Fleas are wingless parasites that can make any pet distressed. They are small, fast, they are exceptional jumpers, and always keen to make any animal itchy.

Fleas are common (it is likely that any cat or dog will come across fleas at some point in their lives), but they can also cause greater consequences than just itching. From flea allergy dermatitis and the transmission of other diseases to parasites.

So, how can you control fleas on your puppy?

Why do puppies get fleas?

Puppies can become infested with fleas through contact with other animals or with contact with fleas in the environment. They have strong back legs, perfect to jump from host to host or even from the environment onto the puppy.

Flea infestations in the home can sometimes go unnoticed for weeks or even months. During this time, the flea egg population quickly builds. Around 95% of flea problems originate from the home itself. 

How quickly can an infestation occur?

It is strongly recommended to destroy the fleas before the lifecycle (from an egg to the adult) can be completed and a major infestation develops. In fact, flea eggs can develop into new fleas from as little as 14 days or as long as 180 days. Under typical household conditions, such as being warm, the lifecycle can be completed in three to six weeks.

What are the signs of a flea problem on my puppy?

For many pet owners, the first sign of fleas is usually from your puppy itching, scratching, or chewing themselves, which can often then lead to hair loss or irritated and red skin. While some puppies are very itchy and uncomfortable, others may show no signs at all, making the fleas can be difficult to see.

It may not only be the puppy itching, but you too may also notice red bumps on your skin where the flea has taken a bite. 

You may notice flea dirt on the puppy. Flea eggs are white and small so can be difficult to spot. More commonly seen is flea dirt (this is a mixture of flea’s faeces and dried blood) and can often be found on the skin of the puppy that has fleas. 

A popular method to see if the specks on your puppy dirt or flea dirt is, is the wet paper test. Dampen a paper towel or cotton wool ball and gently wipe up some of the specks. If the area around the speck turns reddish-brown, it is flea dirt.

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If you stroke your puppies coat backwards then you may be able to see a flea. But remember, fleas are very quick and fast and can be hard to spot! Common areas for fleas to be on your puppy are around the base of the tail and the tummy.

The risks with fleas

In the case of young puppies, a heavy flea infestation can have a strong possibility of causing so much blood loss that your puppy becomes anaemic. Should this be the case, then your puppy can become weak and have pale gums.

Tapeworm segments can be visible in the faeces, around the puppy’s anus and can be seen on the bedding. If your puppy has a tapeworm, it may have come from a flea.  Tapeworms can survive inside fleas and get transmitted into your puppy should they accidentally consume the flea when licking their coat.

How can I prevent fleas?

Due to the flea life cycle, new fleas may carry on emerging in the home for six weeks (or longer) after initial application of an effective flea treatment to your puppy. Therefore, regular flea treatment will be needed. 

It is strongly advisable that all other cats, dogs, and rabbits in the household be treated for fleas. 

The best method to keep fleas away from your puppy is to treat regularly with a good quality flea treatment. There are a few different options, but please check the body weight of your puppy before applying any preparation. This should ensure the puppy is not being under- or overdosed on flea medication. 

Collars

Specific flea prevention collars can provide prolonged protection for several months. The Seresto Flea and Tick collar goes on weight of the puppy and should be worn continuously for the seven-to-eight-month period for the full protection.  This product should not be used on puppies that are less than seven weeks of age. 

 Topical Solutions

These products are applied to your puppies back and/or neck and are designed to affect both adult and immature fleas, freeing your pet and house of fleas, with repeated use. 

Spot-on flea treatments all contain different active ingredients. Each product has a specific coverage length, but most are around 4 weeks. Extended duration products or those with an environmental control component can be helpful in breaking the flea lifecycle in your home.

Shampoos

Flea shampoos will kill adult fleas, but do not provide prolonged protection — just a few days.

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Oral medications

These are administered directly into your puppy’s mouth or mixed into food. Some varieties can last up to 12 weeks.

Sprays

Provide protection for a few days to weeks. They can kill both adult and immature fleas, with popular brands including the Frontline spray. The liquid is sprayed onto the puppy (depending on their size will depend on how many pumps will be needed). Puppies from two days old can be treated with Frontline spray

How do I treat my home for fleas?

Fleas can survive in the environment without a host for many months, so the following steps will help to reduce the risk of fleas returning:

  • Clean the puppies bedding regularly
  • Vacuum furniture, floors and skirting boards
  • Throw away the dust bag from your vacuum after each use
  • Wash bedding at 60C if possible
  • Regularly use an effective ectoparasite treatment to prevent re-infestation

If you are still receiving fleas after having treated your home environment, I would advise calling out a local pest controller to treat your home.

When should I start flea protection?

Your veterinary surgeon or Registered Animal Medicines Advisor (RAMA) will help advise on when to start flea protection.

For most puppies, the first treatment can be provided once they are six to eight weeks old, however the exact age will depend on the type of flea treatment chosen for the weight of your puppy.

For advice on fleas on your puppy then please speak a registered RAMA or your local Veterinary Surgeon for the most effective product for your puppy. If you have any concerns about your puppy’s health, you must seek veterinary advice.