What Are Dog Fleas?

5/14/2015

Dog fleas are also known by their scientific name, Ctenocephalides canis and are very rare in the United States, but widespread in Europe. Most cases of fleas on dogs reported (i.e., over 95 percent) are actually cat fleas. However, dog fleas are not as versatile and cannot live off of feline blood. Unlike dog fleas, cat fleas can live off the blood of any warm-blooded animal including birds, squirrels, rats and mice. Despite these differences, you would need a microscope to distinguish one flea from the other - it's virtually impossible to tell the physical difference between dog and cat fleas.

Dog fleas can bite humans, but prefer to feed on dog’s blood. They can go several months without feeding. The female of the species spends most of her life on the host animal, and requires a blood meal before she is able to lay eggs. Once she’s had this blood meal, she can produce up to 4,000 eggs in her lifetime, right on the fur of the animal.

There are four stages in a dog flea’s life cycle: egg, larva, pupa and adult. This entire development cycle can be as little as 14 to 21 days or take as long as a year. The time frame depends on environmental factors, such as humidity and temperature.

Basic Appearance

The adult dog flea is very small, only about 1 millimeter in length. Their bodies are reddish-brown to tan in color. The flea’s mouthparts are designed specifically for piercing and sucking blood from the host animal. They have flattened or pancake-shaped bodies which makes it easy for them to sift the animal’s fur. Their legs are covered with hairs and rearward facing spines so they can easily hang on for the ride when the animal is up and moving around. These hairs and spines on the flea’s body make it virtually impossible for you to pull them off the host. Fleas have very strong hind legs which they use to jump from one place to another.

Flea bite symtoms

When the female dog flea bites a host such as your dog, she immediately salivates and defecates on the open wound. This causes an irritation to the skin, and a red wheal will most likely develop at the site. Enzymes contained in the saliva and feces cause an itching sensation which leads to continual scratching and biting by the host animal. Some dogs may even develop flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). As a result of the continual biting and scratching, the dog may lose hair, exhibit “hot spots” or possibly an infection. When humans are bitten by dog fleas (again, this is rare), the person may develop a rash with small bumps that may bleed. Because fleas are ectoparasites, they can be the cause of flea anemia and tapeworms. Fleas also transmit a variety of diseases such as tularemia and Bubonic plague.

Prevention and control

Controlling and eliminating dog fleas can be a monumental task. Fleas living on your pet must be controlled. Several over-the-counter treatments are available. Consult with your veterinarian for the product that is best suited for your pet.

Inside your home, concentrate on the pet bedding or resting areas. Wash or throw away bedding materials and vacuum all floors thoroughly. Be sure to vacuum under beds, inside closets and other hard-to-reach areas. Vacuuming serves a very important role in the flea control process. Vacuuming removes some of the eggs, larva, pupa and even adults. Running the vacuum also stimulates fleas hiding in their protective pupa (cocoon) to emerge. When they come out, you suck them right up! In short, the more you vacuum, the better. Outside your home, cutting the grass often and at a short length will help. Also, eliminating leaf litter, woodpiles, pine straw and other potential flea harborage areas will aid in control.

Professional Help

Attempting to eliminate dog fleas both inside and outside your home with advertised products can be frustrating and, oftentimes, expensive. In addition to proper treatment, you will need the right equipment to distribute the product safely and efficiently. Your Terminix® pest management specialist has the training, the materials and the proper equipment needed to deliver safe and effective flea control for you, your family and your pets.