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Fleas are one of the most common and annoying problems affecting domestic dogs. But how do dogs get fleas, and what can you do to prevent them? Fleas are parasites that live on your dog’s skin and can be difficult to get rid of. The best way to do this is to prevent your dog from getting fleas in the first place.
Dogs can get fleas from other animals, the environment (in and outside your home), and even people and property. Eggs, larvae, and adult fleas can be sources of your dog’s infection. Treatments can be prescription or over-the-counter and are available in a number of different ways, from shampoos to pills.
Why You Should Be Concerned About Dog Fleas
On the surface, dog fleas might not seem like something you should worry about! They’re only about an eighth of an inch long and have no wings, so they can’t even fly up to your dog.
But these pests can cause a lot of damage. They feed on your dog’s blood (as well as dander, feces, and plant matter) and inject saliva into their canine hosts when feeding. This can cause irritation because most dogs are allergic to flea saliva. Constant scratching can cause skin damage, which can then lead to infection. Diseases and other infections including tapeworms and rickettsia can also be spread this way.
Fleas may not fly, but they sure can jump! Their hind legs are very large in proportion to their body and can move at least 12 inches in a single jump. They’re also abundant — a single female flea can lay up to 2,000 eggs in her lifetime. Experts estimate that for every adult flea you find on your dog, there are 100 immature fleas developing!
Depending on temperature and humidity, a flea’s entire life cycle can be completed in as little as 12 to 14 days or as long as 350 days. However, in most cases fleas complete their life cycle within 3 to 8 weeks.
There are thousands of species of fleas on the planet, but the two most common in the United States are cat fleas and dog fleas. You might be surprised to learn that the fleas you’re most likely to find on your dog are actually cat fleas – cat head worm) because these are the most common.
5 Different Ways Dogs Get Fleas
How Do Dogs Get Fleas? To fully understand this, we need to consider the flea’s entire life cycle— Ctenocephalides felis. Cat fleas need warm temperatures, which is why they are more of a problem in warm climates and during the summer. These are the most common ways these nasty parasites can get into your dog’s body.
flea life cycle
They start breeding when they are about two days old. Females mate immediately after drawing blood from the skin of a cat or dog during their first meal. She lays up to 50 tiny white oval eggs per day which drop easily from the dog/cat onto the soil, carpet and bedding. The eggs hatch into larvae in 1-6 days and move around feeding on organic debris such as skin fragments or the feces of adult fleas.
They don’t like bright light, so they tend to lurk deep in the fibers of carpet, in the nooks and crannies of furniture, and under grass and tree branches or in the soil. The larvae need moist conditions with over 50 percent humidity to survive, but they are very good at traveling a few feet to find a suitable habitat for them. They love deep carpet, cracks between floors, and damp basements.
They only develop into fleas if they are in a cool, damp place, which is usually about a week after hatching, but they can stay as larvae for up to 3 weeks if environmental conditions are unfavorable. The larvae cocoon, in which they pupate into fleas. The larvae usually remain in the cocoon for up to 2 weeks, but may be as long as a year. Emerging fleas have to find a host to feed on within two weeks, and it’s these fleas that jump on dogs (and people) and bite them. Then they’ll be more willing to stay on the same host and reproduce, and the whole cycle starts all over again.
#1 OTHER ANIMALS IN YOUR HOME
Adult fleas can use their powerful hind legs to jump from one pet to another. They can lay eggs on your dog, which may then jump back. Fleas can jump from cats to dogs. The cat doesn’t even have to be your cat, it could be visiting in your garden. It is also very important to treat all dogs and cats in the home for fleas.
Has a dog visited your home lately? They may have introduced this problem unintentionally.
#2 Human Visitors
Flea eggs and cocoons can survive for months. They can live off of human clothing and items. Do you have visitors with pets (even if they don’t)? They could have brought eggs and pupae into your home. The same is true if they work with animals, or even if they work outdoors on grass. This can even apply to you!
#3 Other Animals Near You
Most dogs like to be social and enjoy the closeness of other dogs in your area. This can be at a dog park or on a sidewalk. Don’t forget that fleas can jump up to 12 inches so another dog with fleas doesn’t have to get so close to cause problems for your dog. The same is true if your dog also likes to check out friendly cats or even wild animals. Birds, rodents, foxes, and deer can all carry fleas that can infect dogs.
#4 Outdoor environment
Flea larvae love sheltered, damp places, so your own backyard and garden are ideal hiding places. Fleas may have already entered your property via birds and other wildlife, but are now in an excellent position to infect your dog.
Fleas and eggs are always dropped from infected dogs, so an environment with a high concentration of dogs may also have a high number of fleas. Dog parks and any outdoor areas popular with dog walkers are included.
#5 Kennel or groomer
Kennels and pet grooming shops are other places where there are lots of dogs. Even when owners insist their canine clients are treated for fleas, some can still sneak in. If you’ve recently boarded your dog in a kennel or taken them to a groomer, this can easily be the source of an infection for them.
How Do Dogs Get Fleas After Treatment?
It can be very frustrating when your dog is still scratching like crazy after you’ve given a thorough flea treatment. One reason for this is that even after the fleas are gone, they still have residual irritation and possible infection. Best to check with your veterinarian.
However, there are several other potential causes. You may have chosen the wrong product for your situation, you may not have used it correctly, or you may not have used it long enough. Natural remedies are rarely powerful enough to control an active flea infestation, so keep that in mind. If you’re using a store-bought product that contains pyrethroids, the fleas may have developed a resistance to it.
Dogs can also get reinfested from your home – it may take up to 6 months of treatment to eradicate fleas from a residence. If your dog doesn’t have effective flea protection, they may be constantly re-infested during this time.
How to Get Rid of Fleas on Dogs
Now that you know how your dog got fleas in the first place, it’s time to look at how to get rid of them. There are some very effective treatment products, many of which also suppress fleas so your dog doesn’t get reinfested. They may work differently. Some only target adult fleas, while others are effective on larvae and flea eggs, thus disrupting the flea life cycle.some are part combination therapy This also protects the dog from worms and ticks. Your veterinarian is always the best source of advice on which products are best for your dog. Flea treatment is recommended year-round in most climates, even though fleas are more prevalent in the warmer months.
Here is an overview of your options.
prescription flea products
Prescription flea medications are often considered the most effective, but they can also be the most expensive and you can only get them from your veterinarian.
Some are applied topically (to the skin) and some are taken orally. Examples of active ingredients are fluralaner, which starts killing fleas within a few hours and lasts for three months, and spinosad, which starts working within half an hour and lasts for a month.
Some dogs are highly sensitive to flea saliva and will need a product that targets adult fleas as well as eggs and larvae. These dogs will also need a product that contains flea repellant so new fleas don’t jump on them and bite them. These can be used as collars or medicines.
Over-the-counter flea products
Over-the-counter flea products are more readily available and often less expensive, but may not be as effective. There are many different types:
- flea collar
- flea spray
- flea shampoo
- flea powder
- Topical (point-to-point) flea treatment
- Oral Flea Treatment
You can choose the treatment that works best for you and your pet. Some, such as dental treatments, are clean. Others, like shampoos, can get rid of fleas but won’t stop new fleas from jumping onto your dog.
How to Control Fleas in Your Environment
Flea treatments are unlikely to be completely effective unless you also take steps to control fleas in your environment—whether in your home or outside.
Dealing with Fleas in Your Home
If you find that your dog has a flea infestation, along with treating them, you will want to do the following:
- Wash all of your dog’s bedding in hot, soapy water
- Vacuum carpets and pads thoroughly and empty cans or throw away bags and take garbage bags outside
- Steam clean carpets, rugs, and upholstered furniture if possible
- Apply an environmental flea treatment. The atomizer is very effective. If you have young children, you may prefer products that contain boric acid rather than chemicals that can persist in the environment. Always read labels to make sure you are keeping children and pets safe.
- It’s best to choose a product that doesn’t just kill adult fleas. If you choose one that contains growth regulators, it will also kill other life cycle stages and provide better protection.
- Popular choices are methoprene and sodium borate.
- If unsuccessful, consult a professional pest control company.
Treating Fleas Outside Your Home
Treating fleas outdoors requires a careful balance between effectively removing fleas without releasing dangerous chemicals into the environment. To help achieve this goal, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the use of the insecticide chlorpyrifos (Dursban), and it has not been produced in the United States since December 2000.
Most outdoor treatments come in the form of sprays and granules, but treatment should be done in conjunction with a thorough cleaning of outdoor dog houses and kennels. Pirproxifen is a popular choice because it is a growth regulator and is very stable in sunlight.
If you’re concerned about using toxic substances around your vegetable garden or if you have young children, diatomaceous earth products are a good choice. An organic option is to purchase special small worms that feed on flea larvae. Nature can also be on your side. Hard frost or a thick layer of snow can remove most fleas, eggs and larvae from the environment!
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I am broadly interested in how human activities influence the ability of wildlife to persist in the modified environments that we create.
Specifically, my research investigates how the configuration and composition of landscapes influence the movement and population dynamics of forest birds. Both natural and human-derived fragmenting of habitat can influence where birds settle, how they access the resources they need to survive and reproduce, and these factors in turn affect population demographics. Most recently, I have been studying the ability of individuals to move through and utilize forested areas which have been modified through timber harvest as they seek out resources for the breeding and postfledging phases. As well I am working in collaboration with Parks Canada scientists to examine in the influence of high density moose populations on forest bird communities in Gros Morne National Park. Many of my projects are conducted in collaboration or consultation with representatives of industry and government agencies, seeking to improve the management and sustainability of natural resource extraction.