It may seem like a silly thing to think about, but can your dog feel fleas? The short answer, of course, is yes - they can!
Think about it: if you have a bug crawling on you, don't you feel it moving? If you feel something wriggling around, don't you want to scratch it? The same goes for your pup. Though fleas are small (though, not so small you can't see them with the naked eye), they certainly cause your pup a fair amount of discomfort. Think about the last time your pup had fleas. Weren't they itchy, scratchy, and whiny? Of course, they were! As fleas move around on your dog's skin and hair follicles, they can feel them!
Fleas are more than just an annoyance, though. If left alone, they can tear up your dog's skin and fur, lead to mange, or leave your dog to their own devices to take care of them, which often means biting, nipping, and licking themself raw.
If you don't know what signs to look for to diagnose your pup with fleas, want to know how they work, or want to better understand how to prevent and treat your dog for fleas, keep reading! We've got all the flea details you need!
Signs Your Dog Might Have Fleas
Diagnosing fleas doesn't have to be all behavioral based, but knowing the signs that your dog might be infected with fleas might help you get to the diagnosis faster. Make sure you know the signs that your dog has contracted fleas!
If your dog is severely infested, it's probably easy to see fleas jumping and moving on and off your poor pup's body, but this isn't always the case. In less obvious situations, you should notice some changes in your dog's behavior first.
For example, if your dog starts to lick and bite themself excessively, that's your first sign that something just isn't right. If your pup is restless and can't seem to stop scratching or itching, that's your next big clue that they might have fleas. There are also other, less obvious signs like scratching ears against furniture, shaking their head around, and paying special attention to their ears. Fleas love to burrow in dark, cozy spots, so your dog's ears are the perfect place for this.
If you notice these signs, it's time to inspect your pup's body and fur. First, turn your doggo on their backs and inspect the places fleas like to hide best. Typically, they want dark, warm areas - that means armpits, groins, and ears. Check these spots carefully for scratching, redness, blood, or dirt, all tell-tale signs of fleas. If your pup's skin on their belly seems bumpy or red, that's also an indicator there's been a lot of scratching due to fleas.
History of Fleas and Dogs
Fleas have lived off of other animals since the beginning of their existence. These nasty little insects feed off of the blood of other critters and have likely picked dogs as their target for thousands of years.
Dogs pick up fleas from their environment. So, that means if an infested animal walks through your pet's backyard, they're likely going to drop fleas. Those fleas will then try to find a new host (that's your doggo).
But even indoor animals can get fleas. These pesky creatures will tack onto your socks and shoes and walk into your home with you. Once inside, they'll find your dog and use them as a host home and feeding ground.
If your pup has fleas, they can drop them inside your house, too. This can infect other animals, spread the fleas, and even leave to repeat flea infestations if you don't clear them out of your home. Fleas bite your dog. This can be very painful and super-itchy.
But it can be far more dangerous than just discomfort. If your dog is allergic to fleas, they can have an allergic reaction. Additionally, flea bites can lead to blood loss and anemia. They can even lead to other parasites that fleas carry - like tapeworms.
Science Behind Fleas and Dogs
Fleas are small, wingless bugs that make their homes in your dog's hair. They're springy and great at jumping and get their nutrients by sucking blood. Though there are tons of species of fleas, the ones that affect your doggo the most are the North American Cat Flea or the Ctenocephalides felis.
Fleas have four stages of life. They start as an egg. An adult female can lay up to 40 eggs a day - that's a ton of flea babies making homes on your pup. Then, they turn into larvae - tiny creatures that feed on flea feces or dried animal blood.
The flea molts three times before it can turn into a pupa. Pupas will find hosts, but will only fully emerge once they're adult fleas with a secure spot to live and feed - aka your dog. Fleas can live up to 4-6 weeks depending on their environment, so that's plenty of time for them to do some damage to your pup. Make sure you're always keeping an eye on your doggo's coat and help them steer clear of fleas.
How to Train your Dog to Deal with Fleas
Once you deduce that your pet has fleas and you diagnose your pup, it's time to train them to deal with the healing process.
First, you might need to get them used to a new collar, leash, and bedding. If you can't sanitize these things enough to get rid of the fleas, you'll likely have to throw them out altogether. Try to replace your dog's items with things that are familiar looking and smelling to soften the blow.
Next, you'll have to train your dog to sit still while you apply flea medication to them, both for preventative reasons and for further treatment. Basic commands like "stay" are going to be of value here. You might have to deal with a flea bath. If your doggo isn't fond of bathing, those basic commands are going to come in handy. Make sure there's lots of positive reinforcement and rewards for good behavior.
By a Great Dane lover Hanna Marcus
Published: 03/18/2018, edited: 04/06/2020