Blood-Sucking Parasites on my Dog? No Way!

What You Need to Know About Fleas


Laura B. Stokking, PhD, DVM, DACVD

Dermatology, Veterinary Specialty Hospital


Hmmm, do I need to read this? My pet doesn’t have fleas.

If you have a dog, you definitely need to know about fleas. You cannot assume your pet is not affected by fleas just because you don’t see any. These nasty little parasites can make life miserable for all and can transmit several serious diseases to pets and people. Fleas cause most of the visits to the veterinarian for allergies in dogs and cats. Depending on the species, fleas can transmit bubonic plague, murine typhus, and a certain kind of tapeworm to dogs, cats, and humans. For each adult flea seen on a pet, hundreds or thousands may be present in the environment.

Some dogs and cats are allergic to flea saliva: a single bite from a single flea can cause clinical signs of allergy (scratching, biting, chewing, poor coat quality, hair loss, rashes, “hot spots”) for days to weeks! If dog chews, bites, loses hair, or gets crusts over the back near the tail or gets pustules (little pimples) or scabs between the rear legs, he probably has flea allergy.

Your pet’s flea-related health problems should be treated by your veterinarian. In some cases, bacterial infections develop because of the constant chewing and scratching and antibiotics or other therapies may be required. Several excellent flea and tick products are available through your veterinarian. Some contain a combination of compounds that kill adult fleas and disrupt the development of juvenile forms into adults. Certain formulations contain ingredients that are poisonous to certain animals, such as cats and rabbits; your veterinarian will help you make the safest and most appropriate selection. Purchasing from a veterinarian ensures that product has been kept in appropriate storage conditions so has not lost its effectiveness, is not counterfeit, and is labeled correctly for your pet. Brewer’s yeast, garlic, and ultrasonic flea killers are not effective against fleas. Garlic is known to be toxic to pets and should not be used as a flea preventative.

San Diego doesn’t have a “flea season,” our climate has an ideal temperature and humidity for flea survival and reproduction year round. Fortunately, veterinarians can help us provide a flea-free and itch-free San Diego lifestyle for our dogs and for the people that love them!