Dog flea symptoms are easy to spot, but they can sometimes be hard to identify as coming from fleas.
That’s because most dog flea symptoms aren’t from the fleas themselves.
Rather, they’re secondary to the bites that dogs get from the nasty critters.
Below, we’ll discuss these symptoms, as well as how to quickly determine at home if your dog actually has fleas.
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Dog Flea Symptoms + How to Quickly Spot Fleas at Home
If you suspect that your dog has fleas, you can use a variety of methods in conjunction with one another to determine if he has them.
This combination of inspection and assessment of physical symptoms can help you determine if your furry friend has a flea infestation.
As always, this guide to dog flea symptoms and finding those little buggers is simply a guide.
Always consult your vet if you think your dog has any sort of health problem.
They’ll have the best combination of both clinical and real-world knowledge to help you figure out if your dog has fleas and what to do about them.
With that being said, let’s first take a look at how to check your dog for fleas.
How to Check Your Dog for Fleas
First things first. Let’s talk about fleas themselves. It’s important to know some important facts about them because they are hard to spot.
Fleas are very small, wingless insects. They’re only around one-eighth inches long at their maximum size.
They are visible to the naked eye, but flea are so small, they usually just look like tiny moving brown seeds.
They’re also very fast, with the ability to quickly and efficiently move about your dog’s body.
That means that unless you’re making a concerted effort to spot them or your dog is thoroughly infested, you might not ever see them on him.
They can also jump incredibly great distances for their size. The average flea can jump up to 13 inches.
For these reasons, fleas can be difficult to spot on your dog, so it’s important to know how to look for them.
You might not ever see a flea, but you might see other signs of fleas that can help you determine if your dog has them.
White Towel Test
The white towel test is an easy way to look for one of the tell-tale signs of fleas – flea dirt.
Flea dirt is just a nice way of saying flea poop.
It’s the waste left behind by fleas after they take their blood meals.
To do this test, have your dog stand on a white paper towel or cloth and then vigorously rub his coat for a few minutes.
Check the cloth for any small, sand-like debris. True to its name, flea dirt will look like tiny granules of dirt.
If you wet these granules with water or alcohol, they’ll make the paper towel or cloth beneath them turn red.
If that happens, your dog either has or has had fleas.
While fleas can move quickly, they are easy to spot if you know how to check for them.
The key here is to move slowly and gently.
Fleas scurry away from disturbances, so keep your checking even-keeled to reduce the chances that they’ll simply scurry away as you check.
To visually check for fleas, lay your dog on his side, and check his abdomen and inside hindquarters where the hair is thinner.
Fleas love these areas because they tend to be darker and more well-protected.
If you see little blackish-brown bugs moving around those areas, you’ve found your fleas.
You might also see flea eggs, although you might mistake them for dry skin. Flea eggs are tiny.
They’re only about 0.5 millimeters long and about 0.25 millimeters wide – about the size of a grain of salt.
Although they’re visible to the naked eye, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you might not think anything of them.
If you find any small “grains” like this, put them on a black piece of paper.
If they’re oval-shaped and off-white, they’re probably flea eggs.
You can use a flea comb to help you in your search for fleas, as well.
You can get these fine-toothed metal combs at your vet or local pet supply store.
To use a flea comb to check for fleas, simply run it along your dog’s back or underbelly.
Be sure to apply enough pressure so that the comb makes contact with the skin.
If your dog has fleas, you’ll most likely end up with a comb full of flea dirt.
Sometimes, you’ll even find fleas trapped in the comb.
When doing the flea comb test, be sure to have a bowl of hot, soapy water within reach so you can drown any fleas that might be caught up in the flea comb.
Otherwise, they might jump back onto your dog, or worse, make their way into your home.
Dog Flea Symptoms
So we know how to check our dog for fleas if we suspect he has them, but what do dog flea symptoms look like?
There are a number of dog flea symptoms.
Any one of them on their own doesn’t necessarily point to fleas, however, if your dog has several symptoms, he could potentially have a flea problem.
If your dog shows any of the symptoms below, inspect him for fleas and then immediately make an appointment with your veterinarian.
Even if he doesn’t have fleas, he certainly has some sort of uncomfortable skin problem that should be addressed immediately.
Common Flea Symptoms
- Excessive scratching, itching, biting, and licking of the tail and hindquarters
- Loss of hair on the lower back, tail, and/or rear leg areas
- Flea bites
- Red patches of skin
- Small bumps on the body and/or neck
- Allergic dermatitis (reaction to flea bites)
- Yeast, bacterial, and other skin infections secondary to allergic dermatitis
- Ear infections
- Flea dirt
If you find your dog is chewing at his tail area but you don’t see fleas, it’s still a good idea to take him to the vet.
As I said earlier, it can often be hard to spot fleas, even if they’re on your dog.
In addition, fleas can transmit tapeworms to your dog, and a symptom of worms is licking at the base of the tail and anus.
Symptoms of Flea Infestation
A flea infestation comes with its own set of symptoms in addition to the ones listed above.
Some people ask what constitutes a flea infestation.
Honestly, one flea is enough for an infestation. Here’s why.
Fleas can lay eggs in as little as 24 hours, and it takes around two weeks for the eggs to mature.
One female can lay 20 eggs at once, so if your dog gets just one female flea on him, he could have up to 20 fleas on him in two weeks.
In another two weeks, he’ll be firmly into the flea infestation zone.
- Symptoms listed above
- Thickened, crusty, or oily skin due to chronic infections secondary to allergic dermatitis
- Pale gums due to anemia secondary to profuse flea bites
- Anemia-related fatigue
- Weight loss and fatigue due to tapeworms transmitted by fleas
Symptoms of Dog Dying From Fleas
Although rare, dogs can die from flea infestations.
When dogs are severely infested with fleas for a long period of time, the amount of blood meals the fleas take outpaces the dog’s ability to create new red blood cells, the cells that transmit oxygen throughout his body.
If left untreated, this can lead to death due to an inability to adequately oxygenate the body.
This is most common in abused or neglected dogs because at a certain point, it’s hard to miss a flea infestation.
Symptoms of a flea infestation that is life-threatening include:
- Almost white gums due to severe anemia
- Severe anemia-related fatigue
- Inability to walk or stand
Get to the Vet
If you found a handful of fleas on your dog, don’t freak out.
Just take him to the vet and have him treated.
It’s a simple matter for your vet to administer something like Capstar, which begins killing fleas in 30 minutes.
After that, just keep your dog on preventative and he’ll be in the clear.
A Few Important Points about Dog Flea Symptoms
We’ve covered everything you need to know about dog flea symptoms and how to find fleas on your dogs.
However, there are a few key points I want to mention here so that you can have a better understanding of what we’ve talked about.
Flea Bites On Dogs
We talked about fleabites as a symptom, but what do they look like?
Flea bites are small, red welts on your dog.
You’ll most commonly find them on the belly and hindquarters of your dog.
Allergic dermatitis is easy to spot.
It involves severe itching and hair loss in “the flea triangle” the area from the mid-back to the base of the tail and down the rear legs.
Recognize Dog Flea Symptoms and Know How to Find Fleas
It’s important to know how to recognize dog flea symptoms and how to find those little vampires on your dog if you suspect he has fleas.
Fleas can be not only uncomfortable, they can be dangerous, as well.
Fleas can transmit tapeworm and other diseases, and if left unchecked, they can infest a dog to the point where he becomes anemic.
In addition, they can cause flea bite dermatitis which can lead to secondary, chronic infections.
If you suspect your dog has fleas, be sure to take him to the vet right away for treatment.
Afterward, keep him on flea and tick preventative monthly to prevent any further flea issues for you or your pooch.
Head to this post for more tips on dog flea treatment.