There’s no denying it: Fleas are pests in every sense of the word! They’re itchy, gross, and—perhaps worst of all—prolific if not dealt with properly. One of the best ways to prevent this pest from infiltrating your home and causing your pet distress is to know the most common signs of fleas in dogs.
And here's the thing: Even if you don’t see any fleas or flea symptoms in dogs, don’t assume there are none in your home. Fleas go through four stages in their life cycle—egg, larva, pupa and adult. Even if you see no adult fleas on your dog’s body, there still could be fleas in the three other developmental life stages in your furniture, carpet, or baseboards that are just days or weeks away from turning into adults and invading your dog. That’s why it’s important to always be tuned in to the signs of flea infestation. Today, your dog may be flea-free. Tomorrow, they might not be.
Common Signs of Fleas in Dogs
If you spend time with your dog regularly—and we’re sure you’re all about those cuddles—you’ll know what’s normal for your pup and what’s not. Many flea-infested dogs show both physical and behavioral changes that indicate something is wrong. So does your dog have fleas? Here are 10 classic signs of fleas in dogs to be on the lookout for.
1. Intense and Frantic Scratching or Biting
Flea bites can cause your dog’s skin to feel very itchy, which can be downright miserable for your pup. One of the symptoms of fleas on dogs is if your dog suddenly starts scratching their body with their paws or chewing their skin in an attempt to find some relief. They may even keep you up at night with ceaseless scratching and chewing.
To give them some temporary relief, use dog flea and tick shampoo, like Veterinary Formula Clinical Care’s flea and tick shampoo, or an after-bath treatment like TropiClean’s Natural AfterBath Flea & Tick Bite Relief Treatment.
2. Excessive Grooming and Hair Loss
Dogs groom themselves regularly, but when those tiny pests start biting it can make your dog’s grooming and scratching turn extreme. They tend to especially groom and scratch around the hind legs, neck, and base of the tail. Your dog may lick and chew so much that it can cause some areas of hair loss or even small wounds.
3. They Avoid Certain Parts of Your Home
Fleas tend to live their best lives in a warm and concealed environment. That includes carpet and furniture, and they can even be found in the cracks and crevices of hardwood or tile flooring. If your dog starts avoiding these areas, it could be a sign they’re steering clear of the fleas.
One of the first rules in controlling fleas—after treating your pet, of course—is to keep a clean house. That means thoroughly vacuuming your floors and furniture, including under the cushions, on a regular basis.You can also try a natural remedy like diatomaceous earth for your carpets and throw rugs.
It’s also smart to wash your dog’s bedding regularly in the washing machine. For extra credit, spritz your dog’s bedding and furnishings with a flea spray, like Vet's Best Indoor Flea & Tick Home Spray for Dogs.
4. Agitation, Edginess, and Restlessness
Flea irritation can make your dog show some other behavioral changes. Your otherwise sweet and gentile Spot might turn gloomy, grumpy, depressed, or even downright agitated. You might notice they become more energetic and frantic as they try to find some relief and deal with their frustration. If you notice this personality shift, there’s a possibility it’s a sign of fleas.
5. They Develop 'Hot Spots'
Some dogs are so sensitive to flea saliva that when a flea bites them, their skin becomes severely red, raw and inflamed. These hot spots—which usually appear on the neck, flanks, or around the base of your pup’s tail—are extremely itchy. Even worse, if your dog starts chewing on them, these hot spots can start to ooze. This condition is called flea allergy dermatitis. In these cases, dogs are usually treated for skin infections, skin allergies, and fleas.
6. Your Pet Has Muscle Loss, Pale Gums, or Lethargy
If your dog begins losing weight, has pale gums, or is generally lethargic, this could indicate anemia. Also known as red blood cell count, anemia can occur when a large number of fleas consume your dog’s blood. Flea anemia is most often seen in puppies, sick dogs, or elderly dogs.
7. You See Tiny, Pepper-Like Specks on Your Dog’s Fur
Another sign of fleas on dogs is “flea dirt.” These dark brown specks are actually flea feces. We know what you’re thinking: yuck! You also may see some of these specks on your dog’s comb or brush after grooming them. One trick to determine whether the brown flecks are, indeed, flea poop, is to put some of these granules on a paper towel and mist them with water. If they turn red, it’s flea feces. That’s because the feces are composed of digested blood.
8. You Notice Dark Spots in Your Dog’s Bedding Fabric
Do you see any dark spots in your dog’s bedding? If you suspect fleas, those spots could be pieces of flea dirt that fell off your dog’s fur and onto the bedding. They may even turn red when moisture or the dog’s warm body rubs against them.
9. There are Tiny Black/Reddish-Brown Insects on Your Dog’s Fur
So what do fleas on dogs look like? Sort of what you’d expect: Tiny black or reddish-brown insects. They’re tiny, but still big enough to see with a naked eye.
If there’s a heavy infestation, there’s a good chance you’ll see the fleas easily. In some cases you may even be able to see the actual flea eggs, though these are a bit harder to make out. Fleas tend to gravitate to the rump and tail area of dogs, so check here first.
10. You See ‘Rice Grains’ on Your Dog’s Bedding or Around Their Anus/Feces
If you see what looks like rice grains on your dog’s bedding, around their anus, or even squirming around in their feces, there is a good chance that your dog has tapeworms. The rice grains are actually the egg packets that tapeworms release.
Tapeworms require fleas as part of their life cycle. While some dogs can develop tapeworms after eating infected prey animals, most dogs develop tapeworms from accidentally ingesting an infected flea while grooming. If you see tapeworms, there’s a good chance they also have fleas.
Signs of Fleas on Dogs: FAQs
Are fleas in dogs visible to the human eye?
A:Fleas are very tiny, but still visible to the naked eye. As for what fleas on dogs look like, they appear as dark brown specks—about the size of the head of a pin—and can jump great distances for their size.
What is the difference between signs of fleas and ticks in dogs?
A:Signs of fleas can include itching, scratching, hair loss, and red and raw hot spots around the lower back or base of the tail. You may also notice flea dirt (technically flea poop) and see the actual fleas themselves. Adult fleas have six legs and jump long distances.
Conversely, a tick usually feels like a small, stationary bump where the tick has attached itself to the dog. A tick has eight legs and may move more slowly compared to a flea.
Where on the dog's body can you spot fleas?
A:Fleas like to hide on the neck, lower back, hind legs and tail.
Fleas are a risk you take on when you have a dog. If you’ve noticed any of the signs above, the bad news is that there’s a good chance your dog has a flea infestation. But the good news is that with treatment and home cleaning, you can eradicate a flea problem from both your dog and your home.
If you think your doggo has fleas, it’s time to head to your veterinarian to find them some much-needed relief. Vets have lots of good options for flea prevention.