If you have a dog or two, you and other dog owners probably share the same nightmare: flea and tick infestation. You may be giving your puppy the best pet food, let them sleep in your bed, and shower them with countless toys and treats, but if you stop paying attention, they can bring nasty stowaways that bite and can cause dangerous diseases.
These parasites are extremely annoying and they can be hard to spot, especially if you’re a new dog owner and you’ve never dealt with flea or tick infestation before. Don’t worry! Here’s everything you need to know about fleas, ticks, and how to get rid of them for good!
Fleas are wingless insects with 6 legs that can jump. Although they can easily move from one host to another, fleas prefer to stick to stay put.
They also have strong claws that prevent them from being brushed off.
A flea can stay on a dog for up to 3 months.
Fleas also multiply rapidly making them likely to infest your home if they’re left untreated. They can also spread diseases, infecting your dog with tapeworm or bartonellosis. Not to mention allergies and continuous itching!
Ticks have 8 legs and look like tiny spiders. They are bigger than fleas and measuring between ¼ to ⅛ inches long. Although ticks can’t jump as well as fleas, they can move from host to host, Including humans!
Their bites never last long, but they can wreak havoc on your immune system, as they may spread dangerous health conditions to humans and pets, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Ticks are active throughout the whole year, but they’re the most active between spring and fall.
How to check your dog for fleas?
There are a couple of warning signs indicating that your dog is infested with fleas. These include:
Excessive scratching or chewing
Flea bites are extremely itchy, and the skin around them may become painful and sore. Once the fleas get on your pet and start to feed, they’re likely to hang in spots that are difficult to reach, such as the head, neck, armpits, groin, and tail. Your pup is going to react to this unpleasant experience by scratching or chewing itself. If you notice this kind of behavior getting more frequent than usual, you should inspect your pet for fleas.
Your dog’s hair may fall out in some places as a reaction to flea bites. Your pet may also pull out some of its fur on its own due to the constant licking or biting of painful areas.
Red bumps and patches
Some dogs may have an allergic reaction to flea bite saliva, which can manifest itself in rashes or lesions. It can also spread outside the bitten body parts.
When it comes to flea bites, they’re smaller than insect bites, which makes them hard to spot. However, you should look for small, red, raised bumps. You can also see them on your own skin if fleas jumped off your dog and bit you in search of new, fresh blood.
Look in your dog’s mouth! If you notice your pup’s gums are pale, it may be a sign of anemia. It is likely caused by blood loss due to flea bites.
You’ll need a flea comb and soapy water. Brush through your dog’s coat carefully by applying slight pressure and making sure the comb stays in contact with the skin throughout the entire stroke. Each time inspect the comb for fleas and flea dirt. Clean the comb in soapy water and observe those tiny black flecks. If they remain black, it’s just dirt. However, if they turn red, you’ll be sure your dog is infested. Flea dirt contains dried blood, which becomes liquid again after the contact with water.
First off, you can part your dog’s fur and examine its skin in search of adult fleas. They can be found anywhere, but they’re most likely located on the abdomen, the base of the tail, and behind the ears. Additionally, you can take a white towel and have your dog stand on it. Then, brush its coat. If any fleas are present, they’ll be agitated by the brushing, and they’ll jump off your pup. You’ll be able to see them as they land on your white towel.
How to check if your dog has ticks
Ticks are dark and vary in size depending on their age. Because of their dark color, ticks can be hard to spot.
Start at your dog’s head and run your hands over your dog’s body, using your fingers as a comb. Examine any small lumps or bumps you feel. Pay extra attention to parts of your pet’s body that are hard to reach:
- Under the collar
- Between the toes
- Around the groin
- In and behind the ears
- Under the tail.
The more blood do ticks drink, the bigger and darker they get, which makes them easier to find.
What’s more, fever, unexplained scabs, and head shaking may indicate tick bites. And if you find a tick in your house, for example on the floor, carpets, bedsheets, or furniture, don’t brush it off as an accident and do a closer examination on your dog.
Check your surroundings for fleas
You’ll notice warning signs upon closer examination of your environment if your dog has fleas. Parasite infestation can be detrimental to your dog’s health, but also to yours and your family’s. That’s why you should act immediately if you spot the problem.
So, how do you find incriminating evidence against those little bloodsuckers?
You can start by examining your dog’s food area and bedding for flea dirt. Can you see weird, small, black flecks on your dog’s bedding? If yes, wipe them up with a damp paper towel or a white washcloth. You’ll know it’s flea dirt if the flecks start to turn red after a few minutes. What’s more, you can also notice adult fleas in the areas where your dog spends a lot of time.
Similarly, white socks can help you determine whether the area is infested with fleas. Wear them and walk near your pup’s bedding. Flea dirt and fleas will get trapped on the socks where you can clearly see them.
Additionally, you can make a light trap with a nightlight and a bowl of soapy water. In the evening, put a small bowl of water with soap near your dog’s bedding and illuminate it with the nightlight.
Fleas are drawn towards the light. The fleas will jump into the lit bowl and drown.
Make sure to keep your pup in a different room overnight to prevent it from drinking from the bowl.
How to check your house and surroundings for ticks
Ticks have different behavior and habits than fleas. You’ll need to apply different methods to determine whether or not they’ve infiltrated your house.
Just like fleas, ticks are going to stick around the areas where your dog likes to spend a lot of time. Bring a flashlight and inspect your pet’s bedding and crate. Make sure you check the corners and crevices! What’s more, even though ticks can’t jump, they still can travel attached to their host. That’s why you should check other areas in your home as well.
Inspect your upholstered furniture, especially the ones your dog likes to sit or sleep on. Check around your door, window frames, and baseboards, which are an excellent hiding spot for ticks. You can also inspect your yard, especially on dense brush, tall grasses, in piles of firewood, leaf debris, and along rock or brick retaining walls.
Parasite alert: what to do?
If you notice your dog has fleas or ticks, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. You can ask for two types of medication, Trifexis or Simparica, which are often used to treat flea and tick infestations. Both of them kill fleas and ticks fast and protect your dog from infestations for some time. You should also ask your vet for advice regarding other products suitable for your fluffy friend. Always pick high-quality products to avoid dangerous side effects, and stick to dog products if you’re treating a dog.
In case the fleas heavily infested other areas in your house, use aerosol sprays, bug bombs, or foggers. However, these chemicals are dangerous, so use them as a last resort, and always evacuate your pets and family members during the whole process for about 3-6 hours.
When it comes to ticks, you need to remove them quickly and efficiently. Make sure you don’t leave the tick’s head inside the skin. Otherwise, it can cause infections later on. To remove the tick, take a pair of tweezers and grasp the tick very close to the skin. Pull its body away with a steady motion but avoid crushing it to prevent infection, and dispose of it. After the removal, apply a fine amount of triple antibiotic ointment, or clean your dog’s skin with gentle soap and warm water. However, if you’re not comfortable doing it on your own, take your dog to a vet.
How can you protect your dog from parasite infestations?
Once you get rid of that nasty problem, you’ll have to put effort into preventative measures. Most importantly, make sure you establish a good, healthy hygiene routine your dog is going to get used to and like. Start bathing your dog regularly using dedicated dog shampoos. Groom your pup often, especially after a walk, and make sure you inspect the ears, tail, and paws.
If you’d like, you can buy your dog a flea and tick collar, but don’t force your pet to wear it if they clearly signal their reluctance! Also, don’t forget about nutrition! If you want your dog to be happy and stay in good health, invest in high-quality dog food, and make sure your four-legged friend has a well-balanced diet.
Additionally, don’t forget about your pets’ favorite places, furniture, and the toys they like to play. Don’t wait until these objects get smelly or dirty – wash them regularly! Remember to keep clean all the areas your dog likes to spend time in, as well as playthings, bowls, dog beds, blankets, and other accessories. This way, you’ll quickly notice if something’s wrong with your pup and find out whether or not you should reach out for professional help.
Whenever you notice your dog has fleas or ticks, you need to act fast.
Get your pet proper medication and go to a doctor yourself if you notice flea or tick bites on your body.
Don’t forget to treat the areas that make it possible for those bloodsucking parasites to cohabit and multiply: your home and your yard if you have one.
Attack the problem from all directions and apply preventative measures to get rid of fleas and ticks for good.
Julia Łysakowska is author and co-author of several pet blogs all around the globe. When she’s not writing, she enjoys playing with her cat and dog, Noodle and Twinkles (best dry dog food detector). She’s an animal lover and a traveler, helping other pet owners to discover what’s best for their fluffy friends.