particular product, make sure to take the time to read all the labels. Remember: You're putting this product where you, your kids, and your pets sleep!
After you have gone through this process, you should vacuum all the carpeted areas of your house. In an effort to avoid re-infestation, Bonom suggests that you keep a flea collar in your vacuum bag. If you're unwilling or unable to perform these flea removal tasks, you should call a professional pest control service.
How Can You Prevent Your Dog From Getting Fleas?
In order to prevent your dog from getting fleas, never skip his monthly flea and tick treatments or flea collar replacement. And be especially vigilant if your pet likes to go on long walks or spends time at dog parks, day care or boarding facilities with other dogs.
When you do take your dog for a walk, try not to let her sniff around small bushes, long grasses and unmanicured areas, as these types of spots are flea and tick domains! And, as Hartman reminds, it's important to "recheck your pets after every outing, as each time may bring new fleas."
If you have treated your dog for fleas but she still gets bitten, you should consider switching to another product. For a natural deterrent, you can even try fighting bugs with bugs. According to Hartman, "bugs such as ladybugs eat fleas," so you should "welcome them with open arms. You can even buy them and sprinkle them around your plants."
And read How to Protect Your Pet From Fleas and Ticks.
Cara Stevens is a freelance writer who lives in Connecticut with her husband and two children. She has authored several books for children and writes frequently about parenting, hair care, DIY crafts, food and healthy living.
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