K9 Corner: How to keep your dogs free of fleas

Published 3:24 pm Tuesday, October 8, 2019


K9 Corner

This is the time of year when dog owners battle fleas. It seems to be worse this year than in the past few years, possibly because of the hot, dry weather. Dogs with fleas are constantly scratching and chewing, however, itches can be caused by allergies as well as parasites.

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When you notice your dog scratching and chewing on its lower back or licking and chewing its stomach, especially between the hind legs, stand the animal on a table in good light and starting at the base of the tail, comb the hair on the back against the grain to expose the skin. If you see tiny black specks, your dog probably has fleas since these black specks can be “flea dirt” or technically flea droppings. However, do not jump to conclusions too quickly if you haven’t spotted a live flea at this time. One of my dogs loved to roll in the dirt and grass, which can look like “flea dirt.” Get a small container of water, dampen your finger, touch some of the specks and rinse your finger in the water. Flea dirt is really digested blood so the specks will dissolve and change the color of the water to pink.

The time-honored method of conquering an infestation of fleas is to wash and remove the fleas from the animal, spray and vacuum the house, wash and disinfect the dog house bedding, and spray the environment in one day every three weeks during the warm months. (Getting cooler, I hope.) There are canine shampoos on the market that kill or at least stun the live fleas which can then be rinsed off with a spray hose.

However, some dogs, mainly the very young, the ill and very old animals, cannot tolerate the insecticide in these shampoos. If that is the case, using a high-lathering, mild shampoo and leaving the suds on the dog for at least five minutes will suffocate the fleas sufficiently that they can be rinsed off with the sprayer. When I use this method, I apply two latherings to make sure all the fleas are gone.

Your veterinarian can help if you discover a severe infestation. There are medications on the market that are given to the dog once a month which breaks the cycle of reproduction any time a female flea bites the treated animal. This medication does not kill the adult flea, but at least new fleas will not be hatching. Since one adult female flea can lay over 1,000 eggs in her lifetime, that is a comforting thought.

Other products available through your veterinarian are medications, some topical, others oral.  These products are absorbed by the skin and kill adult fleas. Look for flea sprays that have a growth regulator or inhibitor. Fleas die before they reach the egg laying stage when treated with a growth regulator.