A disturbing case of animal neglect in which a dog nearly died after being infested with thousands of fleas has turned into a remarkable story of recovery.

Rascal, a 14-year-old terrier, was dropped off at the Nanaimo SPCA last week in critical condition.

The small dog was being feasted on by more than 100,000 of the blood-sucking parasites and, having lost more than 85 per cent of his red blood cells, was on the verge of death.

“The most fleas I’ve seen and I’ve been in practice for almost 40 years,” said Dr. Ken Langelier of the Island Veterinary Hospital.

Staff at the clinic were shocked to find what looked like dirt all over the dog’s body was actually just masses of tiny bugs.

When they rinsed Rascal off, the water dripping from his body was a dark copper colour – dyed with his own blood.

“When the fleas drink the blood and they go to the bathroom, they’re basically excreting digested blood,” said Langelier. “Basically you’re seeing a sea of blood.”

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The dog’s condition was so dire that when SPCA dropped him off, they gave the vet clinic an ultimatum of either putting Rascal down or giving him an emergency blood transfusion.

“I looked at this dog and said ‘You’re not dying on my watch, baby,’” said Langelier. “Terry, who works here, had a universal blood donor, rushed home and brought her dog in.”

Four hours and 200 millilitres of blood later, the procedure was a success.

“Basically, that gave him his strength back,” Langelier said.

After a number of baths, Rascal was finally flea-free – and he was recently able to meet Katie, the German shepherd who came to his aid with a life-saving blood donation.

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SPCA animal cruelty investigators are now looking into where the dog came from and how he became so heavily infested.

“The dog came from the Nanaimo area, more likely the Lantzville area,” said Tina Heary, special provincial constable for the BC SPCA. “We’re collecting information as to ownership and who had custody of the dog and how it got into this condition.”

She said the dog likely suffered for some time and called it a completely preventable case.

“Flea infestations aren’t something just to take lightly,” Heary said.

If convicted, the owner who gave up the dog before it was surrendered to the SPCA could face criminal charges.

With a report from CTV Vancouver Island's Jessica Lepp