Fleas are the most common external parasite. They can make your pet uncomfortable, and lead to serious infections or diseases if left untreated. Our Baltimore vets offer advice about early signs of infection, and what to do if your pet has fleas.
What are fleas?
These external parasites rely on an animal host for survival. Unless pet parents take the steps to break their lifecycle, adult fleas will continue to reproduce and live on your pet - and in your house.
What signs of flea infestation should I look for?
A flea's saliva can contain protein that causes an allergic reaction in dogs and cats, which is why they will often begin to scratch as soon as a flea bites their skin. Even one flea bite can cause your pet to scratch excessively and become agitated.
Besides scratching, you may notice pimples or red bumps on your pet's belly, on their behind or at the base of their tail. These can also appear under their legs or on their groin. This constant itching and scratching will cause hair loss and dry skin. If fleas are left untreated, infections and lesions can also develop and result in more severe diseases.
How can I check my pet for fleas?
Adult fleas are brown, small, and relatively easy to spot with the naked eye.
While you're grooming them, you'll want to check your pet's comb or brush. A good way to do this is to have your pet lie on their side, which allows you to closely examine areas covered by thin hair, such as the abdomen.
"Flea dirt" or feces can look like tiny grains of sand, or black pepper when wet. To check for flea dirt, use a fine-tooth flea comb available at your vet's office to comb along your pet's underbelly and back. By having your pet stand on a white towel or cloth while grooming them, you will be able to easily spot any black droppings that drop from their fur.
What if I can’t spot any fleas, but my pet is still scratching?
If you see no signs of fleas but still notice your pet scratching, book an appointment with your vet, who can administer a skin test to determine if your pet may have an allergy to fleas or other causes during your visit. An allergy may be making your pet uncomfortable and causing them to scratch.
How do I get rid of fleas if my cat or dog does have them?
Several safe and effective treatments can be used to get rid of fleas, including powders, sprays, topical liquids and shampoos. If your pet's case is more severe, you may need to see your vet for antibiotics or prescription creams.
The first methods of choice include parasite prevention and early treatment to ensure fleas don't cause more serious issues in the future.