Vet says don’t let your four-legged employees suffer from fleas

Vet says flea control isn’t expensive, and is simple to administer and allows working dogs to focus on their job

Your working dog won’t be at its best if he or she is itching from a flea infestation.

“Flea prevention has become really easy, and there’s really no reason not to have that as part of your dog-managing program,” said Lynne Copeland a Red Deer-based veterinarian who specializes in herding, guardian and working dogs.

Many producers don’t bother with parasite control in their working animals — and that’s a mistake, Copeland said at the recent Alberta Goat Breeders Association annual conference.

“Farm working animals are at the front line of encountering parasites and picking up parasites,” she said. “Unlike many companion dogs around town, they’re earning a living and making a valuable contribution to your farm. They deserve to be well looked after. If you look after your working dogs, they will look after you.”

Because fleas live primarily on coyotes and foxes, they’re more prevalent in the country. They are often found in grass, where they wait and then hop on anything that walks by.

“You tend to see fleas on dogs that are in close contact with coyotes and foxes, or that are regularly roaming through fields where coyotes and foxes make their rounds,” Copeland said.

Fleas are one to 2.5 millimetres in length, fast moving and a red-brown colour. They often burrow down by the skin and move by jumping long distances. Fleas are not host specific and can live on dogs and cats, and will even try living on non-host species, including humans.

“If you look at your dog and you see something darting in and out of its hair, there’s a pretty good chance it’s going to be a flea,” Copeland said.

Owners should maintain their dog’s coat and occasionally part the dog’s hair to look for fleas, she said. Flea bites, which look like mosquito bites, can cause rashes and inflammation. Hair loss is another sign, as dogs may pull out their own hair when biting or scratching themselves.

The flea life cycle makes them difficult to get rid of. The pests live on an animal and the females produce eggs, which fall off the animal, and pupate in the environment.

“If you’ve got a dog that sleeps in the barn or the doghouse, you can get quite a load of eggs and larvae living all around where the dog sleeps,” said Copeland.

Flea eggs can survive freezing and can live for weeks before hatching and reinfesting the animal.

“That’s why it can be tough and why you need ongoing prevention,” said Copeland. “It’s not enough to realize your dog has fleas and give him a good flea bath.”

Start with a flea spray or shampoo to provide immediate relief.

“Once you’ve got the majority of the load out of the way, start on a monthly treatment,” Copeland said.

There are a number of good medications available. They can be administered topically or orally and work for up to 30 days.

Doghouses and the bedding inside them can be cleaned with a shop vac or premise insecticide spray. Dogs with major skin rashes caused by fleas should be taken to the vet for antibiotics.

“Flea prevention is not expensive and it’s very simple,” said Copeland. “Your dog is not going to perform well if he’s itching and scratching and he’s miserable with hot spots. He or she will not be focused on the job.”

About the author


Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for the Glacier FarmMedia publication, the Alberta Farmer Express, since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."



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