A nasty little parasite lies in wait for your dog just outside your door: the flea.. It just takes a few fleas to begin a vicious cycle of infestation. These tiny creatures with six legs and no wings can leap tall dogs in a single bound. Scientists have identified nearly 2,000 species of fleas, but ironically, it's Ctenocephalides felis -- the cat flea -- that gives dogs the most grief.

Fleas can be more than just irritating. Besides the usual itching and scratching, some dogs are extra-sensitive to flea saliva. One bite may be enough to bring on the unbearable itching of flea-allergy dermatitis (FAD). The raw skin is also more vulnerable to bacterial infections, and your dog may get hot spots -- areas of moist infection that spread and can be difficult to control. Puppies or dogs with compromised immune systems can become anemic or even die. Fleas are also carriers for intestinal parasites like tapeworms. If you do suspect that your dog has fleas, it's important to get rid of the infestation as soon as possible.

There are over-the-counter products available to treat your dog, but they're not as effective as the products prescribed by your veterinarian. Prescription medications are more expensive at first, but they're safer and work faster; some claim to rid your dog of fleas in less than a day. These products generally work to repel and kill adult fleas as well as flea eggs. Some also repel and kill other parasites like ticks and even prevent heartworm infestations. You could also try natural flea repellents, such as those made with cedar oil. Talk to your vet about which product is right for your dog.

No matter what you decide to use, be sure to follow the directions exactly. In this case, more isn't better. All flea-control products are poison and can harm your dog if not used properly. If your dog begins to drool heavily or shake after applying a flea control product, get him to the vet immediately. Also, you should never use flea-control products designed for dogs on cats, or vice versa. If you have other pets in the household, all of them must be treated for fleas at the same time using the appropriate medication.

If your dog has fleas, so does your house. If you only treat your dog, the fleas will move on to another warm body for their bloodsucking -- you. To get rid of an infestation completely, you need to treat your house for fleas too, as well as your yard (where the fleas originated).

To treat your house, vacuum thoroughly, including the furniture, and throw away the vacuum bags when you're finished. Wash all rugs and bedding. Next, apply a product to treat the house. One natural option is a boric acid-based powder. You sprinkle it on your carpet, brush it into the carpet fibers using a broom, then vacuum. The residue will remain in the carpet and kill flea larvae, but it's not toxic enough to harm you or your dog.

There are lots of insecticides available to kill fleas in your home, such as sprays, liquids and flea bombs, or foggers. While these products can be effective, they're also highly toxic. If you choose to avail yourself of these products, make sure to follow the directions carefully. Keep pets and children away from the house while you're treating it, and wait until the product has dried or dispersed to bring them back in.

You can also build a flea trap. Flea traps alone won't rid your house of fleas, but they can help determine how many adult fleas are still hanging around. Hang a light source over a sticky, disposable surface (flypaper works well) or a bowl of soapy water. The heat from the light source attracts any nearby fleas, many of which will then get caught. You'll notice the fleas as small, dark, flat-bodied insects, roughly the size of a comma.

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Author's Bio: 

Graeme Stephens has been running the largest owned carpet cleaning company
in new Zealand for 24 years. IICRC qualified "master restoration technician"