Fleas love a puppy’s fur almost as much as their owners. But this means that infestations are pretty common, even in very young dogs. So it’s crucial that new owners know what to look out for and how to treat their pup effectively.
Here’s what new puppy owners need to know about spotting the signs of flea problems on their pet, understanding the threats they pose and what they can do to be prevented.
What are fleas?
Fleas are tiny, brown-black coloured parasites that feed from your puppy by sucking on its blood.
How do puppies catch fleas?
I often meet people who think that fleas can fly, but that’s not true. They can, however, jump huge distances and are therefore easily transferred from other dogs and animals your pet comes into contact with.
Your pup can also catch fleas from bedding, carpets or soft furnishings where an infected pet has shed flea eggs. Flea eggs can lie dormant in your home for almost a year.
We often see fleas transmitted by humans too. They’re easily picked up on walks and owners can inadvertently introduce them to their pets by bringing fleas into the home on their clothing or shoes.
How do I spot them?
The first sign that your puppy might have fleas is if you see them itching, scratching and nibbling at their fur.
The fleas themselves are pretty easy to spot. If you’re not sure, I recommend grooming your puppy with a fine-toothed comb over a moist, white kitchen towel. If the droppings turn reddish-brown, your pup is likely to have fleas.
Parasites are often a bigger problem during periods of warm weather, or when the central heating is switched on for the winter, so you should keep a closer eye on your pup throughout the summer and winter months.
What health risks are associated with fleas?
The problems associated with fleas are well known – they bite into the skin of your pet and inject their saliva. It leaves a red mark that can be incredibly itchy.
Besides causing your pet considerable discomfort and skin problems, I often see other serious health risks posed by fleas when an infected pup is brought to my surgery. Fleas can transmit other parasites such as tapeworms, and a heavy infestation can cause anaemia due to blood loss that could be fatal in a puppy that’s weak or poorly.
How can fleas be treated?
Although a nasty nuisance for any puppy and its owner, fleas are easily treated. If you suspect that your puppy has fleas, I recommend speaking to your vet straight away. They’ll be able to prescribe the best products and check that your pet isn’t suffering from any nasty side effects, such as skin infections.
Here’s my quick rundown of some of the most widely used treatments…
- Spot on treatments. A popular form of treatment, spot on products involve a solution being applied directly to a dog’s skin.
- Tablets. Ask your vet about the options.
- Flea powders and shampoos. These are applied to your puppy’s coat to help relieve problems. Tend to be only effective in the shorter term.
- Collars. These work by emitting a toxin that kills fleas. Some can cause irritation to your pet and not all are particularly reliable. Ask your vet for advice.
It’s really important to note that if you also have a cat in your home, you should never use a flea treatment for a dog on your pet cat. Some flea treatments for dogs contain a chemical called permethrin that can be fatal to cats.
You’ll also need to treat your house thoroughly with an appropriate spray to kill the remaining 95% of the fleas. And you’ll need to vacuum your home to get rid of any fleas in your furniture and carpets. Make sure that any spray you use is safe for cats and other animals in your home.
Given that fleas can transfer worms to your puppy, it’s important to treat them for worms too, especially if they’ve had fleas. Again, seek advice from your vet as many prescription-only products cover against worms as well as external parasites including fleas.
How can I prevent my puppy from getting fleas?
I always say that prevention is better than a cure and much easier than dealing with an established infestation. So make sure your puppy and all other animals in the house are regularly dosed with a good-quality flea treatment. Your vet will give you advice on which to choose. Regular use of an effective flea product will prevent re-infestation and washing your pet’s bedding regularly in hot water will help to get rid of any flea eggs that might be hanging around.