Dog's Itching a Sign of Fleas

If you’re like most American pet owners, you likely regard your dog as a part of the family. You may even consider your pup as your child and call it your “fur baby.”

So, it’s unsurprising if your first reaction to seeing your dog scratching away is to worry. After all, when family members get sick, you feel the same way. However, it can be even more concerning in pets, as they can’t talk and tell you exactly how they’re suffering.

Before you panic, though, you should learn how to tell if your dog has fleas. These parasitic insects’ bites are among the most common reasons for excessive scratching in dogs.

We’ll teach you how in this guide, so read on. 

Note Your Pup’s Symptoms

A flea bite can cause severe itchiness in your pup (and you, if you get bitten by one) due to the antigens in the insect’s saliva. These antigens trigger an itchy response in dogs, causing them to scratch away at the bite.

Aside from frequent scratching, fleas may also cause the following symptoms in dogs:

  • Biting or chewing the skin
  • Skin lesions, redness, or scabs
  • Fur loss
  • Tapeworms in your pup’s poop

It’s vital to note that those symptoms can indicate other conditions, such as food and skin allergies. So, look for the other signs below to determine if your dog has fleas.

Check for Live Fleas

The Ctenocephalides felis, or cat flea, is the most common type of flea that infests dogs in the United States. It’s a tiny insect about one to three millimeters long, often appearing brown to reddish brown.

Cat fleas can’t fly because they have no wings. Still, they can jump far and reach distances as much as 200 times their body length

While cat fleas are tiny, you can still see them with the naked eye. However, their dark coloring can make them more challenging to look for in dogs with dark fur. In this case, you can use a magnifying glass and a flashlight for better visibility.

If your dog has fleas, you might see these tiny critters scurrying away as you part your dog’s fur or shine a light on their coat. 

Comb the Fleas Away

Fleas move fast, so even if you see them, you’ll unlikely be able to catch them that easily. A flea comb can make this job more manageable. It’s a fine-toothed comb that can trap and remove fleas, flea eggs, and flea dirt.

A flea comb can also help make things easier if your pup’s fur is long and thick.

Before you start combing away, prepare a bowl of soapy water. Dipping the comb here makes it sticky, helping catch more fleas.

You should also place the bowl in the area under the direction of the comb. This can help catch any critters that fall and prevent them from jumping onto you or back to your dog. Put the live insects trapped in the tool in the soapy water, too.

Alternatively, you can bathe your pup with anti-flea shampoo like one from Adams Plus, Vet’s Best, or Poochiful. You can then use the flea comb for a few minutes before giving your dog a rinse. 

Look for Pepper-Like Debris on Your Dog’s Fur

Flea dirt refers to the excrement or poop that fleas drop onto your pet’s coat. These visual signs of fleas in dogs look like finely ground pepper or specks of ground coffee.

Aside from your dog’s fur, you may also find flea dirt on the flea comb and your pup’s bedding. The same goes for their toys and the places they like spending time the most. 

Entrap the Fleas

Another way to check if your dog has fleas is to place a bowl of soapy water on the floor close to a night lamp. The light will attract the insects, which may then fall into the bowl as they travel towards it. So if they do, you should see a few in the bowl the following morning.

Note that a flea trap doesn’t always work. But if you see a few critters floating in the soapy water, you’ll know your dog has fleas.

Have a Vet Check Your Dog

Fleas reproduce fast; each fertilized adult can lay two to 14 eggs after each blood meal. Under the right conditions, these eggs can hatch within two days to two weeks. The larva then pupate, often for five to seven days, and emerge as adults if they’re on a suitable host.

Because of their speedy life cycle, fleas can quickly cause an infestation in dogs. A heavy infestation can result in more severe symptoms and even anemia.

That’s a good enough reason to bring your pup to the vet if you suspect a flea infestation. A vet can also determine if your dog is playing host to other parasites, including the following.


Like fleas, ticks are blood-sucking parasites. They’re bigger, though, and have eight legs, whereas fleas only have six. However, as blood-suckers, they can cause symptoms similar to those of a flea infestation.


A vet can also check for signs of tapeworms.

Your pup can get tapeworms if it ingests a flea with tapeworm larvae. A severe infection can cause weight loss in your pet and can be irritating to the skin around their anus. So, if your dog has tapeworms, it may also try to scratch away at this area or drag its bottom across the floor. 

How the Vet Can Help

Once the vet determines why your pup is itchy, they can develop an appropriate treatment plan. This may involve using care products like anti-flea and tick shampoo and topical solutions. The vet can also treat secondary infections and skin lesions before they worsen.

That’s How to Tell if Your Dog Has Fleas

Now that you know how to tell if your dog has fleas, it’s time to check if your pup is playing host to these parasites. The sooner you determine their presence, the sooner you can get them out and prevent them from making your dog suffer further.

So, get that flea comb and soapy water ready, or better yet, take your canine family member to the vet ASAP.

Browse our other recent news and blog posts for more informative guides like this!