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Fleas (Siphonaptera) are teensy, parasites that—as the name implies—siphon blood from unsuspecting animals. Fleas don’t have wings, but their back legs pack enough power to easily jump onto a dog. After they’ve settled into a safe, cozy spot on their host animal, fleas feed themselves by chomping down and sucking their host’s blood, leaving itchy bites behind as souvenirs. Fleas also multiply rapidly, laying up to 30 eggs a day, which eventually turn into more fleas. Once your dog is infested, the fleas can hop off and set up housekeeping in your carpet or furniture, on your other pets and even on you.
There are a few things pet parents can do to keep fleas away:
Give your dog a monthly flea preventative, such as Advantage® or K9 Advantix®. These products kill any fleas that already may have found their way onto your dog and repel new ones from setting up shop.
Flea collars are an alternative treatment, but keep in mind that while these collars kill fleas around your pup’s head and neck, they may not be as effective on areas that are farther away. PetSmart does not recommend flea medallions, treated disks that hang off a pet’s regular collar; they can inadvertently slip into your pup’s water bowl when they drink, thus adding chemicals to the water.
Flea spray or powder can be effective for all-over protection. But be sure the product you choose is formulated for use on pets. DO NOT use flea spray made for the home on your pet—it is much too strong!
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During the warmer months, regularly hose down any areas in your yard that your pet frequents, such as the dog run or doghouse.
Vacuum your home frequently, paying extra attention to places where your dog likes to hang out. Add a flea collar to the vacuum-cleaner bag to kill any live fleas or hatching eggs.
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Look for clues that fleas may have gotten onto your pet: actual bugs, “flea dirt” (a polite term for fleas’ small, curly black droppings) or flea eggs (which can look a bit like dandruff).
How to get rid of a flea infestation:
Bathe your dog. Specially formulated flea shampoo will kill live bugs. Keep in mind that the shampoo begins to work after your dog is out of the bath. Another option is a flea dip—a topical solution that you don’t rinse off. Pets can potentially ingest the chemical by licking themselves; some experts don’t recommend flea dip. Talk to your veterinarian before using it.
Use only one flea treatment on your dog. Chemicals in these treatments are potent, plus chemicals in different products don’t always mix and may make your dog ill. Always use products as instructed. Consult your veterinarian before using flea shampoo or other chemical treatments on puppies, some ingredients may be too potent and may cause illness.
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Clean the house. Vacuum your home thoroughly and launder your dog’s bedding, blankets and soft toys in hot water.
Use a fogger if necessary. Flea eggs are resilient and can sometimes withstand initial treatments. It’s important to understand that a flea infestation may reoccur, and you may have to treat your home multiple times. Use flea-killing sprays and foggers made specifically for your home. These products must be used with care: Follow all instructions on the package and never leave any animals or people inside while the fogger is in use.