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Flea Bites on Dogs: Identification & Symptoms

This is not medical advice. For medical advice regarding pets, see your veterinarian.

Flea bites on a dog’s skin look like small red bumps, sometimes with a red circle around them. They are similar to bites on humans. Although it is often hard to see the flea bites through the thick fur of dogs, an obvious sign of a flea infestation is itching and excessive scratching.

How to get rid of flea bites on my dog?” is a common question among pet owners, especially in the hot season. 

Fleas are a common problem for pets. They are often found in dogs’ fur and, in some cases, even pose a danger to their health.

More than uninvited guests who make your dog scratch excessively, fleas are also hematophagous, meaning they feed on the host’s blood. They also reproduce fast in your pet’s fur. Pet owners can often find eggs in their dog’s fur.

Fleas are extremely resistant and cannot be killed by crushing. Prevention is the best way to get rid of fleas and avoid flea bites on dogs.

In this article, you will learn about fleas, what a flea bite looks like on dogs, flea bite complications, how to treat them, and more.

What Are Fleas?

Fleas are external parasites that feed on blood from various hosts, including humans and pets. They can negatively impact the life of your dog and cause many diseases, including flea allergy dermatitis and tapeworms.

Fleas are insects that parasitize the skin of their host. They are part of the Siphonaptera order, which comprises several families. This includes the most important for veterinary and human medicine – the family Pulicidae (a flea family).

There are over 2,500 flea species worldwide that feed on the blood of mammals and birds[1].

They do not fly but can jump very high – up to 10 cm[2].

Ctenocephalides canis (dog fleas) and C. felis (cat fleas) are the two most commonly found flea species on dogs. They transmit various diseases, including plague bacteria (Yersinia pestis)[3] and tapeworms (Dipylidium caninum).

What Are Fleas

The Flea Life Cycle

Fleas have four biological stages:

  • Egg
  • Larva
  • Pupa
  • Young flea

A female flea can produce up to 2,000 eggs during her lifetime, laying about 40-50 eggs per day. The eggs are oval, white, non-sticky, and fall to the ground as soon as they are laid.[4]

Flea larvae hatch in one to 12 days and have the following traits:

  • They are small (3-5 mm long)
  • Light in color, translucent
  • Tiny hairs all over their bodies
  • Have no eyes, and are sensitive to light
  • They have no legs
  • The mouthpiece is adapted for breaking and chewing
  • They feed on various organic materials and adult flea droppings
The Flea Life Cycle

The larvae are usually found in places such as:

  • Cracks in the floor
  • In the carpet
  • Dog’s sleeping area
  • Under and inside the furniture

This stage lasts 4-18 days, after which the larvae weave their cocoons and turn into pupae.

The pupal stage follows the larvae stage. This can last from three days to a year, depending on temperature and humidity.

From the pupa comes a young flea, which feeds on blood. Female fleas lay eggs 48 hours after their first meal.

Young adults can survive even for months without eating if they have the right environmental conditions.

What Does a Flea Bite on a Dog Look Like?

A flea bite on a dog looks like a small, pink or discolored swelling or bump. A faded halo often occurs around it. Bites can appear in a straight line or in groups. The most obvious sign of fleas is intense scratching.

Fleas usually leave small, red dots after biting. Some bites can be discolored. The marks of flea bites are smaller compared to other insect bites but can become inflamed following intense scratching.

Some dogs are more sensitive to flea saliva, which leads to much larger red areas on their skin.

The areas where fleas are commonly found are:

  • Armpits
  • Inguinal
  • The base of the tail
  • Neck/under the chin
  • Between the shoulder blades

The areas where flea bites frequently occur are the groin area and the armpits because they are warm and protected.

What Does a Flea Bite on a Dog Look Like
Image Source

Common Symptoms of Flea Bites on Dogs

You may see the flea bites as tiny red marks in some areas of the dog’s body, while the fleas themselves look like blackheads. Because you can’t always see the flea bites on your dog, it is important to know the symptoms of fleas on dogs.

The most common signs of fleas on dogs are:

  • Intense itching
  • Excessive scratching
  • The dog bites, chews, and licks various areas of the body
  • Hair loss
  • Irritated red skin
  • Scabs
  • Flea dirt (feces)

Flea infestation is a common cause of itching in dogs. Fleas are transmitted from other animals or through the fleas’ development stages. Itching caused by flea infestation occurs mainly on the back, tail, abdomen, inner thighs, and neck.

Dermatological symptoms are especially noticeable in dogs allergic to the components of flea saliva.

Common Symptoms of Flea Bites on Dogs

Flea Bite Complications in Dogs

Fleas can cause complications by transmitting certain bacteria through their bites. These include Bartonella, Rickettsia, or Yersinia pestis (the bacterium responsible for the plague). Dogs sensitive to flea saliva may also develop an allergic reaction called flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). Fleas can also cause anemia in puppies and transmit tapeworms.

In addition to irritation and severe discomfort, flea bites can also cause anemia. Anemia especially occurs in young, sick, or otherwise weakened animals.

Fleas are also vectors for dangerous diseases. They can transmit certain bacteria to dogs and cats through their bites:

  • Bartonella spp. – including the bacteria responsible for cat scratch disease
  • Rickettsia spp. – a bacterium that causes typhus
  • Yersinia pestis – the bacterium responsible for the plague

Fleas can also be carriers for tapeworm eggs (Dipylidium caninum). Dogs have to swallow an infected flea to parasitize themselves with tapeworms.[5] 

The tapeworm attaches itself to the dog’s intestine and develops very quickly, releasing proglottids (small segments of the tapeworm full of eggs). They look like small grains of rice or cucumber seeds that move and can be observed around the dog’s anus or in its feces. Once the proglottids get into the environment, the cycle is repeated.

Infected dogs can transmit tapeworms to people (especially kids) and other pets.

What Is Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)?

Flea allergy dermatitis is an immunologic disease in which the immune system of a sensitive dog responds to an allergen – the flea saliva.

Of all dermatitis that can occur in dogs (bacterial, fungal, allergic), the most common is allergic dermatitis caused by flea bites.

This disease occurs as a result of the body’s exposure to flea saliva for long periods and in massive infestations. Pets living in an environment with a high concentration of fleas are prone to this disease.

The incidence of flea allergy dermatitis mostly occurs in the summer or during long periods with high temperatures. This is because fleas act depending on environmental conditions.

FAD symptoms can occur at any age but are more common in dogs up to five years of age.

The most common symptoms of flea allergic dermatitis in dogs are

  • Intense itching
  • Excessive scratching, chewing, biting, and licking of various areas of the body, which can lead to self-mutilation
  • Alopecia, especially in the flank area (the sides of the animal) and above the tail
  • Tiny red areas that are prominent to the touch
  • Irritated skin, especially at the base of the tail
  • The appearance of dirty fur that is given by flea feces (small black dots)

It is recommended to visit a vet at the first signs of discomfort in your pet, to treat and prevent flea allergy dermatitis in dogs.

Tick Bite Diseases in Dogs

How Do You Treat Flea Bites on Dogs?

Flea bites can be treated locally by disinfecting the affected area. They can become infected if the dog licks or scratches excessively. If your dog is intensely bitten by fleas, consult your veterinarian.

The best way to treat flea bites on your dog is to get rid of the fleas and prevent them in the future. 

If you find a flea bite on your dog, do the following:

  • Wash the area with soap and warm water.
  • Use disinfectants.
  • Use flea prevention.

If the lesions do not resolve in a few days, if they get infected, or if your dog is still itching, go to the vet for an examination. They may prescribe medication for your dog that will soothe its itching and allergic reaction.

There are many anti-flea products on the market from which you can choose what is best for your dog:

  • Tablets
  • Spot-on pipettes
  • Collars
  • Sprays
  • Powders
  • Shampoos

To ensure extra protection for your dog in the summer, it is recommended to use several antiparasitic products at the same time, such as spot-on pipettes and collars.

The use of antiparasitic substances is highly suggested but not always sufficient. In many cases, a disinsection of the environment in which your dog lives is also needed.

Conclusion

A dog that has fleas most likely has small, red dots on its skin, dirty fur due to flea droppings, and intense itching.

Flea bites are usually harmless, but there are cases when they can become infected or cause allergic reactions in pets. Fleas can also transmit various bacteria and parasites to your pet.

Flea bites are treated locally, and in more severe cases, you should take your dog to the vet. Apply antiparasitic substances regularly to prevent flea bites on your dog.

About Iulia Mihai (DVM)

Dr. Iulia is a certified veterinarian with more than 10 years of experience in the field. With extensive knowledge of diet, care, and medication, she helps Misfit Animals provide readers with accurate knowledge on technical topics.