Ah, the joys of spring!  Beautiful days of warm-but-not-too-hot sunshine and cool evenings. Blossoms bursting forth from trees, bushes and plants.  Dogs basking in the sunlight, rolling in the grass, and determinedly scratching their fleas. Fleas? The sad truth is, if you have a dog, fleas are a fact of life.
Fleas are not just annoying to your dog, they can cause health issues.  A common problem is flea allergy dermatitis. While each flea bite can cause minor skin irritation, some dogs develop an allergy to the saliva of the flea. When this occurs, a single bite can cause significant irritation. The dog will scratch himself aggressively, and will suffer hair loss. It’s very common for the hair at the base of the tail to be lost, but the dog will have small scabs and redness all over his body. The constant scratching may also lead to the dog’s getting hot spots.
Tapeworm infestation is another problem caused by fleas.  Dogs don’t get tapeworms from fleas biting them, they get it when they bite a flea.  Fleas can carry tapeworm larva.  If your dog swallows a flea with this larva, the larva will continue to develop in the dog’s gastrointestinal tract. When developed, the head of the tapeworm will attach to the intestinal wall.
Flea bite anemia occurs in severe cases.  Fleas are voracious blood feeders, and in a dog overrun with fleas, red blood cell counts can drop dramatically due to bites.  This is especially problematic in young puppies.  It can actually lead to the death of the puppy if left untreated.
Of course, fleas will bite people, too.  While they prefer to tunnel under your dog’s hair, if your dog scratches one off, or if they hatch out of eggs deposited in your carpet or upholstery, they are happy to take a bite of you.  Prevention is the key when it comes to fleas!
There are many products designed to keep your dog flea free.  Many of these are topical treatments that you apply to your dog’s skin, typically between the shoulder blades so your dog can’t reach it and lick the medication.  These topical treatments use natural oils in the dog’s skin to spread over his body.  For this reason, it is important to wait at least 24 hours after bathing your dog before applying a topical treatment. Make sure you part the dog’s hair and apply the product to your dog’s skin, not on top of the haircoat.  I prefer to apply the topicals at night before bed, so that the dogs won’t lick the product off one another and so that I don’t inadvertently stick my hand into the place I just applied it.
When selecting a topical, make sure you compare labels.  Some products are waterproof while some are not.  Other products may also kill ticks and control or repel mosquitos.  Decide what you want the product to do, and find one that meets your requirements.
Oral preventatives are another option.  Most orals only work to kill adult fleas, however, which will require you to do additional treatment if your dog already has fleas.  Some oral medications are combined with heartworm preventative, and as such must be prescribed by a veterinarian.
In addition to oral and topical treatments, there are flea collars, flea sprays and flea shampoos. Flea collars are typically not good choices for multi-dog homes if the dogs are active and play together, as it is common for dogs to chew the collars off one another.  Flea sprays and shampoos are typically active for shorter amounts of time, and require frequent reapplication.
Natural remedies for fleas also abound.  Various oils, lemons and vinegars are often used in these types of preventatives. Diatomaceous Earth, which is made up from crushed fossils of freshwater organisms and marine life crushed to a fine powder, is another natural preventative that is rubbed into a dog’s coat.
If your dog does have fleas, you need to take steps quickly to kill them. A good start is to bathe your dog, and comb through his fur with a flea comb to remove eggs. You can also give your dog a Capstar, a pill which will begin working to kill adult fleas within 30 minutes of ingestion, and works for 24 hours.  Bathing and Capstar are a great way to begin an assault on fleas prior to applying a topical treatment.
Dogs are wonderful friends and companions, but their nasty blood-sucking parasites are not!  Keep your dog healthy and comfortable by preventing fleas from snacking on your best buddy.
Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcome to send their questions to: info@TrainMyK-9.com. Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.