How do I know if my dog or cat has fleas?

Fleas are the most common external parasite that can affect your dog or cat. Left untreated, they can make your pet miserable, lead to infection and cause more serious diseases. Here, our Memphis vets share the signs of flea infestations to help you detect them early to keep your pet healthy and happy.


What are fleas?

Like all parasites, fleas depend upon a host animal for their survival – in this case, your dog or cat's blood. Adult fleas can continue to reproduce and thrive on your dog and in your home until you break their life cycle. 

What signs of flea infestation should I look for?

Because cats and dogs can be allergic to the protein in flea saliva, they may itch or scratch as soon as the flea bites their skin. Even just one flea bite can cause pets to become agitated and scratch excessively.

Red pimples or bumps may also appear on your pet's groin, belly, under the legs, at the base of their tail or on their behind. Constant itching or scratching of these areas can cause  hair loss and dry skin. Left untreated, lesions and infection can develop and lead to more severe diseases.

How can I check my pet for fleas?

Adult fleas are small and brown and are relatively easy to see with the naked eye.

Make it a habit to check your pet's comb or brush during regular grooming sessions. For a closer look, have your pet lie on their side and check thinly-haired areas like the abdomen.

You can also keep an eye out for adult flea feces (or flea dirt) which looks similar to black pepper or tiny grains of sand that turn red when wet. Use a fine-toothed flea comb, available from your vet, to comb along your pet's back or underbelly. You can also have them stand on a white towel or cloth while you brush to see if you noticed any black droppings on the towel. 

What if I can’t find any fleas, but my pet is still scratching?

If your cat or dog seems uncomfortable but there are no signs of fleas, bring them to your vet. Your vet can administer a skin test to check for flea allergies. It may also be that your pet is experiencing another type of allergy which your vet can also diagnose during your visit.

If my cat or dog does have fleas, how do I get rid of them?

From powders and sprays to shampoos and topical liquids, there are a number of safe, effective treatment options to prevent or eliminate fleas. In severe cases, you may need to contact your vet who can prescribe creams and antibiotics.

Either way, prevention and prompt treatment are the best ways to ensure that your dog or cat doesn't develop more serious issues down the road. 

Flea prevention is part of our annual Wellness Plans. Choose the Wellness Plan that's right for your pet.

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