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Fleas on Dogs: What Are Fleas and What Do They Look Like

Content Marketing Manager

Jocelyn Stange, MA

Being a pet parent is the greatest. But not every pet experience is enjoyable especially if you have a run-in with fleas and ticks.

Fleas can jump from dogs to humans, and vice versa. This isn't great news for you or your furry friend. But it is possible to get rid of fleas on your pet entirely.

In this article, you'll learn:

  • What fleas are
  • How these parasites develop
  • Why do dogs get fleas in the first place
  • How to remove fleas on dogs
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What are fleas

Fleas are wingless insects that live in all regions of the world. Adult fleas are very tiny and may reach only 1/64 of an inch in size. Fleas feed exclusively on the blood of mammals and birds.

Out of all the annoying pests your dog will encounter, fleas are the most common. Their claim to fame is intense skin inflammation and infection which causes your dog to scratch.

What do fleas look like on dogs

Signs of Flea Bites on Dogs

There are several telltale signs of fleas on your dog. Here are a few things to look for:

  1. Adult fleas. Fleas are visible to the naked eye, though they are very difficult to spot. They are about the size of a pinhead, dark brown, and almost flat-looking.
  2. Flea dirt. Flea dirt (aka flea feces) looks like round, black specks — almost like black pepper. Using a flea comb is often helpful to find flea dirt on your dog’s skin more easily.
  3. Irritated skin. If your dog has an allergic reaction to the saliva in a flea bite you may see red bumps or welts on your dog’s skin and even hair loss.

What is the flea life cycle on dogs

Flea Life Cycle on Dogs

The flea life cycle takes a few weeks. But, you'll probably start noticing your dog scratching before then.

The flea life cycle has four life stages:

  • Eggs
  • Larvae
  • Pupae
  • Adults

The flea life stages begin when female adult fleas deposit or lay eggs after feeding. Even though you may only find one or two adult fleas on your dog at first, within a few days fleas can lay hundreds of eggs.

Flea Eggs

Flea eggs

After feeding, female fleas lay hundreds of pearly white, oval-shaped eggs in their host’s fur. As your dog moves around, eggs will drop and land in bedding, carpet, and outdoor environments where they will start to hatch. This stage can last up to six days.

It's difficult to see flea eggs on dogs. This is why it's important to:

Flea Larva

Flea larvae

To hatch into larvae, flea eggs need to settle in shaded, damp areas. Some examples in and around your home include dog houses, decks, porches, and cracks in damp flooring. In fact, sandy environments are great for the larval stage which can last five to 18 days.

Flea Pupa

Flea pupae

At the end of the larval stage, larvae develop silk-like cocoons and become pupae. Flea pupae are egg-shaped and tend to nest deep in the soil, carpets, furniture, and animal bedding. The pupal stage lasts about two weeks until the adult flea is ready to emerge.

Vet Tip

In a dark, moist environment, if the pupa or pre-emerged adult flea doesn’t hatch from their cocoons, they can remain in your home year round.

Adult Flea

Adult flea

Adult fleas emerge from their cocoon and start searching for a host. When the female flea finds one, they bite your pup to feed on their blood.

Fleas run all over the dog’s body — unlike ticks that stay in a specific place. Quickly after feeding the flea egg production starts and lasts for 14 days.

If fleas aren't removed via grooming, flea products, or insecticides, adult fleas begin feeding right away. In some cases, they can stick around for several months. Consult your veterinarian if your pet's flea infestation is out of control.

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Types of fleas on dogs

There are over 2,000 species of fleas, and roughly 300 of those live in the United States. While the most common domestic flea is the cat flea, other kinds include dog, human, and rat.

All fleas look similar, so it can be hard to tell the difference between species. Here are some characteristics of the most common types of fleas on dogs.

Cat fleas

Cat fleas are by far the most common of all fleas. They can also carry dangerous diseases and cause skin irritation and allergic reactions. Some include murine typhus and cat-scratch disease.

Dog fleas

Dog fleas aren’t exclusive to dogs. They also like to find hosts in wild animals like raccoons, opossums, and livestock. Like cat fleas, dog fleas carry a tapeworm parasite called Dipylidium caninum.

Ground squirrel flea

This flea is common in ground squirrels, California squirrels, rock squirrels, chipmunks, and rats. The ground squirrel flea transmits plague bacteria to humans and animals alike.

Oriental rat fleas

Less common than cat and dog fleas, if no other animals are available to oriental rat fleas they may find a home in your pet. These fleas are carriers of the bubonic plague and murine typhus.

Tropical hen (sticktight) flea

Usually found on domestic fowls like chickens, “sticktight” fleas will make their way to nearby dogs and cats. While less common than cat or dog fleas, if you live on or near a farm you may run into this type of flea.

Human flea

There are two variations of this type of flea — human fleas and false human fleas. Because they are closely related, they are often found in the same locations.

Where, when, and how dogs get fleas

Finding a flea, or a few, on your dog is stressful. It can make you ask lots of questions like:

  • Can dogs get fleas in the winter?
  • Where do dogs get fleas?
  • Do I only need to kill adult fleas?

Fleas can survive in even the harshest of conditions. Here’s what you need to know about where dogs get fleas when to look for them, and how fleas end up on your pet.

Where do dogs get fleas

Where to Check For Fleas on Dogs

Fleas like to live around the head, neck, and groin area of dogs and cats. But, they can settle in all over your pet. They can be tricky to locate as they crawl quickly and tend to stay under the fur.

The most common places to search for fleas include:

  • Ears
  • Eyes
  • Neck
  • Stomach
  • Armpits
  • Legs
  • Tail

When do dogs get fleas

Most fleas can’t survive the cold, but they’ll do anything to stay alive. Fleas will nest on pets without protective treatments or nest in crawl spaces or attics. As long as they remain protected from the cold, fleas may survive all year long.

How do dogs get fleas

Where Do Dogs Get Fleas

There are a lot of ways for healthy dogs to pick up fleas. Dogs and puppies get fleas from their environment or by being close to another animal with fleas.

Fleas can jump onto your dog:

  • From other animals (deer, rabbits, squirrels, mice) or pets
  • From your own clothes (fleas can bite humans but do not live on them)
  • In the backyard as your pet rolls around and plays
  • In a place with its own flea infestation (like kennels)

Once a flea has latched onto your dog, it's very easy for your pup to become a breeding ground for many fleas.

What to do if your dog has a flea infestation

A flea can go from one to many in minutes. But remember, it’s not your fault your dog has fleas — they are not a sign of a dirty home.

If fleas are nearby, they will seek out your pets. And if your pets are unprotected, fleas will take full advantage.

To keep your pet in good health and get rid of fleas for good, follow these simple steps.

  1. Learn the signs and symptoms of flea bites.
  2. Understand what remedies kill fleas on dogs.
  3. Talk to your veterinarian about your options for flea treatment.
  4. Use a household flea spray that kills adult fleas and prevents re-infestation.
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Meet Jocelyn Stange

As a Content Marketing Manager, Jocelyn is committed to creating expert content to help pets stay healthy and keep their humans happy. She received her MA in Journalism and Mass Communications from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. When she's not zeroed in on content strategy you can find her attempting to teach her goldendoodle Murray a new trick.