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If you're a dog owner, you know there are safety hazards to watch out for. Always keep your dog on a leash. Keep Fido's vaccinations current. Feed and water your dog daily. Exercise your dog at least once a day. Protect your dog against fleas!

The Ctenocephalides cannis, more commonly known as a common flea is the most common skin irritant to dogs, yet we do little to protect our pets against their infestation. Sure, when we have fleas we take care of the problem immediately; or at least try to, but very few pet owners do much in the way of prevention. Most veterinarians agree that when it comes to fleas, preventing them is much easier than trying to get rid of them!

A word about prevention: Fleas run rampant during early spring months and remain overly active throughout the warm summer months, dwindling some by late fall. If your dog visits parks used by other dogs or shares a building (say, an apartment) with canine residents, the simplest means of prevention is a one dollar flea collar available worldwide from any pet store, discount warehouse or even, grocery store. One flea collar (herbal or traditional) can mean the difference between picking through your dog's coat for months and time better spent at the doggie park.

What is a flea? Fleas are 1/16th inch, small wingless insects that are pale to dark reddish brown, depending on the breed. Fleas generally have a flattened skinny body, which allows for easy movement between the hairs of your animal's fur. The flea's body parts are so heavily armored and segmented with backward spines and bristles that when your dog shakes or scratches, most fleas are able to "hold their place" naturally. Fleas have tiny claws at the tips of their legs that also enable them to stay better glued to your furry friend, and any of their six long legs allow the flea to jump laterally a distance of 14-16 inches.

Fleas are parasitic, meaning they suck blood of birds and animals in order to survive. If food is scarce, an adult flea can go up to two months without eating and during these times can often be found feeding off other animals and even humans.

Fleas are more than just an inconvenience! The common house flea can cause anemia, skin irritation and worms in dogs. Heavy infestations are especially dangerous.

The most common symptom of a flea problem is excessive itching and scratching by your pet. If you note that your pet is bothered by more than just an occasional itch, check the fur on your pet's lower back and inside the back leg egg areas. These are the most common areas that fleas will attack first.

Now that you have fleas, there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, you're not just dealing with a flea. You also have flea eggs: clear round balls that fleas lay within the fur of your animal that often drop off into carpets, pet beds and corners of rooms.

Once you find one flea on your dog, most veterinarians will tell you that you're probably past the prevention stage and it's time to bring out the heavy artillery. One flea on your dog often means there are already over a hundred living in your carpeting and other areas of the house. It takes only a short time (especially during warm and humid summer months) for that one flea to multiply and take over with their 200,000 descendants.

1. Begin with a bath: If you can get your dog into the bathtub or a basin, now's the time to do it. Begin with a gentle, non-medicated shampoo first. This will send many non-water-friendly fleas down the drain and give you an idea of what you're dealing with. If after your pet's initial dipping you're still noticing fleas and scratching, it's time to lather your pet up with a medicated flea shampoo.

2. Give Herbs a shot: Mixing common herbs into your pet's normal shampoo can serve as an alternative to irritating flea shampoos. A few drops of pennyroyal or eucalyptus oil will help to repel fleas. Word of caution: Undiluted pennyroyal oil can be toxic. Never use full strength. Always mix into a bottle of shampoo or a generous amount of water and shampoo.

3. Go for the Garlic: You want your dog's coat to be unappetizing to any fleas, so anything you can do to taint their taste buds will help in the war against fleas. Give your dog a little garlic or brewer's yeast mixed in with their daily food to make them less appealing.

4. Comb your way to safety: Flea combs are inexpensive, and one of the easiest ways to help control the spread of fleas. Pulling a comb through your dog's fur will go a long way in winning the battle. Set up a bowl of soapy water next to your pet, and dip the flea comb into the water as you find them.

5. Flea Collars. Traditional flea collars can't handle heavy infestations and can also be too irritating to your dog's already sensitive coat. If you've already flea bathed your dog, try picking up a synthetic flea controlling hormone collar instead. They're nontoxic and will help to sterilize flea eggs before they can roll off your pet and continue their life cycle.

6. Spray your way to safety: In addition to bathing and combing your pet, there are several flea sprays on the market. You can spray problem areas (your dog's bed, carpeting and your pet) with relative safety.

7. Vacuum: Vacuuming can be one of the simplest ways to control the spread of fleas. Veterinarians recommend placing a cut up flea collar inside the vacuum bag to irradiate any fleas you may be collecting, and then emptying the bag immediately. Flea powders can also be used on carpeting, as well.

If all this isn't enough to keep the flea population under control, you may need to consider getting a FLEA DIP for your pet. Highly toxic, insecticide solutions are sometimes the only way out. Contact your veterinarian for more information.