Our dachshund Django is obsessed with water and absolutely loves the beach. He literally screams like an old lady who just won the lottery whenever he sees the ocean (no exaggeration).
Django's long and low-riding frame makes him very susceptible to picking up debris and insects when we're out adventuring. After Django unfortunately picked up fleas after a family beach vacation to North Carolina last year, Mike and I (Steph) went into hardcore research mode. Can dogs get fleas from the beach? What are sand fleas, and where do they come from? In this article we take an in-depth look at sand fleas: what they are, where they thrive, and whether you and your dog need to be worried about sand flea bites during your next beach outing.
There are two types of fleas. The first type of flea is the most well-known: the flightless insect that jumps onto your dog, particularly in warmer months, bites and feeds off of him or her, and ultimately lays eggs. These are the fleas that will cause itching, scratching, and a home infestation if not addressed immediately.
The other type of flea is called the sand flea, a parasitic crustacean often found in warm, tropical regions. The crustaceans jump, similar to the way fleas do, and are also known as beach fleas, sand hoppers, and beach hoppers.
Sand fleas are very small and range from 0.25 to 1 inch in length, depending on the species. One species of sand flea found in the northeast Atlantic and Mediterranian, Talitrus saltator, grows to 0.65 inches in length. Sand fleas are a grayish-brown or grayish-green color, helping them blend into the sand. They have two noticable black eyes, 10 legs, and a pair of antenae.
While sand fleas are very common in the West Indies and South and Central America, they can also be found in marches, along the coastal United States, and even thrive on the Mediterranean coast. Florida's eastern and Gulf coasts, North Carolina's banks, and even Southern California beaches are known to have sand flea colonies.
Sand fleas live and burrow in... you guessed it... the sand. Sand flea colonies are most commonly found in the slushy foreshore, the area of the beach that stays consistently wet due to tide and wave flows. The critters generally stay hidden during the hot, sunny hours of the day and come out in the cooler early morning and evening hours to forage on washed up kelp, seaweed, and animal matter. They are also more active on the beach immediately after it rains and when there is still cloud cover.
Yes and no. In certain parts of the world, some sand flea species are known to aggressively bite and burrow into human and animal skin. Since sand fleas are not technically insects but crustaceans, over-the-counter flea and tick preventatives are not effective treatments for these sand flea bites. Biting and burrowing sand fleas can actually cause more harm to people and dogs than regular dog and cat fleas. Left untreated, a sand flea infection can lead to severe discomfort, anemia, and even liver damage.
If you live in the United States, we have good news for you. Biting and burrowing sand fleas - the species that are most likely to attack human and animal flesh and dig into the skin - are fortunately not a threat in the United States. The sand fleas found in US coastal regions are typically scared of humans and much more interested in feeding on washed-up seaweed and decaying animal matter - rather than you or your dog. Given their non-threatening nature, US-based sand fleas are actually quite popular among fisherman as high quality bait.
Symptoms of sand flea bites include mosquito-like bites, black spots in the middle of the swollen areas (these may be breeding sand fleas), fever and relentless scratching.
Veterinarians must remove sand fleas directly from under your pup’s skin. Most likely, your vet will recommend cleaning the treated skin with alcohol or another disinfectant to prevent infection.
1. Avoid the beach after it rains. Avoid visiting the beach immediately after a rainfall. Sand fleas prefer cool air and cloud cover and are particularly aggressive when the air cools down after it rains.
2. Go to the beach mid-day. Sand fleas are more active in the early morning and evening when the sun is not burning hot and high in the sky.
3. Bring a towel or beach mat. Creating a simple barrier between you and the sand will minimize the risk of being bitten. Sit or lay on a large beach towel, mat or bedsheet so your feet, ankles and limbs aren't resting in the sand.
4. Don't dig. Sand fleas commonly attack feet, ankles and calves since these are easy targets. Avoid burying your feet in the sand, and prevent your pup from digging and burrowing.
5. Shower after leaving the beach. Rinse off right after leaving the beach (your dog included) and shake out your beach towels to reduce the risk of transporting sand fleas into your car or home.
Follow our beach-loving sausage dog Django on Instagram and message us when you do. We'd love to hear from you! Also, feel free to DM us a photo (or three) of your dog - it will seriously make our day!
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