How Do Dogs Get Fleas?

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles
Updated on 21 November 2020
Expert Content

Fleas are a common issue for dogs.

They can be picked up from other dogs and animals such as cats, birds, rabbits, squirrels and other wild animals.

Once your dog gets fleas, it can be difficult to get rid of them, becoming a real source of frustration for both owners and dogs.

If you own dogs like me, you may be familiar with some of the preventative treatments available to prevent fleas.

In this article, we spoke to five experts, ranging from vets to pest control specialists, to learn about how dogs get fleas, what steps you can take to prevent fleas as well as possible treatments.

Golden Retriever at the vet (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Golden Retriever at the vet (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Humans Can Bring Fleas Indoors

Dr Jamie Richardson, Medical Chief of Staff at Small Door Veterinary

Dogs can pick up fleas in a number of ways:

• Exposure to other flea-infested animals – Fleas can easily jump onto your pet from a carrier animal in close range, whether that’s outside or inside your home.

• Mice – These common flea-carriers can bring fleas into your household from outdoors.

• Humans – Humans can bring fleas indoors too! Fleas and flea eggs can stick to shoes or clothing from outdoors and drop onto the floors of your home. They can also be found in bedding, rugs, blankets, and plush toys, so if you receive any of these secondhand, thoroughly check them for fleas before bringing them into your home, and immediately wash them in hot water.

• Pet daycare, boarding facilities, or even the groomer.

• From the outdoors – Fleas can survive outdoors for a long period of time, especially during warm, humid weather. Check your dog after they’ve been to places like the dog park, a backyard, or out for a long walk, especially in grassy or wooded areas.

Treating fleas

If your dog has fleas, your vet can prescribe a number of medications to kill the fleas and provide protection against re-infestation. They may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medication to help control skin irritation and soothe the itching. If the skin has become infected, an antibiotic may be prescribed.

When dealing with a flea problem, not only does the pet need to be treated but the environment as well. Washing all bedding, fabrics and soft toys in hot water, meticulous vacuuming to remove fleas, larvae and eggs from carpets and crevices, and home ‘bombs’ or foggers (an aerosolized product that can help kill fleas and larvae in the home environment) are all strategies to help remove and kill fleas and flea eggs.

Treating a flea infestation can be difficult. It may take weeks or even months to fully break the lifecycle of the fleas. Fully disinfecting your home and all of the things your pet comes into contact with are very important when it comes to eradicating your home of fleas.

Preventing fleas

Getting rid of fleas can be a frustrating and difficult process, so prevention is best, and thankfully quite simple. There are a number of different preventative treatments for fleas (including topical products that you apply to the back of your dog’s neck, oral products such as chewable tablets, and even flea-repelling collars).

Your vet can help determine which product is right for you and your dog. Most of these preventatives must be administered monthly, and it’s critical that you adhere to the monthly schedule. Missing even a single treatment – no matter what the season – could be the opening a flea needs to infest your dog.

Getting Fleas Is Nothing To Be Ashamed Of

Sakura Davis, Veterinary Technician in Washington and Veterinary Consultant at catpet.club

How do dogs get fleas?

Fleas need blood to survive and they feast on warm- blooded animals such as dogs, cats, rabbits, etc. While many dog owners confess that their dogs have never had fleas, if your dog is not on any flea prevention, chances are your dog has/had some fleas in their lifetime. Fleas will take any opportunity to find a host. They can jump on your dog while you’re out walking, at the dog park, or even in your backyard.

Also, even if your dog is a strictly indoor dog (uses the puppy pad for elimination), dog owners can bring fleas into the house.

How is that possible? Female adult fleas will lay their eggs on their host and the eggs sometimes fall off, ending up in or on our clothing, belongings, and even on our bare skin. So essentially, we are the transporters. Also, fleas will feast on human blood. However, they usually do not live on us because we cannot provide the furry shelter as our dogs would.

Is there a common cause?

Your dog can be the cleanest dog, groomed often, and still get fleas just because they are warm blooded hosts. Getting fleas is nothing to be ashamed of. It is common in dogs all over the world and they are so easy to treat, thus prevent.

What can pet owners do to prevent and treat fleas?

Pet owners can treat fleas by first taking care of the infected dog. You can examine for fleas using a flea comb and combing the hind end (this is where fleas usually like to reside).

If you notice black dots on the comb, those may be flea droppings. You can confirm this by wetting the droppings on a piece of napkin, if it turns red (undigested blood by the adult fleas), you can lean towards flea droppings. Also, along with the droppings, if you notice your pet scratching and itching excessively or biting at their hind and tail, you can suspect fleas.

Of course the best way is to spot a live flea but you may never see one as they are tiny and fast moving creatures.

To treat fleas and prevent fleas, the best method is to use a flea medication, preferably ones prescribed by a veterinarian. Over the counter flea medication may work however, they may not be as effective. I would stay clear of using flea shampoo as that only treats fleas for that moment. Fleas will jump right back on your dog and many fleas may be left behind even after bathing the pet.

If your dog is an anti pill taker, you can also use seresto collars, which lasts for eight months and repels fleas and ticks. However, this method may or may not work for all dogs as flea infestation has been noted while using this collar. Another non-pill method is the advantage multi which is a topical prevention for fleas and heartworms. It kills fleas within 12 hours of contact.

Fleas can survive in temperatures between 37 degrees Fahrenheit to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. If you reside in the area where temperatures are usually between these degrees during the year, I would recommend keeping your dog on a flea prevention all year long.

Pug is checked over by vet (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Pug is checked over by vet (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Fleas Are A Nightmare!

Emma Bowdrey, an ISCP-trained Dog Trainer at Four Long Legs

Fleas are found everywhere – both inside and out – and can be transmitted from dog to dog extremely quickly. Fleas can also be found on other animals and whilst most species have their own unique type of flea, fleas are not always fussy about their hosts.

Dogs are extremely social creatures and will greet other dogs while out walking. Even the briefest of meetings is enough time for a flea to jump from one dog to another. By simply walking past another dog, a flea has the opportunity to take up a new residence. And once there, they multiply quickly.

As well as outside, boarding centres, doggy daycares, shelters and vets are all places where fleas can be found. It only takes one dog to spread fleas to all the dogs in the facility. The problem with fleas is that it’s not just the dogs who come into contact with a host who are affected. As fleas lay eggs daily and these drop onto carpets, bedding, mats, grass, crevasses of floorboards, collars and leads, toys, and everywhere else, dogs coming to those facilities for weeks and months to come could also be effected once the flea larvae hatch.

Fleas are a nightmare! Infestations will take months of constant flea remedies, cleaning and washing your dog to get rid of. Preventing your dog from getting fleas is the very best policy. Spending out on a collar or pipette solution each month is well worth it. With a monthly dose of flea prevention any fleas that do jump onto your dog – and let’s face it, that will happen often – are killed off before they can start to lay eggs.

Fleas Always Seek Hosts

Kristiana Kripena, InsectCop.net

Fleas live on a variety of different animals, and both other pets and wildlife can be harboring fleas and therefore giving them to your dog. And since it takes only a moment for a flea to jump from one animal to the next, this is one of the most common ways how dogs get infested with fleas.

How to prevent this? Of course, you can not let your pup interact with other animals, but, since dogs are sociable creatures, this might not be the best solution to the problem. Rather, you should use preventative measures such as dog flea treatments regularly to make sure that even a flea or two have made their way onto your pup, they don’t start to breed and create a huge problem.

The other and often even more common way how dogs get fleas is from the environment they interact with. This can happen both indoors and outside.

Fleas always seek hosts to spend their life and breed on, so they will often jump on and off different animals to find a more favorable environment to live in. So if a flea has jumped off one animal and is waiting for its next host in the grass or on any other surface it will probably jump on your pet as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

Here are some things you can do to limit this from happening:

• Make sure to keep other animals, especially stray cats and dogs, and even wildlife out of your backyard. These types of animals usually harbor fleas so, if you prevent them from visiting your backyard, you’re also limiting the chance that your dog will come into contact with fleas that jumped off of these animals in search of a better host.

• Additionally, you should also regularly mown your lawn and clean up any leaves or debris there might be in your yard since long grass, piles of leaves, and other debris are not only places that fleas like to live and hide in but might also harbor other critters that might have fleas.

• Another thing you should do often, especially if other pets have visited your home recently, is to wash your dog’s bedding and any other textile (such as pillows and blankets) that fleas might be using as a temporary hideout. It also might be smart to treat any carpets or upholstery there might be in your home just to make sure that there are no fleas in your home ready to jump on your pet.

• Also, lower the humidity in your home since fleas treat in a high-humidity environment.

• Make sure to clean your home often to not only keep it tidy but to also vacuum up any fleas that might be residing in your home.

• And lastly, ultimately the best way to prevent and get rid of fleas on your pet is to treat them with flea medicine. Nowadays, there are many options available from topical treatments and flea collars to monthly oral medicine and flea shampoos and sprays. And which one you use will depend on your preference and/or your vet’s recommendation.

Husky puppy has a check up (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Husky puppy has a check up (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Adult Female Fleas Typically Lay Around 25 Eggs Per Day

Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM and Advisory Board Member for Pup Life Today

Fleas thrive in warm and humid locations like the Southeast and the Pacific Northwest but they can be found throughout the US. The most common type of flea is Ctenocephalides felis, otherwise known as the cat flea, which also infests dogs, rabbits, and rodents. Fleas will also bite people if more suitable hosts can’t be found.

Adult female fleas typically lay around 25 eggs per day.

he eggs are laid on the host animal but quickly fall off into the environment. The larvae that emerge from the eggs go through three stages of growth before they form a cocoon and become pupae. Flea cocoons are tough, and pupae can survive for many months. Oftentimes they will wait until they sense, through warmth and pressure, that a host is in the vicinity. The newly emerged adult fleas quickly jump aboard the nearest pet to continue their lifecycle.

Flea preventatives are widely available, but some products are safer and more effective than others.

Older style flea collars do not work very well, but a newer over the counter product called Seresto is a great option for pet owners who prefer a collar over other forms of flea prevention. Spot-on products that contain the active ingredient fipronil are also available without a veterinarian’s prescription. Because some flea populations appear to be developing resistance to fipronil, manufacturers are adding additional active ingredients to many of their flea preventatives.

A veterinarian familiar with a pet’s individual needs is in the best position to recommend a safe and effective flea preventative.

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