WHAT IS A PARASITE?
External parasites are pretty common among dogs. A parasite is an organism that lives off the resources your dog has to offer: namely, fresh blood (which most parasites drink) and a warm place to stay (in and on the skin and fur).
What are the common parasites that might affect my dog?
There are a wide range of parasites that affect dogs:
All of these parasites cause adverse reactions in your dog: typically, itching and inflamed skin, a dull coat, and bald spots. In advanced cases, your dog may develop anemia (blood loss) and become generally debilitated (particularly if he or she is very young, very old, or suffering from another condition).
In addition to this, many parasites convey secondary and internal parasites to your dog – for example, fleas usually carry the common tapeworm (which causes constipation and flatulence), and ticks can cause a variety of much more serious problems like Lyme’s disease and paralysis.
In today’s newsletter, we’re going to be looking at fleas: what they are, how to tell if your dog’s affected, and how to get rid of them.
A CLOSER LOOK AT FLEAS
Fleas are without question the number-one most common external parasite affecting dogs. They’re small, jumping insects that are light brown in color, although humans generally can’t see them – they move much too quickly for that!
Fleas live off your dog’s blood. The life cycle of a flea moves very rapidly from stage one (egg) to stage four (adult flea), which means they’re capable of multiplying with staggering rapidity.
An adult flea lays hundreds of eggs per day. Each egg will then become an adult flea, which lay hundreds more eggs of its own. One flea becomes a major problem very quickly!
HOW TO TELL IF YOUR DOG HAS FLEAS
The symptoms of a flea infestation are unmistakable.
A dog with a flea infestation will scratch almost constantly, often at areas that fleas seem to favor: the ears, the base of the tail, the belly, and the stifle (the webbing of soft skin between the thigh and the abdomen).
It’s actually the saliva of the flea that causes the irritation, not the bite itself, and some dogs have a genuine allergy to this saliva (as opposed to a standard irritation). Dogs with allergies suffer much more significant negative reactions to a flea infestation, and usually develop “hot spots”.
These hot spots are areas of sore, inflamed, flaking, bleeding, and infected skin, caused by the flea saliva and your dog’s own reaction to it. Bald patches will sometimes develop too, from repeated scratching and ongoing inflammation.
If you think your dog has fleas, you can confirm your suspicions by taking a closer look at his skin: you probably won’t be able to see the fleas themselves, but you should be able to see what looks like ground pepper (a thin sprinkling of fine black grains) on his skin. This is flea dirt (poop).
If you groom him with a flea comb (which is like a fine-tooth comb), try wiping it on a paper towel: if red blotches show up on the towel, you know that your dog has fleas (on a white background like a paper towel, flea poop shows up red: since fleas subsist on blood, their poop is colored accordingly).
TREATMENT FOR FLEAS
Because fleas only spend a small amount of time actually on your dog, and the rest of their time leaping through your house laying eggs and feeding on human blood, it’s not enough to just treat the dog: you also have to target his bedding, the entire house, all human bedding, and the yard (yes, fleas lay eggs all through the yard, too. Even if it’s cold outside, you’re not necessarily off the hook: cold weather doesn’t kill flea eggs, it just puts them into a state of hibernation. The eggs will hatch as soon as it gets warm enough outside.)
You’ll need a broad-spectrum treatment which kills not only the adult fleas (which are the ones that bite), but also any developing fleas, and the eggs.
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