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2016 Flea & Tick Survival Guide

5 Signs You (and Your Pet) Have Fleas and Don’t Know It

Fleas are most certainly annoying, but signs of their infestation are not always so obvious, especially if you are dealing with the problem for the first time. Here are few things veterinarians recommend watching out for – even if you don’t think fleas could possibly get into your home.


1. Abnormal Scratching, Licking and/or Biting

Fleas are opportunistic arthropods that seek out our pets’ blood as a food source. “Once fleas get on your pet by jumping or crawling, they typically set up their habitat in hard to reach (and see) places, like the head, neck, tail, armpits, or groin,” says Patrick Mahaney, VMD. “Licking, biting, or scratching at these places usually indicates the presence of nagging parasites like fleas.”


2. Unusual Red Patches of Skin

According to Dr. Mahaney, flea bite saliva can also be allergenic for some dogs and cats. These allergic reactions need not be exclusive to the bitten body part either. Flea bite hypersensitivity can cause rashes or lesions anywhere on the body.


3. Hair Loss

Hair loss, or alopecia, can be due to several things, including a reaction to flea bites. Dogs or cats may also pull out some of its own hair due to the continuous biting or licking of the flea bite areas. The pattern and severity of the alopecia is essential for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.


4. Pale Gums

Pale gums is a common sign of anemia and can be an indication your pet has a serious case of flea infestation, according to Keith Niesenbaum, DVM. This is because the amount of new red blood cells produced by your pet is not sufficient enough to combat the loss of blood fleas are extracting from the animal.


5. Flea “Dirt”

Have you noticed small black or reddish-brown specks on your pet’s body or in areas around your home? This could be flea “dirt,” which is actually flea feces composed of digested blood.


“One way to tell the difference between regular dirt and flea "dirt" is to wet any black specks that fall off the dog [or are found around your home] onto the white paper towel using regular water sprayer,” says Jennifer Kvamme, DVM. “If they turn a dark reddish-brown color, you are seeing the digested blood that the flea has passed through its body and excreted.”


“Another method you can use to search for flea dirt in the house is to wear white socks and walk through areas frequented by your dog,” says Dr. Kvamme. “Fleas and/or flea dirt may be picked up by the fibers of the socks and will stand out on the white background.”


Seek Your Veterinarian’s Advice


If you can’t find any signs of actual fleas on your dog or in your living environment, or if you have done the full flea eradication treatment on your dog and home but your dog is still scratching excessively, it’s time to ask your veterinarian for advice. He or she will help you determine the cause of your dog’s discomfort and suggest treatment options such as flea preventatives.



Image: Monkey Crazy Jump / via Shutterstock

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