Fleas are the most common external parasite in the world and they are capable of making your pet absolutely miserable. If they aren't promptly treated, fleas may also cause infection or more serious disease. Here, our vets explain the early signs of fleas found in pets across Santa Cruz County and what to do if you find fleas on your pet.
What are fleas?
Fleas are external parasites that rely on a host animal for their survival. Unless you take steps to break their lifecycle, adult fleas will continue to thrive and reproduce on your pet and in your home.
What signs of flea infestation should I look for?
Cats and dogs may be allergic to the protein in flea saliva, which is why they often start to scratch as soon as a flea bites their skin. Even one flea bite may cause pets to scratch excessively and become agitated.
Besides scratching, pimples or red bumps may appear on their belly, at the base of their tail or on their behind as well as under their legs. The constant itching and scratching of these areas will cause them to lose hair loss and cause dry skin. Infection and lesions can develop and lead to more serious diseases if fleas aren't properly treated.
How can I check my pet for fleas?
Adult fleas are small and brown. They are relatively easy to spot with the naked eye.
It's generally a good idea to check your pet's brush or comb while you're grooming them. Have your pet lie on your side will let you take a closer look at areas with thin hair like their abdomen.
You may see "flea dirt". This looks similar to tiny grains of sand, or black pepper when wet. To check for flea dirt (feces), use a fine-tooth flea comb available at your vet's office to comb along your pet's back and underbelly. By standing your pet on a white towel or cloth while brushing them, you will be able to easily see any black droppings that fall from their fur.
What if I can’t find any fleas, but my pet is still scratching?
If there are no signs of fleas but your pet is still scratching, schedule an appointment with your vet, who can administer a skin test to check for flea allergies, in addition to other types of allergies during your visit. Your pet may be reacting to another type of allergy that's making them uncomfortable.
If my cat or dog does have fleas, how do I get rid of them?
There are a number of safe and effective treatments can be used to eliminate fleas. This includes powders, sprays, shampoos and topical liquids. You may need to visit your veterinarian for antibiotics or prescription creams if your pet's case is more severe.
Early treatment and prevention are the first methods of choice to ensure your dog doesn't develop more serious issues in the future, as a result of fleas.