Dogs and the Danger of Fleas

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If you have a dog, than you are probably at least somewhat familiar with fleas. This is the time of year they seem to come at your dog from every corner of the yard, the house, and the dog park. Did you know that the dreaded flea is not just an irritating, itchy hassle, but also a health threat to your dog and your family?

How do I know if my dog has fleas?

If your dog seems to never stop itching, he might have fleas. Run your hand along his coat against the direction the fur lays, or use a flea comb. Are there irritated, red bumps, fast-crawling brownish-red critters, or little black specks that look like dirt? Then your dog has fleas. Other indications include “hot spots” (irritated, moist/oozing, round, hairless spots on your dog’s skin) and trouble sleeping.

What kind of problems can fleas cause?

Fleas are annoying to both humans and dogs, but they can also cause serious health problems.

Some dogs are allergic to the flea’s saliva. Rather than developing little “bug bites” like most dogs and people, they break out in large welts and present with severe skin irritation and excessive shedding–the irritation results in your dog licking and biting at the site, which often leads to infection.

This is called flea allergy dermatitis. It is a self perpetuating cycle because the more your dog licks and bites at the affected area, the worse the irritation gets and the more he will want to lick and bite. This cycle can be halted by getting rid of the fleas, and putting an Elizabethan collar on your dog so he cannot worsen the problem while it heals.

Fleas carry several types of internal parasites. Flea larvae feed on tapeworm eggs which then makes the flea a carrier of the parasite. As your dog grooms, he can ingest an infected flea and become infected himself. The tapeworm attaches itself to your dog’s intestinal wall and sheds eggs, which pass through the dog’s system and out of his body.

These eggs are then eaten by flea larvae and the cycle continues. Symptoms of tapeworm infection include weight loss, loss of appetite, nervousness, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and rectal irritation.

Humans, especially children, can become infected with tapeworms through contact with infected fleas and contact with the waste of infected animals.

Fleas can carry the mites that cause sarcoptic mange, demodectic mange, and chyletilla dermatitis, all of which can be transmitted to humans as well.

Severe flea infestation can cause flea anemia, which is characterized by a reduced level of red blood cells or hemoglobin and causes lethargy, decreased appetite, discoloration of the skin, and episodes of collapse.

Fleas are also the carriers of the bubonic plague, and murine typhus.

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