Learn about the symptoms of a dog with fleas and how to tell if your dog is infested with skin parasites.
Wondering, “How can I tell if my dog has fleas?” Many pet owners fail to recognize the symptoms of fleas in dogs, particularly in the case of a mild infestation. Save your pet from unnecessary discomfort and learn to recognize signs that a dog has fleas, including the presence of flea dirt, itching, scabs on the dog’s skin, and even infections.
What’s the Debris in My Dog’s Fur? — Identifying Flea Dirt
Flea dirt is a hallmark sign that a dog has fleas. Flea dirt is, simply stated, flea poop. The dirt appears black in color and it will give the pet’s coat a gritty feeling. Flea dirt is commonly found on the pet’s lower back, near the base of the tail.
Since fleas feed on the host’s blood, blood is the primary component of this gritty debris. Identifying flea dirt is really simple: place a few particles on a damp paper towel and wait for approximately five minutes. The sand-sized particles will partially dissolve on the wet paper towel, leaving reddish-brown marks — the color of dried blood.
Flea Infestations as a Cause of a Dog’s Itchy Skin, Scabs, and Red Bumps
Flea infestations are a common cause of a dog’s skin problems, including:
Itchy skin and frequent scratching;
- Red bumps;
- Small areas of hair loss; and
- Skin flaking (particularly around the red bumps).
Scabs are very common in dogs with fleas. They result from minor skin infections (when bacteria enters the tiny wound created by the flea bite) and scratching.
Flea bites can cause skin infections and hot spots, particularly in dogs who have a weak or suppressed immune system because the fleas break the skin when they bite and the pet may break the skin as they’re scratching. For instance, dogs who are treated with prednisone often experience skin problems like staph infections because immune system suppression is a side effect of the drug. Combine the prednisone’s side effects with flea bites and this may cause the dog to experience chronic skin infections and hot spots.
In addition, some dogs are allergic to flea bites. This can result in extremely itchy skin, hives, swollen and raised red bumps and even a potentially deadly condition known as anaphylactic shock. Anaphylaxis symptoms in dogs include facial swelling, difficulty breathing, panting and salivation, pale gums, along with vomiting or sudden diarrhea.
How to Find Fleas in Your Dog’s Fur
Fleas are dark brown in color and they’re slightly larger than the head of a pin. They tend to move very quickly, so it can be difficult to actually find fleas in your dog’s fur. It’s typically much easier to look for the flea dirt or the telltale skin problems seen in dogs with parasites.
Begin the search by looking at the dog’s chest and the bottom side of the dog’s abdomen, where the fur tends to be thinner in many breeds. The fleas are often visible as they scurry across the dog’s skin. The red bumps — flea bites — will also be more visible on the chest and underside.
Next, examine the dog’s back, starting at the base of the tail and working toward the head. Place the side of your thumb flat against the dog’s back and move your hand through the dog’s fur. Move in a direction that’s opposite the direction of the hair growth to “ruffle” the fur. The skin’s surface will be visible as you move your hand through the dog’s fur. Look for fast-moving flecks traveling through the pet’s coat.
A fine tooth comb can also be used to find fleas and flea dirt. Brush the comb through the dog’s fur and look for fleas that are pushed to the base of the comb teeth. Often, fleas can be seen jumping off the comb.
Typically, flea dirt is considered to be sufficient evidence of an infestation. Depending on the length and thickness of the dog’s coat and the severity of the infestation, you may or may not find the actual fleas and in some cases, you may not observe the skin problems that are commonly associated with fleas. In short, if you see flea dirt, treat your dog for skin parasites.
Notably, indoor dogs and cats can get fleas. A pet doesn’t necessarily have to go outdoors in order to get infested with parasites. They can enter the home on rodents like mice, and their eggs can be transferred from your clothing to the dog’s coat. Casual contact with a flea-infested dog or cat can also lead to an infestation in your pet.
If you suspect that your dog has fleas, prompt treatment is required. Fleas aren’t just a nuisance; they can cause infections, chronic skin problems, and even anemia. Wondering about the key to treating a dog’s fleas? You must treat the dog and the environment, including pet beds, carpeting, linens, and furniture.