It starts with a bit of scratching. Then, suddenly, it’s like your dog can’t stop itching and nibbling at their skin. When you take a closer look and part back the fur, little black dots jump and skitter, seeking new shelter in a different spot.
The horrible truth sets in, your dog has fleas.
Fleas: The Facts
A flea is a type of insect. They have no wings and six legs. There are over 2,000 types of flea and each one feeds on the blood of warm-blooded creatures, including humans. Many of these fleas are named after the animals that they are most commonly found on, such as the dog flea, the cat flea, and the rat flea.
Fleas can reproduce quickly, with one flea laying 2,000 eggs on a host. While some eggs will remain on the host, many fall off and become embedded in the carpet, furniture, drapery, and bedding. Once hatched, it can take two to three weeks for a flea to reach maturity in warm weather. If the weather is cool or freezing, fleas grow at a slower pace and may take months to reach full maturity.
Even without a host, flea eggs and pupae can remain dormant and survive for weeks. Adult fleas can also survive for weeks without eating.
Given their unique ability to survive for long periods of time without food and their incredibly quick life cycle, it should be no surprise that one flea can quickly turn into thousands. If you have more than one pet, assume that all pets are having issues with fleas, even if they aren’t immediately showing symptoms.
Why Are Fleas A Problem?
A flea infestation can cause a number of serious issues for their host and those who are near the host.
1. Rat Fleas Can Carry Bubonic Plague: Anyone who has studied history knows at least a little bit about the Bubonic Plague, also called the Black Death. This disease is caused by a bacterium that can live in rat fleas and is transmitted when the flea bites a human. Over the last two thousand years, fleas have caused several outbreaks of the Bubonic Plague resulting in the deaths of millions of people. While modern medicine can now treat this disease, there are still occasional outbreaks and deaths in underdeveloped areas.
2. Fleas Can Spread Tapeworms To Dogs: Many fleas carry the flea tapeworm and can pass this worm to dogs. Although most dogs do not become seriously ill because of tapeworms, heavy infestations can cause weight loss in dogs. You may notice your dog scooting, rice-shaped segments in their stool, or you could even see a section of the worm crawling out of the anus (YUCK)! Luckily, tapeworms can be treated with oral medication.
3. Skin Infections Can Be Caused By Fleas: When a dog begins to itch and lick, they can create sores on the skin that could become infected. Additionally, some dogs are actually allergic to flea bites and a single bite could set off an allergic reaction that could cause serious skin issues.
If you discover that your pet has fleas, it’s important to provide them with treatment as quickly as possible.
Can Coconut Oil Be Used To Treat Fleas?
In recent years there has been intense interest in the benefits of coconut oil for human and canine health. In addition to researching the benefits of including coconut oil in the diet, some have wondered if coconut oil can be used as an effective treatment for fleas.
One common argument is that the lauric acid content in coconut oil will kill fleas. The reality is that while studies have shown that the fatty acids found in coconut oil can work for a very short period of time as a repellant unless you are able to submerge your dog entirely in coconut oil, this product is simply not enough to control a flea infestation.
Any oil or soap will break down the exoskeleton and kill a flea (this is not a recommendation to use any oil or soap on your dog). Fleas, however, are a very hardy species and without a pesticide, you will not be able to control their population.
Although some pet owners do report that topical use of coconut oil can be helpful for the treatment of skin irritations, keep in mind that dogs tend to lick any food that is in their area, whether being used as a topical treatment or not. While coconut oil generally won’t harm your dog based on its composition, it is fatty and some dogs develop diarrhea after eating it.
Don’t Fear The Word Pesticide
Although commonly associated with negative products, the fact is that the definition of a pesticide is any substance that is used to kill insects. Therefore, pesticides can be completely natural and organic substances.
Oral and topical pesticides sold by veterinarians or over the counter must undergo rigorous testing to determine both the efficacy and safety of these products. As with any medication, a very small percentage of pets may have an adverse reaction to the medication. The majority, however, go about their lives unchanged and flea free.
These preventatives and flea treatments must be used consistently and per the instructions in order to be effective. For example, if you choose to use a topical treatment, you likely won’t be able to give your pup a bath for a day or two.
With consistent treatment and by treating your home, you can eliminate fleas from your pet’s coat and your life!
Tips For Eliminating Fleas From Your Home
If you’ve determined that you have a flea infestation you can take the following steps in addition to treating your pet to eliminate fleas from your home:
1. Vacuum Vacuum Vacuum: Use a high powered vacuum to clean your entire home, even mattresses. This will help to suck up and remove flea eggs that have fallen off of your dog inside of the home. Empty your canister outside or use a vacuum that has a bag that can be thrown away in an outside bin.
2. Wash All Of Your Bedding: All bedding in the home should be washed in hot water and then dried on the highest possible heat setting to kill any eggs or pupae.
3. Treat Your Lawn: Flea defense can start outside! There are many safe lawn treatments on the market. In addition to considering these treatments, be sure to keep grass short as fleas love to hide in tall grass. Avoid excess moisture and consider sprinkling cedar chips around your yard. Fleas hate cedar.
4. Clean Up Debris: Fleas thrive in wet leaves and other debris.
5. Consider Flea Nematodes: Yes, you read that right, nematodes. Nematodes are a type of worm and flea nematodes can be added to the soil to actively hunt flea eggs and pupae. Be sure to contact a reliable gardening center as not all nematodes are beneficial.
6. Limit Wildlife Access: If possible, try to limit the amount of wildlife that comes onto your property. Although nature is beautiful, wild animals don’t get treated for fleas and simply bring new ones onto the property.
If you’re wondering if you have a flea problem in your yard, here’s an easy way to test for fleas. Wear tall white socks and wander around in your grass. Fleas will jump and stick to your socks, becoming quite easy to spot since they are dark brown and black.