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How to Tell if Your Dog Has Fleas: What to Look For

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You can tell your dog has fleas as it scratches intensely, experiences hair loss, has red spots on its body, and sometimes yelps when the fleas bite. Fleas can be found all over your dog’s body when it has a massive infestation.

Fleas are very common on pets, but this does not make them less disgusting or annoying. They can transmit diseases to people and pets and infest your home if left undetected.

It is easy to realize your dog has fleas, especially when it has a massive infestation. How? You look at the behavior your dog adopts, such as a sudden intense scratching, or check its fur.

You can keep your dog and the environment in which it lives healthy and clean if you are aware of the symptoms of fleas on dogs. You can achieve this if you apply prompt treatment and regular prevention.

In this article, you will learn where to look for fleas on dogs, what the symptoms of fleas on dogs are, what fleas look like on dogs, what to do, and much more.

How to Tell if Your Dog Has Fleas 

You can tell if your dog has fleas with visual cues, a manual check, or looking for symptoms. Signs of fleas include red bumps, itching, hair loss, and dry skin.

Here are three ways you can tell if your dog has fleas or not:

  • Visual signs
  • Checking your dog’s fur by hand
  • Signs your dog shows when it has fleas

Visual Signs of Fleas

What Do Fleas Look Like on Dogs
Image Source

In many cases, fleas can be seen roaming on your dog. You can see them passing on your dog’s belly, head, or other areas with thin or short hair. For massive infestations, you can also see fleas clustering on your pet. In these situations, several fleas gather in the same area to feed.

Infestation GradeAmount of fleas
Light infestation~20 fleas
Massive infestationOver 200 fleas

Another visual sign of fleas is flea droppings (flea feces). They are dark red to black, irregularly shaped, and as thick as a needle. Flea droppings make your dog seem dirty.

Manual Check for Fleas 

Manual Check for Fleas

It is obvious a dog has fleas when it suffers from a massive infestation because they can be noticed without manually checking the pet.

Hand-checking for fleas is a suited method for dogs with light infestations. Do this when you come home with your pet after a walk.

It is recommended to check your dog for fleas daily or at least once a week. This way, you make sure your dog’s fur is always clean and free of fleas.

Always have a bowl of soapy water next to you to dispose of fleas after you catch them. The soapy water makes them drown.

How to catch fleas with your hands:

  1. Run your fingertips slowly against the grain over your dog’s fur to expose its skin.
  2. Quickly put your finger on the flea when you see it (they run very fast).
  3. Take the flea between your fingers.
  4. Crush it between your fingernails or on a hard surface.
  5. Dispose of it in soapy water.
  6. Do this all over your pet’s body.

Check your dog for fleas all over its body, especially in areas like the armpits, groin, under the neck, or base of the tail.

Look for Symptoms

Common Symptoms of Flea Bites on Dogs

Dogs infested with fleas display behavioral changes and symptoms:

  • Has your dog suddenly changed its behavior?
  • Did it start to scratch and bite until it self-mutilates?
  • Is it experiencing hair loss?
  • Does its skin look red and irritated?
  • Do you see insect bites all over its body?

All of these may be signs your dog is infested with fleas.

Symptoms of Fleas 

Your dog probably has fleas if it starts scratching violently, bites itself on various parts of its body, yelps out of the blue, and has red bumps on its skin.

Flea infestation in dogs can be confused with other medical conditions, such as dermatitis, skin allergies, or internal diseases with external manifestations. It is important to know the symptoms of fleas on dogs and what to look for when you suspect your pet is having fleas.

Scratching and Biting

Dog Still Itching After Flea and Tick Treatment

Dogs scratch with their claws or teeth (they bite their skin with their front teeth). Itching due to flea bites causes restlessness, itchiness, and self-mutilation.[1]

When fleas bite your dog, they inject saliva. Fleas’ saliva is irritating[2], and can cause your dog to itch and scratch intensely.

Dogs with massive infestations end up scratching so hard they self-mutilate. These dogs scratch continuously and experience bleeding lesions or scabs on their skin and hairless areas.[3]

Due to repeated flea bites, some dogs develop an allergy to flea saliva.

Red Bumps

Are Fleas Dangerous to Dogs

Flea bites look like any insect bite. They are red, small, raised, and round. They can be found in various places when your dog has a few fleas, or in clusters when it is massively infested.

These red bumps are easily seen in areas with thin hair, such as your dog’s belly or groin area. They commonly go away on their own without the need for treatment.

Yelping

This behavior occurs when dogs are bitten by fleas, especially in sensitive areas, making your pet act restless and erratic.

Hair Loss

Flea Allergy Dermatitis Prevention
Image Source

Hair loss in flea infestations occurs when your dog repeatedly scratches in the same place. It is often seen at the base of the tail. Your pet has easy access to this area and can scratch it intensely with its teeth. 

In addition to hair loss, you may notice irritated, warm areas with dry or moist skin (due to the overlapping of secondary bacterial infections).

What Do Fleas on Dogs Look Like?

Fleas are dark brown, and according to their gender, they can have a dark abdomen (males) or yellowish abdomen (females). They are 1-2 cm long and are difficult to spot in dogs with dark or long hair.

Fleas are small insects (1-2 mm long[4]), dark in color, that do not fly or jump high. Females are easier to spot than males as they are larger and have a yellowish abdomen.

Fleas have three stages of development after they hatch, all with different appearances:

  1. Larva
  2. Pupa
  3. Adult

The larvae are small, nearly white, and about 5 mm long[5]. They live in cracks, carpets, furniture, floors, etc., and feed with debris and flea feces. Larvae can be seen on pets in rare cases.

What Are Fleas

Where to Look for Fleas on Dogs

Check for fleas in your pet’s armpits, under its chin and neck, or groin area. These are common areas for fleas to hide because they are protected and warm. You can also find fleas on your dog’s head in massive infestations, although it is not as common.

Fleas especially prefer double-coated or long-haired breeds. These dogs make the perfect shelter for fleas.

The most common areas where fleas like to hide and feed on dogs are:

  • Under the chin and neck.
  • Between the shoulder blades.
  • On the sides of the back.
  • Armpits.
  • Groin area.
  • Legs.
  • The base of the tail.

FAQs

Can Fleas be White?

Flea larvae can be white, but not adult fleas. Adult fleas are dark brown. Larvae are white until they feed with flea droppings, after which they become brown. Flea larvae do not usually live on pets but can accidentally parasitize them.

What if I Can’t Find Any Fleas, but My Pet Is Still Scratching?

If you can’t find fleas, but your dog is still scratching, it is best to go to a vet. The symptoms of fleas on dogs can be confused with other health problems, such as skin allergies, dermatitis, or internal diseases with skin manifestations.

Where Do Dogs Pick up Fleas?

Dogs pick up fleas from the external environment and animals they come in contact with (pets, stray or wild animals).

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.

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