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Can Dogs Die From Fleas?
Causing an intense itch that just has to be scratched, fleas can be the source of a whole lot of discomfort and irritation for our furry friends. However, in severe cases, flea infestations can also cause anemia in young puppies, which can potentially have fatal consequences.With this in mind, protecting your dog against fleas is about a whole lot more than just stopping an itch.
Flea prevention is a crucial responsibility for pet owners, but it's also an easy one. Let's take a closer look at how fleas affect our pets and how you can safeguard your pooch against these pesky little parasites.
Signs Your Dog Has Fleas
They may be tiny, but fleas are wingless insects that can cause a whole lot of problems for our canine companions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they're the leading cause of itchiness, scratching, and irritation in pet dogs.
One of the most common problems caused by fleas is flea bite sensitivity. Also known as flea allergy dermatitis, this occurs when your dog is hypersensitive to flea saliva and has an extreme reaction to flea bites. This results in intense itchiness, particularly around the rump, base of the tail, legs, belly, and flanks.
A dog's response to this extreme itch is, of course, to scratch it however possible. This could involve scratching with paws; biting, licking, or chewing the affected areas; or rubbing them against objects or even the ground to gain any mild relief.
All that scratching, in turn, produces a range of other common signs, including red and inflamed skin, weeping sores, and patchy areas of hair loss.
However, it's also worth pointing out that fleas can lead to a range of other health issues. Not only can they transmit tapeworms — look for tapeworm segments and larvae in your dog's stool or around its anus — but severe infestations in puppies can lead to a reduction in the red blood cell count that can cause anemia.
The Science of Dog Fleas
There are more than 300 species of fleas found in North America alone, and the common dog flea's scientific name is Ctenocephalides canis. However, there are several other varieties of flea that will also commonly feed on dogs, including the domestic cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis), which is actually the most common type of flea found on North America's domestic dogs.
Fleas are wingless parasites that consume the blood of a host organism. This lack of wings means they need to rely on their extraordinary jumping abilities to find new hosts — though they're usually only between 1/6th and 1/8th of an inch in length, they can produce vertical leaps of up to seven inches and cover a distance of more than a foot.
The flea life cycle has four stages:
- Egg. Adult females can lay as many as 40 eggs a day. These eggs will then fall off your dog and into the surrounding environment, such as pet bedding, carpet, and upholstery.
- Larva. Eggs hatch within around two days and larvae emerge. These tiny creatures consume flea feces and this stage of the life cycle lasts for up to 15 days.
- Pupa. The larvae spin a cocoon and then begin transforming into adult fleas. These cocoons are remarkably sturdy and resilient and are capable of remaining dormant in the environment for several months until they can sense a host.
- Adult flea. Adult fleas go searching for their first blood meal straight away and, in the case of females, will then begin laying eggs within 24 to 48 hours. Adult fleas generally live for between 4 and 6 weeks.
Treatment and Prevention of Fleas
Once you've wrapped your head around the life cycle of the flea, it's easy to understand why treating flea infestations can be such a challenging proposition. Not only do you need to treat the fleas on your pet, but you also need to eliminate them from the surrounding environment.
There's also a common misconception that fleas are only an issue in the warmer months of spring and summer, but this is not the case. While freezing conditions can help kill off fleas, pupae can still lay dormant and wait for more favorable conditions to appear.
The first step when tackling a flea infestation is to treat all animals in your home. You can use a flea comb to remove and kill these nasty little critters, while there's also an extensive variety of spot-on liquids, foams, shampoos, powders, sprays, and collars designed to combat fleas.
However, be warned that some of these products only kill adult fleas, while others also kill larvae or are designed to prevent flea eggs from hatching. Some products can also prevent ticks, intestinal worms, and other parasites. If you're in any doubt about the right flea prevention product for your pet, ask your veterinarian for advice.
At the same time, start getting rid of fleas in the environment by sweeping, vacuuming, and dusting every surface in your home. There are several insecticidal carpet shampoos, sprays, and powders available over the counter, though the safest bet may be to call on the services of a professional exterminator.
By a Labrador Retriever lover Tim Falk
Published: 03/01/2018, edited: 04/06/2020
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