Fleas are one of the most troublesome problems that can afflict pets and the people who own them. However, they are also one of the easiest to prevent if you just take a few simple precautions.

Anywhere animals come into contact with each other — boarding facilities, doggie daycare, the local park, on a hike, in your backyard — fleas can be found, says Stacy Stacy, DVM, who practices at The Village Vets, an AAHA-accredited clinic in Decatur, Ga. “They hop on dogs and cats and come indoors,” she says, and in the house, they can quickly infest the carpet and furniture.

Scratching; scabs; and dark, pepper-like specs called “flea dirt” on your pet’s skin can all be signs that your pet is playing host.

To determine whether your pet has flea dirt, put some of the dark specs on a white sheet of paper or paper toweling. Then, add a couple of drops of water. Flea dirt is flea fecal matter — dried blood — and will cause the water to turn a dark red color.

Because the life cycle of a flea is three to four weeks, it takes at least that long to eliminate an infestation, and the multifaceted and variable life cycle can make getting rid of these insects tricky. Often, several products — dips, shampoos, powders, sprays, or topical applications — need to be used at the same time to kill fleas in all stages of development.

You will also have to eliminate them from your home and yard. Sunlight kills fleas, and they often hide in shrubbery, so when using an outdoor insecticide, target shady areas with dense foliage.

Are any pets safe from fleas? “It is harder for an indoor [pet] to get [fleas],” Stacy says. And there are fewer fleas in high altitudes and particularly dry climates. Fleas also favor warm weather, so Stacy says preventives are not necessary in places that have cold seasons.

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