How is my dog affected by fleas?
Many dog owners will not see the fleas themselves but the tell tale signs of ‘flea dirt’ or ‘flea poo’ in the coat of the dog. This is the excess blood that the fleas have consumed from your dog and passed as faeces. If you are unsure whether your dog has flea dirt or just dirt in their coat, just wet a few pieces on a piece of white paper and if it is flea dirt, it will melt into a red stain.
Your dog can be affected in 2 ways by fleas. The first is by the direct effects of the biting and sucking of their blood and the second is the possibility of the flea acting as a vector for other parasites and microorganisms.
Direct effects of flea bites to your dog
The main effect you will notice of fleas on your dog is that their bites cause an itching sensation that becomes a nucience to your dog and we have all seen dogs with fleas scratching themselves in an attempt to relieve the itching. Many dogs will also attempt to remove the fleas by biting the area where they can feel the itching. While most dogs will have some kind of reaction to the flea bites in the form of a slightly raised, swollen itchy spot that is similar to a mosquito bite, some dogs will suffer allergic reactions to flea’s saliva resulting in rashes that may cover small or even large areas of their skin. Flea bites can remain itchy and inflamed for several weeks after the initial bite. Flea bites in a concentrated area, especially during the summer months can also lead to localized hair loss that looks like a bald spot and is often refered to as a ‘hot spot’. This is due to the scratching and biting of the area by the dog. In extreme cases, hair loss over the entire dog is possible. If a flea infestation is allowed to go uncontrolled on a dog or particularly on young puppies, the puppy or dog may suffer from the loss of blood (anemia) and in extreme cases, may result in death.
As a vector for other parasites and microorganisms
Fleas also act as a vector for other diseases and parasites. Fleas can transmit a variety of viral, bacterial and rickettsial diseases to humans, dogs and other animals and can also transmit parasites such as protozoans and helminths (worms). The main parasite that fleas transmit to dogs is the tapeworm but fleas have been the responsible vector for human epidemics such as Typhus and Bubonic Plague. Fleas can also cause localised infections at the site of the bite when they break the skin to feed on your dog.
Fleas specialize as parasites on specific mammals such as the dog flea is a different species to the cat flea but they may use other mammals as hosts. This makes us humans susceptible to the fleas on our dogs and cats and fleas do in fact bite and suck blood from people. If you have been bitten by fleas, you may notice the same small red lesions on your skin that appear on a dog with flea bite.