4 DOG'S EXTERNAL PARASITES: fleas, ticks, mosquitoes and phlebotomus

The external parasites that most commonly affect our four-legged friends are fleas, ticks, mosquitoes and phlebotomus; obviously with some variables related to the area in which we live with our pet.

My goal, with this article, is to provide the basic knowledge to best protect your dog from these "little animals" and to face them without panic.

We are all happier when spring comes, and our four-legged friend can finally enjoy more freedom; nevertheless we have to be careful and to know how to defend ourselves against the annoying parasites hiding behind these "warm and smiling" months.

What is a parasite?

A parasite is an organism living in symbiosis with another one from which it benefits (nourishment, protection). Fleas, ticks, phlebotomists and mosquitoes are ematophagous parasites.

Their danger is related to the fact that these parasites, which feed on blood, through their bites can act as carrier of dangerous diseases for your 4-legged friend, some of which can even affect people (zoonosis).

For this reason it is important to have clear ideas on how to avoid unpleasant consequences.

Fleas, what to know.

It is a small parasite of dark brown color, with a body about 1-3 mm long, widespread throughout the world, which mainly chooses dogs and cats, only occasionally people.

  • They are the best jumping insects, they have the ability to jump up to 200 times their body length.
  • You could find their feces throughout the fur of your dog as small black dots that if you put on a wet paper sheet will leave a dark red halo, as it is digested blood.
  • They haunt dog's bed, houses, kennels, flowerbeds, gardens ... and they are very resistant even in the absence of animals.
  • They are able to cause allergies and important itching.
  • They can carry intestinal verminoses, as if swallowed they are the vector of the canine tapeworm (Dipylidium caninum).

How to realize that your dog is infested?

You will notice that it has a lot of itching, it scratches and it is annoyed; it bites its legs, thighs and the area above the tail. It could experience real skin inflammation, hair loss, reddening due to the allergy caused by the saliva of the flea. A decisive test is the search for feces into the fur or for the flea itself.


They are hematophagous parasites, able to significantly increase their body size after their abundant blood meal, which can last even 10 days
there are two ticks types: the hard ticks (those of the woods that we find more frequently on the dogs, fam. Ixodidae) and the soft ones, typical of the pigeons (fam. Argasidae)

  • they haunt gardens, parks, woods...
  • they do not jump but they pass from one animal to another, quickly sticking to the fur with their saliva, if infected, they can transmit dangerous diseases, starting from 12-24 hours after the attack on the skin, such as:

    Lyme disease

For this reason it is important to remove them as quickly as possible.

Important note: how to detach the tick?

You will find many conflicting opinions on how to do so. The basic concept is that when you find a tick on your pet, it is important to remove it intact, including its head, to decrease the risk to transmit any disease with its saliva and to avoid a subsequent skin reaction.

My advice is to use tweezers, with which you will grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, trying not to break it or crush it. At this point you can remove it with a slight rotation and eliminate it, only after burning it or immersing it into alcohol.

The tick in fact contains many eggs in its abdomen that, thanks to the burning or to the immersion, will not be released into the environment.
In the tick bite area, it could create a swelling that will disappear within a few days.

How to fight fleas and ticks?

The best thing you can do is to prevent, treating your pets with the appropriate pesticide, given on a regular basis in the spring-autumn period. Then contact your veterinarian, possibly around March to carefully define the perfect program.

In winter, with low temperatures, these parasites theoretically should not be there, even if sometimes they can nest in the dog's beds, on the carpets ... so the treatment in this period must be evaluated in every specific case.

You must know that the eggs, containing new ticks, are released into the environment so in case your dog is infested, in addition to the treatment, it is good practice to disinfect the environment with the appropriate products to avoid the cycle to continue.

Mosquitoes and phlebotomus.

  • These insects feed on blood and they are present from April to October
  • they are particularly active in the evening and at night
  • mosquitoes are widespread everywhere, the phlebotomus more in the coastal areas of central and southern Italy, although in recent years they have also colonized flat and hilly regions of the north.


Filaria, what is this?

the mosquito bite can transmit to the dog an internal parasite, the filaria, which is established at cardiac and pulmonary level and if not discovered and treated early, leads the dog to death.

For this reason, in the infested areas it is essential to perform prophylaxis, using tablets or injections, as they are the only defense that you have to protect your pet. 

The symptoms.

The symptoms that you will notice in case of illness, will be manifest only when the parasite have caused a cardiac and/or pulmonary damage such as to have altered the normal functioning of the organ. This is why in case of an incorrect prophylaxis, a simple blood test will allow you to discover early if your animal is positive to the disease. The veterinarian can then prescribe the appropriate treatment, before the organic damage becomes too serious and irreparable.

Lehismania what is it?

  • The phlebotomus is instead able to transmit, with its bite, the dreaded leishmania.
  • The leishmania is the third most prevalent disease in the world transmitted by vectors.
  • Unlike the filariasis, from this disease the dog does not recover; it is controlled by pharmacological therapy but ultimately leads to death.
  • This disease can also affect people (zoonoses) but always through the puncture of the infected insect; remember that dog-people transmission can not take place.

What symptoms can be mainly noticed?

  • enlarged lymph nodes
  • eye problems
  • skin problems
  • nasal bleeding
  • kidney problems
  • slimming
  • tiredness


The advice I would like to give you, is to avoid or limit the bites of these insects as much as possible, through the regular use of appropriate pesticides (tablets, sprays, repellents, spot-on, collars ...) providing to your faithful friend an effective coverage throughout the spring-summer season. If you want to know more about pesticides treatment, read here!



Eleonora Bosoni

Dr. in Veterinary Medicine



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