Fleas are those pesky, blood-sucking parasites that every dog owner dreads having to deal with. All dogs should be treated regularly for fleas to prevent a flea problem from occurring in the first place. But what if your dog is not currently on a treatment regime, or what if your dog starts scratching excessively? How do you know if your beloved furry friend might have fleas? Before you rush out to your local pet store and buy them out of every flea treatment product available, take the time to perform a few simples steps at home to determine if your dog has fleas.
First of all, observe your dog. Is she scratching more than usual? If your dog has been fully bathed and is not allergic to another known substance in her environment, it is quite possible that she has fleas. Dogs are sensitive or even allergic (also known as “flea allergy dermatitis”) to the saliva in fleas, which gets under the dog’s skin after a flea bite, causing the dog to scratch. Check under the fur for tiny red bumps caused by flea bites (these would be much smaller and more “pimple-like” than bumps caused by the dog biting herself). Also look for fleas and flea dirt under the fur on your dog’s tummy, the spine length, under the armpits, between the claws and shoulder blades, and at the base of the tail (since it is hard for your dog to reach around and scratch that area).
However, even if your dog isn’t scratching more than usual, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a flea problem. Most of the life cycle of the flea is spent off of your dog; in addition, your dog may not be allergic or sensitive to flea saliva, so she may not have the urge to scratch if she has been bitten.
While looking through the fur on your dog, pay attention to anything that resembles little specks of dirt, or black pepper, which is likely flea dirt (a direct indication that your pet has fleas). If you find any flea dirt, transfer some to a white cloth or paper towel and add a few drops of water. Notice whether the “dirt” dissolves in the water and turns colour from black to reddish-brown. If the colour changes, you have isolated flea dirt. Alternatively, you could place a white towel under your dog’s rear end. Give her tail a long scratch and inspect the towel afterwards. Again, if any of the specks dissolve or “melt” and change colour, you have found flea dirt.
You can buy an inexpensive flea comb from your local pet store. Slowly comb through an area on your dog’s fur and look for fleas or flea dirt that will catch in the teeth of the comb. Repeat this process on other areas of the dog’s body. Again, you can confirm the flea dirt by dissolving some of the specks in water and looking for the colour change.
If you suspect that your dog has fleas, it is important that you start flea treatment right away. Consult your veterinarian to determine the best treatment solutions.