Fleas may not be very fun to think about, but every pet owner needs to be aware of exactly what they are and the dangers these bloodsuckers pose. Though your dog or cat’s excessive itching and scratching may not necessarily be signs of a pet emergency, it is important to recognize the symptoms of fleas before you have a true infestation on your hands. Here’s what you need to know about finding and fighting fleas.

What are fleas, exactly?

Fleas are small insects that feed off the blood of mammals and like to live in the fur of their hosts. They’re commonly transmitted to household pets from wild animals, who might unwittingly deposit flea eggs around your home that then get picked up by your dog or cat when they play outside.

So what’s the big deal?

We all want our pets to be comfortable, and fleas can cause irritating bites all over an animal’s body that can be annoying and painful. In extreme cases, the fleas’ blood diets can also lead to anemia, especially in young puppies and kittens. In fact, the female flea will consume 15 times her own body weight in blood, every day.

Not only that, but if your animals carry fleas, your entire home could soon be infested with stubborn, bloodsucking fleas.

How can I tell if my pet has fleas?

Because fleas are so tiny, they are very hard to see. If you notice your pet scratching more than usual, you can take them into an animal medical center for veterinary services and have them checked out. You can also take a deeper look into your pet’s fur yourself; these tiny insects are easiest to spot around the ears, eyes, and mouth, and they have a tendency to jump when irritated. Here’s another simple home test: you may notice a reddish-brown “flea dirt” if you rub the pet’s fur with a paper towel. Unfortunately, “flea dirt” is actually just flea excrement.

How do I treat fleas for my dog or cat?

The best method is to prevent a flea infestation before it has a chance to start. Fleas are notoriously difficult to get rid of because their eggs can lay dormant around your house for months before they hatch and wreak havoc again. Ask your veterinarian about preventative sprays, pills, or monthly treatments that can greatly reduce the risk of catching fleas.

Concerned about pesky fleas infesting your pet and home? Contact a veterinary services animal hospital near you for answers to all of your questions about protecting your furry friends from fleas.