Recognizing the Signs That Your Dog Has Fleas

May 7th 2016

Fleas are an unpleasant part of life, but catching them early on can save hassle and discomfort for you and your dog. Check for signs of skin irritation, look for fleas or flea dirt, and check with your veterinarian to get a head start on flea eradication.

Pay Attention to Behavioral Cues

Even a small flea infestation is itchy and annoying for dogs. Pay attention to your dog for any unusual licking or chewing, especially if it seems to occur all over the body instead of being localized to one spot. Although there can be many causes of skin irritation, this can be a sign to investigate further, especially if you suspect your dog may have been exposed to fleas.

Inspect Your Dog

Careful inspection of your dog's skin and coat is the next step. Fleas often hide in hidden areas like the dog's armpits, groin and ears, so start your inspection there. Gently part the hair and check between skin folds. You may see fleas jumping, but they are very small and fast so they can be easy to miss if only present in small numbers. Instead, you may need to look for secondary signs such as redness, small bumps and hair loss.

It might help to use a flea comb during your inspection. These special combs have extremely fine teeth to help you root out fleas. You need to get the teeth as close to your dog's skin as possible, as fleas typically live against the skin. More superficial combing may give you a false negative result.

Check For Flea Dirt

Flea dirt is the colloquial term for the feces that fleas leave behind on dogs. It takes the form of small black specks that you can shake loose from the coat while grooming your dog. The small size of the flea dirt can make it hard to see, so place a white paper or sheet under your dog as you work. If you are not sure that what you are seeing is flea dirt, try getting it slightly wet. Since it is primarily made up of blood, it should look dark reddish brown in color. Flea dirt is often present in the environment as well, so check your dog's bedding.

Consult Your Veterinarian

If you think your dog has fleas, a vet visit is generally a good idea. Your veterinarian can confirm the diagnosis and help you determine a safe and effective eradication program. If your dog only shows some signs of infestation, such as irritated skin, it is even more important to work with your vet to rule out other causes before treating for fleas.


Fleas are a common problem for dogs during warm summer weather, but sometimes it can be easy to miss the subtle signs of a new infestation. Preventative measures are usually the best policy, but sometimes dogs can get exposed anyway. There are a few ways to pick up on an infestation in the early stages.

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