signs your dog has fleas

5 Signs Your Dog Has Fleas

Regardless of how much antiparasitic medication you apply or give to your dog, fleas will always find a way to inhabit your lovely pooch. These pesky little creatures have been around since ancient times and have harbored disease-causing viruses, bacteria, and fungi that have drastically shaped history. Yes, fleas are here to stay. And while animal experts continue to explore the best way to get rid of fleas on dogs, we can do our share by learning a bit more about these critters especially the various symptoms and signs your dog has fleas.

What are Fleas Anyway?

Fleas are often described as flightless insects. However, they may not have the ability to fly freely as a bird, they do have mighty powerful legs to propel them over great distances, usually up to 50 times the length of their body. Fleas don’t have wings; that’s for sure. But, their hind legs are more than twice their body length when fully extended. This gives them the amazing ability to jump from one host to another, from crevices and hiding places to your dog, and from dog to another dog.

They also have mouthparts that are synonymous to vampire fangs with built-in siphon that draws blood. It is because of these two important mechanisms – a powerful hind leg and a mouthpart that’s specifically designed to suck blood after piercing through the skin like a needle syringe – that fleas are able to carry out their villainous nature. Indeed, without these mechanisms, you clearly won’t have any flea problem on your dog. Likewise, the various signs of fleas in dogs will simply be absent.

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How Do I Know there are Fleas in My Dog?

We now know that fleas are prolific jumpers that if there was such a thing as Parasite Olympics then they’d be the champions in the standing long jump. Kidding aside, the ability of fleas to pierce through your dog’s skin and siphon off as much blood as it can take is one of the reasons why you will see these 5 signs of fleas in dogs.

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dog with fleas

  • Unexplained red dots or patches of skin 

One of the surest signs your dog has fleas is the sudden appearance of red patches or dots on its skin. Of course, it could very well be because of ant bites or by another insect. But the bite of these insects is typically localized to a small area of the skin. On the other hand, flea bites cause a diffuse pattern of redness especially if your pooch happens to be allergic to the saliva of these parasites. Additionally, the redness is not only confined to the region or area where the parasite bit. Because it is more of a hypersensitivity reaction, the redness can occur anywhere on your dog’s body.

  • Unusual hair loss 

Dogs are expected to shed their hair in pretty much the same way as we have falling hair. However, if the shedding of your pet’s coat is unusually large or doesn’t follow the typical pattern of hair loss, there’s a great chance this is one of those signs of fleas in dogs. Just like the reddish lesions or rashes that develop because of hypersensitivity or allergic reaction to the flea’s saliva, the same mechanism can produce hair loss. In an allergic reaction, pro-inflammatory substances are released that somehow reduce blood flow and oxygenation to the tissues. This starves the hair follicles of highly valuable oxygen and nutrients leading to their shedding. It is also possible that, because of intense itching brought about by flea dermatitis, your pooch might be pulling or biting on its hair, especially in the area where the flea bit your dog.

  • Abnormal scratching, biting, or licking 

When fleas bite, they cause an inflammatory reaction at the site of the bite. As tissues are damaged because of the bite, pro-inflammatory substances like histamine are released. These substances bring about the intense itching that often accompanies inflammatory skin disorders. If you’ve got an itchy skin, what do you do? You scratch it like crazy, right? That’s exactly what your dog will be doing, too. It will be scratching, licking, and biting its skin in an attempt to relieve the itch. Unfortunately, this can result in the shedding of the hair in the area or, worse, the loss of integrity of the skin itself. Once there is a cut or an opening on the skin, bacteria, viruses, and fungi as well as other opportunistic microorganisms can easily enter causing an infection.

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Long-hair Chihuahua dog

  • Small reddish-brown or black specks on your pooch’s skin 

They call this as the flea dirt. They look like specks of dirt on your pooch’s skin that may have attached to it when your dog rolled on the ground while playing in the park or in your backyard. These are not dirt but rather flea feces. There’s one way to find out. Try removing these ‘dirt’ off of your dog and place these on a clean sheet of white paper towel. Get your water spray bottle and give it a good drizzle. If it turns reddish-brown, congratulations! you’ve just confirmed that you’ve got fleas on your dog. The reason why the black speck turned reddish brown is because fleas eat blood. As such, their feces are also composed of blood.

  • Pale gums and conjunctiva 

We already said that fleas are known bloodsuckers, maybe not as proficient as Count Dracula, but a sucker nonetheless. While a single flea will not drastically lead to anemia, massive infestation of fleas can readily result in canine anemia. This is a condition whereby the ability of the blood, particularly red blood cells, to carry oxygen is severely compromised because of a variety of factors. Since fleas feed on your pooch’s blood, the red blood cells are also taken up into the flea’s system. If you’re talking about thousands of fleas sucking and drawing blood all at the same time from your pooch, chances are its red blood cell count will be too low to carry oxygen to the tissues.

Your dog will still be producing red blood cells, however. But the pathology is that if the rate of red blood cell uptake by fleas is greater than the rate of red blood cell production by the dog’s hematopoietic system, then there is net loss. And one of the classic signs of anemia is pallor especially in the gums and the conjunctiva. And if there is little oxygen being delivered to the tissues this can lead to weakness or even tissue hypoxia which can result in tissue death.

These dog fleas symptoms are just 5 of the most common ones. Remember you have a very prolific bloodsucker working against your dog. This can lead to a host of other symptoms and signs your dog has fleas.

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What Can I Do About It?

Knowing the different signs of fleas in dogs helps in gaining a better understanding of this nemesis of our canine friends. However, it should not stop there. Equally important is knowing the best way to get rid of fleas on dogs. Here’s how.

  • Consult with your vet 

Flea prevention for dogs always starts with a visit to your vet clinic. He will give you advice on how you can prevent flea infestation in your dog and how to treat your pooch if it is already infected with these parasites. You may even gain a much deeper understanding of the various signs of fleas in dogs.

  • Use flea-specific anti-parasitic products 

There are a lot of products on flea control for dogs today. These can include topical spot-on applications, tablet formulations, dog flea collars, dog flea shampoos and soaps, and even dog flea sprays. The point is for you to consult with your vet which of these antiparasitic products will work best on your pooch.

  • Treat the environment 

Fleas live almost anywhere. However, once they reach the larval stage, they prefer to stay in dark, hidden spaces where nothing can disrupt their transformation into pupa. This simply means you really have to treat the environment or the surroundings upon which flea adults may lay eggs, hatch into larva, and turn into pupa, before metamorphosing into the blood-sucking parasite we all know of. Cleaning the environment is one of the most effective means of flea prevention for dogs. You can use flea-specific insecticides or even flea stage-specific antiparasitic solutions.

  • Protect your dog whenever they go outside 

We know that majority of the fleas that our pets get come from outdoors. Sadly, we cannot really confine our pets inside our homes. They need exercise, too. You may have treated your backyard, but you clearly cannot apply flea treatment for dogs in public areas like parks. So, you need dog flea collars and other similar products to help protect your pooch from these pesky creatures while your pet is outside.

Everyone knows that fleas are a menace not only to our dogs but to us as well. Learning the different signs of fleas in dogs is just the first step towards knowing what to do if your dog has fleas.


  1. Should You Fear the Flea?, ASPCA
  2. Flea Control: Safe Solutions, PETA

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