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Flea bites on dogs

The essentials

  • Flea bites are hard to see — Dogs with a thicker coat might have bites that are harder to spot. 
  • There are often other signs — Other telltale signs, like flea dirt, can indicate that your dog is dealing with a parasite problem.
  • Fleas have favorite places — Fleas tend to stay in hard-to-reach places for your dog, making it easy for them to dine on your pup and hard for your dog to relieve the itch.

Most pet owners know what fleas are — parasites that live off the blood of mammals and birds. What many pet owners may not know, though, are what flea bites look like, where they typically bite dogs, and signs that your dog might be playing host to these flightless insects. For your dog’s health (and yours!), it’s important to know what flea bites look like and what you can do to stop them.

Identifying flea bites on dogs

Fleas are tiny and can easily be overlooked, but the signs that they’re living on your dog are easier to spot. Here’s what to look for if you suspect your dog has fleas.

Common symptoms of flea bites in dogs 

When it comes to signs of fleas on dogs, pet owners should look for scratching and itching, red or irritated skin, hair loss, and scabs on their dog. Due to the size of flea bites, it’s important to pay attention to your dog’s body language and look for signs that something may be irritating their skin.

Physical appearance of flea bites

Flea bites are tiny — typically no bigger around than the tip of a ballpoint pen — and cause a lot of itching. While they’ll typically stick to your dog, other pets, and local wildlife, fleas can and will dine on you as well if the infestation in your home is bad enough. Typically the bite disappears after a few days, but it causes intense itching.

Typical flea bite locations on dogs 

Fleas will bite your dog anywhere to get their next meal, but they have some favorite spots due to their love of warm, easily accessible areas. They also prefer places your dog may have a hard time reaching, like:

  • Ears and eyes. Dogs can’t easily scratch these areas, making them an easier place for fleas to feed undisturbed. 
  • Major joints. While dogs can bite and chew at the space around their hind legs, the area around their shoulders and hips is warm, moist prime seating for these parasites.
  • Under the collar. Dogs have a hard time scratching the skin under their collar, which makes it a great, safe place for fleas to eat and lay eggs.
  • Base of the tail. Like around your dog’s joints, this area is a little harder to reach and provides a safer space for fleas to feed.

Dogs that are not as flexible — such as older dogs or overweight and obese dogs — cannot reach those already "hard to reach areas" and will suffer more or longer until the fleas are eliminated.

Dr. Bruce Armstrong

Harmful effects of flea bites on dogs

While your dog will likely still have the same personality, itching and irritation may make them more irritable. But being cranky is the least of your worries when it comes to flea bites on dogs. Pet owners should consider these other issues that can arise from fleas.

  • Flea allergy dermatitis. Often abbreviated FAD, flea allergy dermatitis is an allergic reaction to chemicals in a flea’s saliva.
  • Murine typhus. While more commonly seen in humans, rats, cats, and opossums, murine typhus is transmitted by infected fleas. Symptoms aren’t well documented in animals, but a typhus fever outbreak in humans can indicate activity in pets.
  • Bartonella. Also called cat-scratch disease, bartonella can infect many other animals and is only associated with cats due to the spread of the bacteria. It’s also passed through fleas.
  • Tapeworms. The most common issue pet owners and dogs deal with when it comes to fleas, tapeworms can enter your dog’s digestive system when they consume fleas while grooming. Often, this results in white, rice-like specks in their feces and around their backside, weight loss, and bloating.
  • Anemia. For young and small dogs, anemia is a real risk in the event of a heavy flea infestation.

Treating flea bites on your dog

When treating your dog for fleas, it’s essential to do it safely and properly. Here are a few techniques that can quickly relieve your dog while you manage the infestation.

  • Oral flea medication. Chews, like Simprica Trio, can eliminate fleas, most ticks, and protect your dog from internal parasites like dangerous heartworms.
  • Topical treatments. Over-the-counter and prescription topical flea treatments are popular. It’s important to consult with your vet before applying any topical medication.
  • Medicated shampoo. Using dog-approved flea shampoo formulated to get rid of fleas, in addition to a flea comb, can help with getting rid of fleas, particularly in puppies too small for medication.

How to manage flea infestations

Prevention is the best way to manage a flea infestation. But, for existing infestations, there are some ways you can help get rid of them in your home and reduce the number of fleas that come in on your dog’s coat.

Visit the vet for well checks — When it comes to dealing with fleas, the vet should be the first visit. Your vet can provide guidance on how to get rid of an infestation and provide medications that, when combined with good practices in and around the home, will prevent future infestations.

Consider routine flea prevention medications — Medications like Simparica Trio or Seresto, the over-the-counter flea collar, can help prevent fleas from getting on your dog in the first place. Keep in mind that the Seresto collar doesn’t protect against other parasites, like heartworms. 

Clean and treat your home — Treating the inside of your home and outside with a quality, pet-safe pesticide (like this Vet’s Best bundle) can help with eliminating fleas. Many homeowners also liberally sprinkle diatomaceous earth on baseboards, allow it to sit overnight undisturbed, and then thoroughly vacuum it up the next day to help dry out and kill fleas.

Environmental control is very important in the face of a serious infestation as the oral and topical medications on the dogs will take a substantial period of time for effectiveness and noticeable improvement.

Dr. Bruce Armstrong

Schedule regular grooming appointments — Scheduling regular grooming sessions is a great way to keep an eye out for flea dirt — a flea’s excrement — which is especially important for dogs with longer, thicker coats, curly hair, or thick double coats.

When to seek a vet’s advice

Ideally, as soon as you notice sores or see that your dog has fleas, you should notify your vet. Dogs with fleas may very well be dealing with other parasites and require additional treatment. If pet parents aren’t able to go to the vet immediately, at-home treatments are another possibility in the meantime, such as flea shampoo, treating the home, and things like a Seresto collar.

Fleas are pests, there’s no doubt about it. Depending on where you are in the world, they may be a part of everyday life year-round. But, they shouldn’t be. Keeping an eye out for flea bites and taking preventative measures is essential to your dog’s health and happiness.

Frequently asked questions

What does a flea bite on a dog look like? 

Flea bites look like small, raised red bumps on your dog. They often go away after a few days, but in that time cause a great deal of irritation.

What are some common misconceptions about flea bites on dogs? 

Pet owners can often mistake flea bites for bed bug bites or mosquito bites. Flea bites are smaller than both, although when dogs are allergic to flea bites, they may scratch so much that the bites become more inflamed and thus, larger.

What kills fleas on dogs instantly? 

Oral tablets, like Capster, kill fleas in about half an hour, making it one of the fastest and most effective ways to get rid of adult fleas. However, Capster doesn’t kill the larvae or pupa in the home, so your pet is still at risk if fleas are still present in their environment.

How long does it take for flea bites to go away on dogs? 

For dogs, flea bites usually go away after a few days. The sores can linger, however, if your dog is allergic or if the sore becomes inflamed.