How do I know if my puppy has fleas? Here’s a little trick

Fleas are the most common ectoparasites in the world. It is estimated that over 70% of all pruritic skin problems in dogs and cats at the end of summer are induced by flea bites. So chances are your puppy will encounter these annoying bloodsuckers at some point in his life. It’s also not surprising that the question “How can I tell if my puppy has fleas?” is something every vet hears often 🤷‍♀️

Don’t worry, there is an easy way how to know if a dog has fleas. I’ll get to it in a minute. Recognizing that your puppy has a flea problem is the easy part. Successful flea treatment is a bit harder.

If you want to know how to recognize and deal with fleas, you must first understand the enemy.

While I am a veterinarian, this article is not intended to replace professional veterinary advice. If you have any medical concerns about your pet, consult your vet immediately. Always seek professional assistance if you are unsure of your pet’s health.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information.

small puppy lying on the floor

What are fleas?

Fleas are wingless insects that feed on the blood of animals and humans. These tiny parasites can be extremely irritating and even dangerous if left unchecked. 

Since they don’t have wings, they cannot fly. What they can do is jump up to 150x their body lengths. 

There are around 130 different types of fleas in the world. Now that’s a huge population. However, the most common fleas in both cats and dogs are the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis) and the dog flea (Ctenocephalides canis).

The cat flea is responsible for the majority of cases worldwide. Don’t let the name cat flea fool you – it likes cats, dogs, and even humans. Dog fleas are 2nd most common flea type and can also infect dogs, cats, and humans.

Why you need to understand the flea life cycle

If you want to get rid of a flea infestation, you need to understand the flea life cycle. You cannot get rid of fleas by treating only the animal. Here’s why:

1. Adult fleas

Adult fleas (both male and female) live on the host – in this case, your puppy. Here they drink (or should I say “eat”??) his blood, mate, and lay eggs.

Female fleas need blood to be able to reproduce. However, only a small portion of the ingested blood is actually metabolized by the adult flea. The rest is excreted, falls down from the host, and is used to feed the larvae. 

2. Eggs

A female flea can lay up to 2000 eggs. Now imagine how many eggs are produced by a fleet of female fleas. Scary, right? 

Those eggs fall down from your puppy to…well…everywhere he goes. This literally means you have flea eggs lying around in your home 🤷‍♀️

Due to their small size and oval shape, they easily fall into cracks and crevices on the floor or in the bedding. 

3. Larvae

If the right conditions are met, the eggs hatch in 1-10 days, and larvae emerge. Flea larvae can move freely, kind of like a tiny worm. They feed on organic material found in their environment and adult flea poop.

Larvae don’t like light and prefer to move downward. They love humid conditions and like to live deep in carpet fibers, mattresses, or cushions.

Since they feed on the digested blood excreted by adult fleas, they usually accumulate where the host animal spends most of its time.

4. Pupa

After some time each larva forms a cocoon – a flea in this stage is called a pupa. Cocoons are small and sticky, so they look like dirt.

If everything goes well and there is a nice warm host body available, the already adult fleas hatch in ca 15 days and immediately need to feed. 

But here’s the problematic part – a flea can remain in the pupa stage for several weeks, sometimes even up to one year. So you can have flea cocoons in your home for up to one year, even when you treated your pup when he had fleas. 

If you want to get rid of fleas in your home, you need to treat the animal as well as the larvae and cocoons that live where your puppy spends most of his time. Hopefully, it’s not your bed…

It all comes down to this – understanding the flea life cycle is essential if you want to effectively treat an infestation and prevent future outbreaks. 

Fleas reproduce very quickly, so it’s important to know the different stages of the flea life cycle in order to know when and how often to apply treatments. By recognizing each stage you can better assess your pet’s risk of becoming infected (again).  

Additionally, understanding the lifecycle will help you understand why certain treatments are more effective than others.

Dog flea life cycle

Are fleas dangerous for your puppy?

In short – yes. Fleas themselves can be infected by various pathogens. They are then transmitted to the host animal via saliva or when the animal eats the flea during scratching. An unchecked infestation is therefore always dangerous for your puppy, not to mention the huge discomfort.

→ Anemia from a severe flea infestation

An adult female flea can consume on average 13.6 microliters of blood per day, which is equivalent to 15x its body weight. Many pet owners don’t realize that in severe cases a massive flea infection can lead to dangerous blood loss. 

→ Tapeworm infection

Fleas are the most common intermediate host for tapeworms. The larvae get infected by ingesting the tapeworm eggs. The eggs stay in their bodies until adulthood. The dog will get infected by eating adult fleas during scratching. 

→ Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)

Flea saliva can cause an allergic reaction that can lead to severe dermatitis. Although it mostly affects adult dogs, it’s something to keep in mind for the future when your puppy is older 🙂

→ Bartonellosis

Bartonellosis or cat scratch fever is more common in cats, however, your puppy can get infected too. Fleas are known carriers of the Bartonella bacterium. Bartonella infection is spread through the bites and saliva of fleas and other external parasites. 

Puppy biting his leg

Can fleas go from a dog to humans?

Yes, they can and they often do. They can also transmit different pathogens, and cause serious diseases or allergic reactions. So please don’t take the problem lightly, especially if you have small children.

Do puppies get fleas easily?

All dogs get fleas easily 🙂 Fleas are everywhere – in the grass, on other animals… and they reproduce at a rapid rate. So yes, puppies as well as adult dogs can get infected very easily. 

Can my puppy have fleas if I don’t see them?

Yes, absolutely. Fleas are very sneaky and hard to spot, so when you see live fleas with the naked eye, the animal already has dozens or maybe even hundreds of them.

How do I check my puppy for fleas?

There are several signs that strongly indicate that your puppy has a flea problem. However, not every dog scratches extensively when he has fleas. Some of them just suffer silently. Luckily, there is one thing you can do to be sure ☺️

Signs of flea infestation in dogs

It is important to be aware of the tell-tale signs that your puppy might have a flea problem. Because, as you now know, fleas reproduce quickly, the quicker you respond with appropriate treatment, the better.

Here are the most common signs that your puppy has fleas:

  • Scratching and biting of the skin – this is the most common sign
  • Gnawing, especially at the base of the tail
  • Hair loss
  • Small red bumps or scabs on the skin
  • Visible fleas, larvae, or eggs in your dog’s fur
  • Behavioral changes – your puppy can be anxious or cranky (and honestly, who wouldn’t be?)
  • Hot spots caused by excessive itching
  • Skin irritation
  • Flea dirt (black specks in the fur that resemble black pepper)
  • Pale gums and/or weakness from loss of blood

However, the absence of symptoms doesn’t mean your puppy doesn’t have fleas!

So how do you know for sure that your puppy has fleas?

Here’s a little trick all vets use to tell if a dog has a flea problem:

The first thing you need to do is to inspect your pet’s fur and skin thoroughly, especially the base of his tail. If you see tiny specks that look like coffee grounds or black pepper, take a fine-toothed comb and brush them out on a white piece of paper or white paper towel.

Even if you don’t see them, brush your puppy thoroughly (there are also specialized fine-tooth flea combs available on the market) and put everything from the comb on that white paper. Now gently remove excess fur from the paper. 

Now, those coffee-grounds-like things are actually flea droppings. And since it’s mostly blood, if you wet the paper with a bit of water, the area around those specks will turn red/red-brown. This is the hemoglobin from the blood cells.

And there’s your proof. If it’s red, it’s blood. If it is blood, it’s flea poop 🤷‍♀️

If your puppy is scratching a little bit and there are no red-turning “coffee grounds”, it’s possible that your puppy still has fleas, but not enough to detect them (yet). This will change quickly. Wait a few days and repeat the process. 

If you are still not sure, take your puppy to a vet clinic for a check-up and a skin test. There might be other reasons why your puppy is scratching and it’s better to diagnose them early.

printable puppy planner

What to do if my puppy has fleas?

Once you have identified a flea infestation, it is important to act quickly in order to protect your puppy from discomfort and diseases. 

Flea treatment for puppies

There are a variety of treatments available that can help reduce the number of fleas and prevent new infestations from forming. The most common treatments for fleas on puppies include topical spot-on products, oral medications, and shampoos/conditioners. 

Topical products are applied directly to a dog’s skin to kill and repel fleas. These products (also called spot-on) are typically topical liquids that are applied between the shoulder blades on the back of a dog’s neck.

Oral medications are taken either as tablets or chewable. They work by killing adult fleas before they can lay eggs and spread an infestation.

You can also use flea shampoo and conditioner, they contain ingredients that kill the parasites on contact.

However, be careful, not every product is suitable for puppies! 

I would strongly recommend that you talk to your vet. He can help diagnose the infestation and recommend the most appropriate treatment plan not just for your puppy, but for your home as well. 

How to get fleas out of your home

As you know, the eggs, larvae, and pupa live outside the host animal. If you want to prevent recurring infections, you need to take care of these flea stages as well. 

Here are a few tips that might help:

  • Wash your puppy’s blankets, cushions, and everything he likes to lie on in hot water or a washing machine (if possible)
  • Vacuum or wash his dog bed with warm water and soap (or, depending on the type of bed, wash it in a washing machine if possible)
  • Wash all his soft toys with soap and warm water and let them soak for a while
  • Wash your own bedding in a washing machine
  • Wash rugs, bath mats, blankets, and cushions (everything that came in contact with your puppy) in hot water or the washing machine (if possible)
  • Vacuum or clean your puppy’s crate, and vacuum your car if your puppy has been traveling with you lately. Don’t forget his dog carrier
  • Thoroughly vacuum all floors, carpets, upholstered furniture, and curtains. Remove the vacuum bag immediately and throw it in the garbage outside. Don’t keep it inside your home! Repeat regularly
  • There are a few safe flea control sprays and foggers you can try. Read the label carefully and give it enough time before you allow children and pets to re-enter treated areas
  • You can also buy an insect growth regulator for your garden, again, read the instructions carefully!
  • In case of heavy flea infestation, the best way is to call a professional exterminator, but I understand that it’s not always doable…

Sadly, if the infestation is too strong, you will need to repeat the whole process several times. Be patient. 

Puppy planner pink ad 3

How do I prevent my puppy from getting fleas?

As I said before, fleas are everywhere. Therefore, prevention is the best way how to protect your puppy. There are several products on the market. 

You can buy specialized spot-on, pills or flea collars. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages and you need to decide what is best suited for you and your furry baby. But, again, not everything you see online is suitable for puppies so please read the manufacturer’s instructions.

Flea & Tick spot-ons:

Spot-ons are easy-to-use liquid topical treatments for dogs and puppies, that kill existing fleas and ticks and prevent future infestations. The active ingredients are stored in the oil glands of your pet’s skin and work usually for 1 month, depending on the manufacturer. They are a safe and convenient option if your pup isn’t a big fan of pills.

The most popular spot-ons for dogs and puppies are Advantage for Dogs, Frontline Plus for Dogs, or Bravecto Topical for Dogs.

Flea & Tick chewables:

Chewables are chewing tablets with an aroma and flavor profile that most dogs find very appealing. They kill existing external parasites and offer reliable protection for 1 month.

The best-reviewed chews against fleas and ticks are Nexgard for Dogs or Bravecto Chew for Dogs.

Flea & Tick collars:

If you are like me and need 3 reminders for every little thing, giving your pet a pill or a spot-on each month is probably too much work for you. I personally use Flea collars. You can put them on and forget about them for the next few months. Convenient, isn’t it? 😎

I personally like the Seresto Collar for Dogs (in Europe it’s called Foresto Collar for Dogs), which works against fleas for 8 months! Just be careful, the protection duration can be reduced to 5 months if you bathe your pup more than once a month.

Another popular choice is Scalibor Tick Collar for Dogs, which will protect your pup against fleas and ticks for 3 months, and Kiltix Tick Collar for Dogs which offers protection for 5 months.

All-in-one products against external and internal parasites:

As you know, it’s important to deworm your puppy regularly. Not just for their but also for your own protection.

And because we live in such an awesome age, you can now buy products that will kill the most common intestinal parasites, and protect your pup against fleas, ticks, and heartworm.

There are several products on the market you can choose from, for example, Revolution for Dogs (spot-on), Advantage Multi (Advocate) for Dogs (spot-on), or Credelio Plus for Dogs (chewable).

You only need to know that while they are effective against roundworms, whipworms, and hookworms, they don’t treat tapeworm infections!

So there you have it, I hope you found the information you were looking for (if not please let me know).

Have a nice day and happy puppy parenting 🐶 🥰

PS: Are you as crazy about animals as I am and want to get more pet care tips? Subscribe to my newsletter! Now you will get a free pet planner as a bonus 🤗

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