Despite the familiar image of flea-bitten dogs scratching themselves compulsively, fleas aren’t always easy to identify in dogs—especially early in the infestation, when the total number of fleas is still relatively low. In some cases, owners might first spot dog flea bites on humans before finding the fleas themselves. These bites can appear as small, red clusters on the skin and cause the same kind of discomfort that fleas themselves do.

While it’s possible to first spot fleas on your dog by the bite marks left on their skin, you might also catch actual fleas living in their fur—which might also be accompanied by scratching and other signs of discomfort. No matter how you discover them, fleas are an alarming parasite that dog owners want to quickly address.

Here’s an overview of how to spot fleas, how to get rid of them, and how to keep them from coming back.

Can You See Fleas On Dogs?

While most types of fleas on dogs can be easily seen with the naked eye, certain factors can make them more difficult to spot. Adult fleas, for example, are about an eighth of an inch long, which makes them large enough to see without a magnifying glass or other assistance. But the reddish-brown color of fleas can make them difficult to spot in similarly colored fur.

Young fleas and flea eggs, meanwhile, can be more difficult to spot, which is a problem for dog owners trying to detect fleas early.

Where Do Fleas Hide On Dogs?

Since fleas drink blood, they’re most likely to be found close to your dog’s skin. Fleas gravitate to parts of the body that are warm and protected, so locations such as the armpits, groin, and ears are likely to draw clusters of fleas. If you suspect fleas on your dog, check these locations thoroughly for signs of an infestation.

How to Check for Fleas On a Dog

If you suspect your dog has fleas, the best way to confirm an infestation is to run a fine-tooth comb through your dog’s fur, combing several parts of the body and focusing on locations with a reputation for attracting fleas.

Lay a white towel down on the ground to catch and fleas combed off of your dog. The white towel will make it easy to spot fleas that fall onto the floor—especially if the color of your dog’s fur masks the presence of fleas.

How to Get Rid of Fleas On My Dog

If your dog has already developed fleas, you’ll need to take action quickly to kill not only the adult fleas, but also the larvae and eggs in their skin. This may require treatment on multiple different fronts. While a flea shampoo or other chemical treatment is a necessary topical application that will kill the fleas in your dog’s fur, your local vet may also prescribe a flea pill that quickly kills any fleas feeding on your dog’s blood.

Treatment can depend on the severity of the infestation, so it’s important to consult your veterinarian for recommendations on how to treat these fleas.

Do Flea Collars Work On Dogs?

Although flea collars are not an effective treatment for existing flea infestations, these collars can be an effective preventative tool that dog owners may want to use if their pet is prone to attracting fleas. A single flea collar can provide effective defense against fleas for months, and this intervention is relatively cheap compared to the cost and effort involved in treating fleas that have already make a home in your dog.

The quality of flea collars can vary widely, and some of the cheapest options may not be effective at protecting your dog. To make sure your dog is adequately protected, consult your local vet for recommendations on the right brands to buy.

How to Prevent Fleas On Dogs

In addition to flea collars, you can help prevent the development of fleas on your dog in a few different ways, including:

  • Bathing and washing your dog regularly, especially after prolonged time spent outdoors. Bathing and washing can remove eggs and larvae before they’re able to mature and reproduce.
  • Check for fleas frequently if your dog has a history of fleas. Some dogs are more prone to fleas than others. Dog owners should pay particular attention when humidity and heat are near seasonal highs.
  • Limit your dog’s time spend outside. Be particularly careful when letting your dog run through tall grass or other wild environments where fleas may have an easier time jumping onto their bodies.

Fleas are no fun for you or your dog, but the good news is this parasite is preventable, treatable, and doesn’t pose serious health risks beyond the discomfort their bites produce. Pay attention to your dog’s behavior, and if you spot signs of discomfort, take action quickly to eradicate fleas and spare your dog the itching that they bring.

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