Can Dogs Get Fleas?

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Okay, so this might seem like a silly question since most pet owners are only too well aware of the fact their dogs are going to succumb to flea infestations from time to time. Rather than asking the question "Can my dog get fleas?" a much better question would be "How did my dog get fleas?" Even humans can end up with the non-stop scratching associated with flea bites.

Owning a dog is sure to put you and your home at risk of a flea infestation, but you don't have to be a pet owner to end up with fleas in your home. These feisty little bugs can come in on your clothes, socks, and shoes. Typically, flea bites on humans appear as a red itchy bump that start out around the feet, ankles, and legs, but can spread everywhere.

Left untreated the bites can become inflamed and infected, requiring a trip to the doctor or emergency room. Some people are allergic to flea bites, which can lead to difficulty breathing, nausea, and swelling of the face and lips.

In humans and dogs, the best thing you can do is treat the fleas as soon as you find them. This will reduce how much scratching you and your four-legged friend do and reduce the risk of secondary infections. On the other hand, the good news is that even if you don't treat the bites, the fleas will eventually go away in their own sweet time.

Can Dogs Get Fleas?

YES!

Even though you might think you have that rare breed of dog that "can't get fleas", your furry friend is just as likely to become a flea's best friend--and dinner--at some point.

While fleas have no wings and certainly can't fly, you could easily be fooled into thinking so as they are amazing jumpers and could put any Olympic high jump star to shame. An adult flea can jump up to 100 times its own height, thanks to extremely powerful hind legs.

The simple fact is, all dogs are prone to becoming the next meal for a flea. However, whether or not your dog will get fleas has a lot to do with where you live, the season (fleas are more active in spring and summer months), and whether or not you use some form of flea control. Be sure to talk to your vet about the many different types of flea treatment available.

Also realize, the more time your family pet spends outside, the more likely he is to come home with a bad case of fleas.

Does My Dog Have Fleas?

If your dog has fleas, chances are good that he will spend a lot of time scratching and rolling around on the floor. However, there are several very specific signs and symptoms that might indicate your dog has fleas or an allergy to flea bites. These include:

  • Scratching

  • Flea feces that looks like dirt (it's not dirt but mostly dried dog blood) on your dog or areas where he spends time

  • Red spots and rashes on his skin

  • Loss of hair, especially on his back close the base of his tail

  • Scabs on his skin

  • Unusual skin coloration

  • Crusty skin

  • Ear infections

  • Weakness and lethargy

  • Immune disease problems

  • Being able to see the fleas on his skin

You may also want to consult our guide to Fleas in Dogs to learn more.

Where Do the Fleas Come From?

The most common place for your dog to get fleas is outdoors on the lawn, in larger gardens, and areas where there is an abundance of wildlife.

What might surprise you is that you can also be the reason your dog has fleas. You can bring them into your home on your shoes, pants, leggings, socks, and any other article of clothing. The fleas can end up jumping from you to your dog or from you to the carpet and then to your pet.

A single flea can be the start of an infestation within 24 hours of "First Blood". As soon as the flea claims its first meal, it can start laying as many as 40 to 50 eggs per day every day. These eggs will all hatch within 1 to 10 days and give way to fully functional and starving fleas within just a few days.

The bad news is these little pests can remain dormant in the pupal phase for months before they continue to become adults.

How Do I Treat My Dog's Fleas?

Treatment

There is a wide variety of very safe and effective flea treatments on the market today. Prevention being the best method of controlling fleas, using any one of the many over-the-counter treatments including drops that are applied at specific intervals and collars is recommended.

Your dog’s veterinarian may also be able to help with a selection of prescription-only treatments including:

  • Program®

  • Capstar®

  • Revolution®

  • Comfortis®

  • Vectra®

Recovery

In general, once you have treated your dog for fleas, he should make a full recovery. You may want to give him a bath using a flea shampoo to kill off any leftovers, and to remove dead fleas and flea excretions.

It may take a few days or longer for all of the fleas to die. Be sure the treatment you use also kills eggs, larvae, and pupae or your dog will suffer another infestation in very short order. If you are not sure if your dog is clear of the infestation, you should consider taking him to the vet.  There is more information about fleas and how they affect your dog here.

How Are Flea Bites Similar in Dogs and Humans?

Yes, both you and your four legged roommate can suffer from the same flea bites and infestations. Best of all, the signs of flea bites are almost exactly the same.

  • Raised red welts at the site of the bite

  • Constant itching

  • A high risk of infestation due to the incredible egg laying abilities of a single flea

  • Allergic reaction to the bite resulting in difficulty breathing, nausea, swollen lips and face

How Are Flea Bites in Dogs Different to Those in Humans?

While most of the signs and symptoms you and Rover suffer from flea bites are similar, there are a few differences as well.

  • In humans, the bites tend to start around the feet and ankles

  • In dogs, they tend to start on the body and cluster around the base of the tail

  • You can't get away with wearing a flea collar

  • You should never use the same treatments or medications as your dog

Case Study

You take Rover out for a nice long walk in the woods; everybody has a great time. Rover gets to wander out into the undergrowth, chase a few squirrels, and comes home tired and happy.

The next day, you notice poor Rover can't seem to stop itching. A quick examination finds fleas crawling all over his belly and around the base of his tail.

 

Following a soothing bath using a shampoo known to kill fleas, you use an over-the-counter flea treatment and the itching stops. Within a few days, the bites disappear and Rover is happy once again. However, if for any reason the bites do not go away or appear to have become infected, you should take poor Rover to see his vet, as prescription treatment may be necessary.