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Flea Control and Prevention in Dogs

By: PetPlace Staff

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The flea is a small, brown, wingless insect that uses specialized mouth parts to pierce the skin and siphon blood. For millions of pets and people, it is a remorseless enemy.

When a flea bites your dog, it injects a small amount of saliva into the skin to prevent blood coagulation. Some animals may have fleas without showing discomfort, but an unfortunate number of dogs become sensitized to this saliva. In highly allergic animals, the bite of a single flea can cause severe itching and scratching. Fleas cause the most common skin disease of dogs - flea allergy dermatitis.

If your pet develops hypersensitivity to flea saliva, several changes may result:

  • A small hive may develop at the site of the flea bite, which either heals or develops into a tiny red bump that eventually crusts over.

  • The dog may scratch and chew at himself until the area is hairless, raw and weeping serum ("hot spots"). This can cause hair loss, redness, scaling, bacterial infection and increased pigmentation of the skin.

    The distribution often involves the lower back, base of the tail, toward the back, the abdomen, flanks and neck. It may become quite generalized in severe cases, leading to total body involvement.

    Remember that the flea spends the majority of its life in the environment, not on your pet, so it may be difficult to find. In fact, your dog may continue to scratch without you ever seeing a flea on him. Check your dog carefully for fleas or for signs of flea excrement (also called flea dirt), which looks like coarsely ground pepper. When moistened, flea dirt turns a reddish brown because it contains blood.

    If one dog in the household has fleas, assume that all pets in the household have fleas. A single flea found on your pet means that there are probably hundreds of fleas, larva, pupa and eggs in your house.

    If you see tapeworm segments in your dog's stool, he may have had fleas at one time or may still have them. The flea can act as an intermediate host of the tapeworm, Dipylidium caninum. Through grooming or biting, the animal ingests an adult flea containing tapeworm eggs. Once released, the tapeworm grows to maturity in the small intestine. The cycle can take less than a month, so a key to tapeworm prevention is flea control.

    The Life Cycle of the Flea

    The flea's life cycle has four stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. The adult flea uses your dog as a place to take its blood meals and breed. Fleas either lay eggs directly on the dog where they may drop off or deposit eggs into the immediate surroundings (your home or backyard). Because the female may lay several hundred eggs during the course of its life, the number of fleas present intensifies the problem. The eggs hatch into larvae that live in carpeting, cracks or corners of the dog's living area. The larvae survive by ingesting dried blood, animal dander and other organic matter. To complete the life cycle, larvae develop into pupae that hatch into adults. The immediate source of adult fleas within the house is the pupa, not the dog. The adult flea emerges from the pupa and then hops onto the host.

    This development occurs more quickly in a warm, humid environment. Pupae can lie dormant for months, but under temperate conditions fleas complete their life cycle in about three weeks. The inside of your home may provide a warm environment to allow fleas to thrive year round.


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