I don’t remember who held the guitar I first “played,” but I do remember the song that was sung as I plucked each string. “My dog has fleas. They bite his knees.” A musical masterpiece it’s not, but it does reflect a truth; if your dog has fleas, they will bite his knees, and his neck and his shoulders and his tail. As the weather warms up and fleas emerge from both hibernation and their eggs, you need to be prepared to deal with these pests.
All dogs will scratch themselves and bite at their skin in reaction to even a single bite. When a flea bites your pup, it deposits a small amount of saliva in his skin. Your dog can develop Flea Allergy Dermatitis in reaction to this saliva, which causes severe itching. In addition to your dog scratching or biting excessively around his tail, groin or backside, scabs or bumps may appear on his neck or back. Allergic or not, excessive itching can result in hot spots, which can be slow to heal.
Tapeworms are another flea related problem. If your dog ingests a flea infected with tapeworm eggs, he will become host to the worms. The adult tapeworm can reach up to 8 inches long, and is made up of smaller segments, which are about an eighth of an inch long. When the segments break off, they pass out of the body in your dog’s stool. Resembling grains of rice, you might even see them dropping out of your dog’s anus. The good news is tapeworms are not very dangerous. They can cause itchiness, however, which in turn may result in your dog dragging his anus across the ground or your carpet and possibly staining it. In large numbers, tapeworms can cause weight loss, impact the appearance of your dog’s fur and make him feel draggy and tired. Sometimes, a tapeworm will release its attachment in the intestines and move into the stomach. This irritates the stomach and causes the dog to vomit up the worm, which is typically several inches in length.
A severe flea infestation can result in your fur buddy becoming anemic. An anemic dog will have pale gums and will be weak and lethargic. Severe anemia can kill your dog, and is especially dangerous in puppies, senior dogs and dogs already weakened by illness or disease.
The key to keeping your dog free of fleas is prevention. If your dog is not already on preventative, get him on it today! Most preventatives are in the form of pill, sometimes combined with his heartworm preventative, or a liquid that you apply monthly between your dog’s shoulder blades. If using a liquid, be sure to follow the directions regarding bathing around the time of administration. Most formulations use the natural oils in a dog’s coat to spread properly, so should not be applied for at least 24 hours after a bath. I find it best to apply topicals at night. This allows them to disperse at a time when I’m not apt to pet my dog, and when dogs in multi-dog households are less likely to lick one another.
If your dog already has fleas, you have a lot of work ahead of you. A female flea can lay up to 50 eggs in one day, and will lay about 2,000 eggs in her lifetime. The eggs fall off your pet and into cracks in the floor or in the fibers of carpeting or pet bedding. In two to ten days, the eggs hatch. They move through larvae and pupae stages as they grow to adulthood, when the lifecycle begins all over again. Thus, you must take a multi-pronged attack to rid your home of fleas.
First of all, you need to kill the adult fleas on your dog. A Capstar is a pill that begins killing fleas immediately, and continues to work for 24 hours. Administer one in addition to a long-term preventative. Thoroughly wash all pet bedding, and vacuum frequently, empty the canister or change the bag after each use. Using a spray or powder on your carpet that contains an insect growth regulator (IGR) will kill the flea eggs and prevent them from hatching. As you clean, don’t neglect places such as an outdoor doghouse or your car if your dog has ridden in it.
Fleas will always be a part of life with dogs. Working to prevent your dog from getting fleas to begin with, and taking fast action if they do get them will make these biting pests manageable.
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.