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Dog FLEAS - external parasite  
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There are many species of fleas. All are minute insects that feed on the blood of mammals. Dog fleas (ctenocephalides canis) are the most common external parasite found on dogs. Species of fleas that prefer cat blood or the blood of other mammals, will settle for dog blood when necessary. Fleas multiply rapidly, especially in warm, humid weather and will bite humans. 

Although small, fleas can be seen with the human eye. They are brown to black, with wingless, laterally compressed bodies. Adult fleas are extremely powerful jumpers. A human with a flea's jumping ability would be able to leap over a hundred story building in a single bound! 

Fleas cause dogs irritation and discomfort. Some dogs develop an allergy to flea saliva known as flea allergy dermatitis. The saliva causes the dog to itch and bite itself, causing hair loss and skin infection. Fleas also carry tapeworms and can cause anemia. 

If you suspect fleas are troubling your dog, inspect places where your dog sleeps for flea dirt. Flea dirt looks like small dark specks and is actually flea excrement consisting of digested blood. When you add a few drops of water to the specks, the water will turn a reddish brown. Next, comb your dog with a flea comb (very fine toothed comb) particularly around the neck, belly and tail. If you've noticed flea dirt and your dog has been scratching, chances are very good you'll see some of the nasty critters squirming in between the teeth of the comb! 

Now that you've confirmed a flea invasion, it's time to develop a flea control strategy. Your plan must involve more than just treating your dog, since most of flea's life cycle is spent off the dog. The fleas develop in four stages: egg, larva, pupa (cocoon) and adult. The adults live on your dog, gorging on blood and laying eggs. The eggs fall off the dog and into your yard, your carpet, your bed and into the crevices of your furniture. 

If conditions are favorable for the eggs' survival, they hatch and pass into the larva and pupa stages. (Eggs, larvae and pupae represent 95 percent of the flea population in your home and can lie dormant for months.) When they become adults, the fleas jump onto your dog and start the cycle all over again. Since each female flea can lay more than 500 eggs, it only takes a few weeks before both your dog and your home have a serious problem. Even if you don't have fleas now, if you live in a flea friendly geographical area, you can be sure a flea battle is in your future. 

Strenuous measures will still need to be taken in order to eliminate a flea problem. It will require treating your dog, your home and the outside environment. 

The first part of the solution starts with your dog. A daily flea combing will capture some of the fleas -- just be careful they don't jump off the comb and back on to the dog. (To kill the flea, drop it into a solution of hot water and dish soap.) 

You can also give your dog a bath with a flea shampoo formulated for canines (look for a product with synergised pyrethrins or permethrins). Read the directions carefully! Start by shampooing the dog's head, using your fingers to work the shampoo around the dog's chin, neck and ears. Work the soap back from the head, over the body, belly and legs and on to the tip of the tail. Rinse well with warm water and towel your dog dry. Drying should be done in a room that has already been treated for fleas. (For products on bathing your dog see: Dog Grooming / Health Aids / Nutrition

Flea dips are also affective. As with all preparations containing insecticides, read the directions carefully. Sponge your dog with the dip, starting with the head and moving toward the tail. Be careful to avoid eyes and do not use dips if the dog has any open sores. 

If you use a flea collar, remove it before the bath or dip and do not put it back on for 24 hours (to avoid overexposure to insecticides). A new flea collar should be taken out of the package and aired for 24 hours before putting it on the dog to reduce the possibility of skin irritation and should be the proper size for your dog. If the skin under the collar becomes irritated or the hair falls out, remove the collar. Some dogs will not be able to tolerate flea collars. 

Remember when using flea shampoos, dips, sprays, powders and collars that all of these can be toxic to your dog and must be used with extreme caution. Using more than one product can result in overdosing and possibly poisoning your dog with insecticides. Read and follow label instructions. 

Your home and possibly yard will also need to be treated if your dog gets fleas. Start by cleaning your house thoroughly. Mop floors and vacuum carpets and upholstered furniture. After vacuuming, remove the bag and throw it away. (Flea collars make an excellent addition to your vacuum cleaner bag because the collar will kill any fleas swept into the bag.) All pet bedding, pet toys and throw rugs must be washed. 

Foggers and sprays made of chemical insecticides can be used to treat your home. Commercial services, such as Fleabusters, will come to your home and apply a non-toxic powder to your carpets. The white powder--consisting of something called a desiccant--kills fleas, pupae and eggs by abrading their outer coverings and drying them out. (Diatomaceous Earth is a naturally occurring, nontoxic desiccant that is widely available.) The powder is worked into your carpets with a stiff brush and is invisible after application. Within a few weeks, your dog and your home should be completely flea-less with the exception of those fleas that are brought in from the outside -- which are unable to reproduce once they are exposed to the desiccant. The service is guaranteed to be effective for one year and costs about $200 to $300 depending on the size and amount of carpeting in your home. 

Any product that is applied directly to your dog should be made specifically for canines and directions should be followed explicitly. (Products made for dogs should not be used on cats.) Some dogs will still have adverse reactions to flea preparations or will develop a cumulative toxic effect to insecticides that are used repeatedly. Although collars, dips and flea baths may seem to be a more economical way of treating flea infestations, in the long run they are more expensive since treatment must be repeated -- and risks the health of the dog. Discuss options with your veterinarian or breeder and be willing to invest in effective, safe solutions.



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