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Ask the Vet: How to Get Rid of Fleas From Newborn Puppies

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How to Get Rid of Fleas From Newborn Puppies

How to get rid of fleas from newborn puppies? The flea is the most common external parasite in dogs. Although fleas prefer dog blood, they are quite happy feeding off humans, too – and the presence of fleas causing bites around the ankles is certainly not an unpopular feature in the home. These ubiquitous little creatures are without doubt the single most common cause of medical skin conditions in dogs and, canine skin problems account for more visits to the vet than any other single condition.

 A puppy covered in flea dirt

A puppy covered in flea dirt

The Flea in a Nutshell 

Fleas are wingless, bloodsucking parasites with flattened bodies and three pairs of powerful joined legs capable of making high jumps. An adult flea is brown, about one-tenth of an inch long and can be seen with the naked eye. Fleas can move quickly through hair and are difficult to catch.

Although there is a specific dog flea, Ctenocephalides canis, it is quite rare. Usually dogs become infested with the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis. The human flea, Pulex irritans, can also be found on dogs.

Ideally, fleas complete their life cycles in just over two weeks. However, when food is scarce, the cycle can be significantly prolonged (lasting for up to 21 months). This is the reason why flea problems may return to an infested house even when it has been uninhabited by pets for well over a year.

Adult fleas feed every few days via bites through the dog’s skin. These blood meals are necessary for before sexual activity can take place. A fertilized female lays up to 50 eggs a day. Most of them are dislodged by scratching and drop to the floor or ground.

It should be noted that for every flea on your dog, there are likely to be 100 more in the environment at different stages in their life cycle.

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How to Get Rid of Fleas 

Since the 1980s, pharmaceutical companies have developed many new chemical treatments for controlling or preventing fleas. These medications are much more effective than the old flea collars. Based on how they act, those treatments can be divided in several categories:

  • Insect growth regulators (methoprene, pyriproxyfen, nitenpyram) available as collars, spot-on products and pills
  • Insect development inhibitors (lufenuron) available as pills and oral liquids
  • Neurotransmitter inhibitors (selamectin, fipronil, imidacloprid) available as spot-on products and sprays
  • Naturally occurring neurotoxins (permethrins, pyrethrins) available as spot-on products, sprays and shampoos
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitor available as collar
  • Cell growth inhibitor (selenium sulfide) available as shampoo.

The above listed treatment and prevention options are efficient for adult dogs but what about puppies? More precisely speaking, what about newborn puppies? Are there any safe ways of getting rid of fleas from newborn puppies? Fortunately, the answer is yes. However, before explaining how to get rid of fleas from newborn puppies, lets see why fleas are dangerous.

The Problems With Fleas-More That Itchy!

A tapeworm egg sac on dog feces

A tapeworm egg sac on dog feces

First of all, fleas cause skin irritation which eventually leads to itchiness. Once irritated, the skin, as a barrier, becomes damaged and more prone to developing secondary bacterial and fungal skin infections. What is more, some individuals are allergic to flea saliva. When an allergic puppy becomes infested with fleas, it develops a condition known as flea allergy dermatitis.

Additionally, fleas transmit tapeworms. Simply put, when puppies lick themselves they ingest fleas and if the fleas are infected with tapeworms, the puppies will also become infected. Once ingested, the tapeworms attach to the intestinal lining.

Due to their fast reproductive rate, one flea can easily turn into hundreds of fleas. If hundreds of fleas host on one small puppy it is likely that the pup will become anemic. Anemia in puppies is a life threatening condition.

Last but not least, Bartonella bacteria infections in dogs are linked with fleas.

From the above stated, it is safe to assume that fleas can be not just dangerous but also life-threatening for newborn puppies.

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How to Remove Fleas From Newborn Puppies? 

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Sadly, when it comes to young puppies, getting rid of fleas can be tricky. This is because young puppies cannot handle the powerful insecticides in the anti-flea products. Namely, anti-flea medications can cause adverse side-effects if used in youngsters. Therefore, getting rid of fleas from puppies includes three important steps:

  1. Keeping the puppy clean
  2. Treating the mother
  3. Treating the environment.

Keeping the Puppy Clean

Keeping the puppy clean involves several approaches: bathing the puppy in warm water, using a flea comb to mechanically remove the fleas, killing the removed fleas, treating the mother and treating the environment. Let's see each approach more in detail.

  • Bathing the puppy 

Bathing the puppy promotes manual removal of the fleas. To make the bathing comfortable it is advisable to use warm water. When the bath is over, the puppy should be gently rubbed with a towel to remove the excess water. The towel rubbing also helps remove some of the remaining fleas.

  • Using a flea comb 

Flea combs are specifically designed for their purpose. Their teeth are placed closely together to ensure more efficient flea removal. It is important to be organized and comb the fur section by section (starting with the neck area and moving towards the tail).

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  • Killing the removed fleas

Fleas are stubborn, and unless killed, they will come back and re-infest the puppy. There are two efficient ways of killing fleas. The first way is by squishing the fleas between your fingernails and the second way is by throwing them in boiling water.

  • Treating the mother

The goal of this step is to prevent re-infecting the pups. If there are more pets in the household, they all need to be treated against fleas. Since some chemicals can be passed on the puppies through the milk, it is important to pay attention to what product you use on the mother. Always choose prescription products formulated for lactating mothers.

  • Treating the environment

To keep the environment free from fleas you need to wash the puppies’ beddings and soft furniture (to reduce the number of fleas) and then use spray insecticides (to kill the residual fleas).

In Conclusion

When it comes to young puppies, chemical removal of fleas is not a possibility. The only safe way of getting rid of the fleas is through mechanical removal. Once the fleas are removed from the pup’s fur they also need to be removed from its environment. To prevent future infestation all pets in the house need to be clean.

Ultimately, it is worth mentioning that preventing flea infestations is much easier than treating flea infestations. Keeping the mother and the environment free of fleas significantly decreases the chances of having your puppies infested.

About the Author

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia. She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia.Ivana’s research has been published in international journals, and she regularly attends international veterinary conferences.

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