How Do I Know If My Dog Has Fleas?

Golden retriever scratching himself

How do I know if my dog has fleas? If you notice your dog scratching, shaking her head, biting herself, and then scratching some more, you may wonder. This behavior can certainly indicate that she has the itchy bugs, but how do you know for sure? A closer inspection of your dog's skin is all it takes to know if your dog has fleas.

Symptoms of a Flea Infestation

How do you know if you have a flea infestation? The signs aren't hard to spot. Your dog may be itching a lot more than usual. Her skin may be irritated, red, or have scabs.1 She may bite her skin so often that she develops some hair loss. Since other things can also cause itching, it's a good idea to look for specific signs of fleas, including the ones listed below.

Inspect Your Dog's Skin

Carefully inspect your dog's skin to look for fleas. Look for tiny, dark insects that are smaller than ants. Your dog's armpit and groin areas are favorite flea hangouts because they tend to be warm and protected. Part your dog's fur with your fingers to expose the skin. If fleas are present, you may notice the following signs:

  • The skin may look red and bumpy, especially if your dog has been scratching.
  • You may see tiny adult fleas that scurry away quickly or even jump.
  • You might see larvae that have hatched or cocooned larvae that are pupating (developing into adults).

Look for Flea Dirt

When inspecting your dog's skin, you might see tiny black specks that look like finely ground black pepper. This is flea “dirt" (or excrement) and can be another sign of a flea infestation.

You can distinguish flea dirt from ordinary dirt by collecting any black specks that fall off your dog on a white paper towel. Sprinkle the specks with a little water. If they turn a dark reddish-brown color, that's a sign of flea dirt.

Use a Flea Comb

Work a flea comb through your dog's hair, starting close to the skin. If your dog has fleas, the fine teeth of the comb should capture some. You can dispose of them in a nearby bowl of soapy water to ensure they don't survive.

Try a Light Trap

Use a “light trap" to detect fleas in the home. At night, set a small dish of soapy water on the floor near a nightlight. Fleas will jump toward the light and fall into the bowl.

Watch for Tapeworms or Flea Eggs

Tapeworms or flea eggs can also signal that your dog has a problem. Flea eggs look like tiny white ovals that fall off in places like your bed or the carpet.

Tapeworms are internal parasites that a dog might get from swallowing a flea. If you see tiny white segments that look like small grains of rice near where your dog sleeps or sits, this could mean your dog has fleas.2 You'll also want to talk to your veterinarian about tapeworm treatment.

Are You Getting Flea Bites?

Fleas are just as happy to bite humans as they are other animals. If you have flea bites, you might see a small cluster of little red bites or a series of itchy bites in a line.3 They're typically near the legs or ankles, but they may also show up in armpits, your waist, and other areas.

Treating Your Pet

If you find fleas on your dog, you want to get rid of them as fast as you can. Try a flea shampoo like Adams Flea & Tick Cleansing Shampoo for quick relief. Let the lather remain in your dog's coat for five minutes, then rinse with clean water. The fleas should start falling off your dog. This will kill adult fleas and prevent eggs from hatching for 30 days.

The Adams Flea & Tick Control Collar for Dogs can protect your pup for up to seven months, which is especially helpful if your dog goes outside.

Another option is Adams Flea & Tick Prevention Spot On for Dogs. This treatment is quick and easy to apply, preventing fleas and ticks from "re-infesting" your dog for up to 30 days.

Treating Your Home & Yard

Your dog can pick up fleas all over again if you don't treat your yard too. Adams Yard & Garden Spray can kill fleas and protect your yard, garden, and shrubs for up to four weeks.

Don't forget to treat your home as well, since fleas can live in the carpet and other parts of your house. You have many options to choose from, like indoor foggerscarpet spray or carpet powder, and home spray. If you want to invest in flea treatment now, here's a look at where Adams products are sold.

Aside from making your dog feel pretty miserable, fleas can also pose a health hazard. Your dog's constant scratching can irritate the skin, which can lead to infection. Since dogs can get fleas any time of the year, you need to be on your guard no matter what the season. You can sign up for alerts to learn when there's a flea outbreak in your region.

1. Burke, Anna. "What Do Flea Bites Look Like on Dogs?" AKC, 11 June 2019, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/flea-bites-on-dogs/.

2. AKC Staff. "Tapeworms in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention." AKC, 21 December 2015, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/tapeworms-in-dogs-symptoms-treatment-and-prevention/.

3. Healthline. "Everything You Need to Know about Fleabites." Healthline.com, https://www.healthline.com/health/flea-bites.

Flea & Tick Prevention Education | Adams™