Dogs can get sand fleas. Sand flea bites are extremely painful and itchy. Females can cause tungiasis, a medical condition that occurs after they bury themselves in the dog’s skin. Manual removal is the only treatment available.
If you enjoy going to the beach, playing volleyball, or walking along the shore, you’ve probably had itchy feet without knowing why.
The itchiness is caused by sand fleas. They jump on your skin and nibble on you, feeding on your blood.
The same thing can happen to dogs. When playing in sand or water, sand fleas can jump on dogs’ legs or abdomen, biting their skin and causing itching and scratching.
You don’t have to worry about taking sand fleas home because they prefer wet and sandy places instead of your carpet or floor joints, areas where pet fleas like to hide.
But this doesn’t mean your dog can’t take them home and infest the whole house.
In this article, you will learn what sand fleas are, how to tell if your dog has sand fleas, how to get rid of them, how to prevent them, and more.
What Are Sand Fleas?
Sand fleas are parasitic insects that feed on blood. They are found in Central and South America and parasitize humans and other mammals, including dogs and cats. They are not to be confused with sand crabs, which are also called sand fleas.
Sand fleas (also called chigoe fleas or jiggers) are the smallest known fleas (1 mm). They belong to the family Hectopsyllidae, genus Tunga, species T. penetrans.
Fleas of the Tunga genus can infect at least 26 different mammals, including dogs and humans. Only adult sand fleas feed on the host’s blood. The mature females remain in the host to lay eggs.
Female sand fleas bury their head into the skin and leave their behind visible through the orifice they made. This allows the flea to breathe, defecate, mate, and lay eggs. It feeds on the blood vessels in the cutaneous and subcutaneous dermal layer.
Within two weeks of mating, the female’s abdomen swells with up to a thousand eggs. The eggs are released through the caudal orifice outside the host’s body. Males die after mating while females die after laying eggs.
Here’s the lifecycle of a sand flea:
- Sand flea eggs are about 0.6 mm long. These hatch into larvae in 1-6 days if they have favorable environmental conditions. They feed on organic matter, like all flea species.
- 6-8 days after hatching, the larva becomes a pupa, building a cocoon around it.
- 9-15 days later, an adult male or female sand flea emerges from the cocoon.
The whole evolutionary cycle from egg to adult sand flea takes three to four weeks.
Sand Flea Appearance
Sand fleas are flat and their body is divided into three parts – head, chest, and abdomen. On the chest, it has three pairs of developed legs. The hind limbs are slightly longer than the front ones, which allows the insects to jump to a height of 35 cm.
The color of their body is usually dark, almost black. By looking closely, you can see that it is covered with tiny hairs.
Sand Crabs vs. Sand Fleas
Sand crabs, also known as mole crabs or sand fleas, are decapod crustaceans that bury in sand and feed through filtration. Due to their name, they are often confused with sand fleas.
The size of sand crabs is:
- About two inches in females
- 3-4 inches in males
Can Sand Fleas Cause Diseases?
Sand flea females can cause tungiasis, a form of skin parasitosis. This disease occurs when they bury into the skin. The disease usually goes away on its own.
Tungiasis or sarcopsillosis penetrans is a disease caused by female sand fleas and most often affects dogs’ feet and abdomen.
In humans, cases of infection have been reported in other parts of the body:
The disease occurs when the female sand flea burrows into the host’s skin.
The lesions that appear in tungiasis can be simple or multiple. This disease causes various symptoms:
- Severe pain at the bite site.
- Intense itching, which may be painful or asymptomatic.
- Brown spots or reddish papules on the skin.
- Suppuration and infiltration into the surrounding tissues.
- The presence of a black spot in the center of the affected area – the female’s body.
- A white abdomen of a female with eggs protruding from under the skin.
In advanced cases, tungiasis can lead to tissue necrosis and gangrene.
How to Tell if My Dog Has Sand Fleas
You can tell if your dog has sand fleas by scratching behavior and rashes. Dogs infested with sand fleas scratch and bite different areas of the body, especially their feet. You may also notice skin rashes or white lumps at the bite site.
If you took your dog to the beach in the last 24-48 hours and you see it expressing one or more of the following symptoms, your pet probably has sand fleas:
- Scratching, biting, or constantly trembling its skin and fur.
- Tiny, moving black dots on its body.
- Possibly yelping or barking when the fleas bite.
- Skin rash or swelling.
- Possible high temperatures (fever).
- Mosquito-like bites.
- White lumps at the bite site.
A dog with sand fleas usually behaves like a dog with common fleas. The differences are not so significant. You can’t make a clear distinction between the symptoms of these two infestations.
The best way to tell if your dog is infested with sand fleas is to look for white bumps with a small black dot in the center. This is a female sand flea buried in your dog’s skin.
How Do I Treat My Dog for Sand Fleas?
To treat tungiasis in dogs, your veterinarian must remove the buried fleas. Sand fleas that roam free in your pet’s fur can be removed when bathing your dog. Using classic antiparasitic products can also help treat dogs with sand fleas.
Dogs with sand fleas can get rid of the free-roaming ones by applying classic antiparasitic products:
- Spot-on pipettes
Buried sand fleas have to be removed from the skin manually by your vet. If left untreated, they can lead to local infections or necrosis.
Keep the area clean after the veterinarian removes the buried flea by washing the infected area with soap and water. Applying rubbing alcohol or other antiseptics until healing is complete.
If your dog suffers from intense itching, you can use antihistamine creams that help soothe the affected area. Itching can last for a week, even with treatment.
Related: How to Get Rid of Fleas
How to Prevent Sand Fleas in Dogs
To prevent sand fleas in your dog, you should apply antiparasitic products, wash your dog whenever you return from the beach, and avoid the beach on rainy days.
To prevent sand fleas in your dog, you should:
- Check your dog for sand fleas every time you come back from the beach. Finding and removing buried females can reduce the risk of infection and infestation.
- Wash your dog as soon as you leave the beach and shake all the objects you have been to the beach with, such as beach towels and other accessories.
- Don’t let your dog dig in the sand. Sand fleas usually attack the feet.
- Avoid going to the beach with your dog after it rains. Sand fleas like cold air, and they become extremely aggressive after it rains.
- Go to the beach in the middle of the day, when the fleas are not so active.
- Create a barrier between your pet and the sand by using a beach towel.
- Use antiparasitic products on your dog to prevent fleas.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), you can also use a coconut oil-based repellent to prevent female sand fleas from burying into the skin.
To repel sand fleas on your dog you can also try using essential oils, such as lemongrass, lemon, eucalyptus, lavender, or peppermint. Add a few drops of essential oils to 100 ml of water, mix well, and spray the mixture on the dog’s fur. Your dog can become intoxicated if it licks the solution, so keep an eye on it after applying the mixture.
You can apply the same solution to your shoes (on the rim and sole), socks, and pants to prevent fleas from getting on you.
How to Remove Sand Fleas from Your Home
If you or your dog has sand fleas, make sure you treat your home with pesticides:
- Spray insecticide in your home, around the yard, in the areas your dog often hangs around, and its bedding to get rid of stray sand fleas.
- Vacuum the house daily and use a steam vacuum on your furniture (sofa and bed).
- Wash your dog’s bedding in hot water after it gets rid of fleas.
- If you find sand flea eggs or pupae, you can dehydrate and kill them by adding salt.
Pay attention to sand fleas if you go to the beach with your dog. Especially if you live in Central and South America. They can bite you and your dog, and their bites are extremely painful and itchy.
Sand flea females can cause a parasitosis called tungiasis. They make an orifice in the skin where they bury themselves. Sand fleas females stay there until they die.
To get rid of the fleas buried in your dog’s skin, take it to a veterinarian to have the fleas removed manually. This will prevent infection and future infestations (if the females have eggs).
Protect your dog with classic antiparasitic products to prevent flea infestation, and avoid going to the beach right after it rained.