Canines are walking, barking, parasite-attracting machines and it can be frustratingly difficult to prevent the most common parasite, fleas. These tiny insects can be a really big problem if left untreated and by the time you start searching the internet for a solution your dog has probably been suffering for a long time.
Fleas are not simply an itchy nuisance to your dog. A few can turn into a lot very quickly and the more of them on your dog, the more blood your canine companion loses. Fleas can be the start other nasty diseases and problems, which can even be life threatening to your dog.
While it may all seem like doom and gloom when it comes to fleas, the good news is that getting rid of them is fairly straightforward process. The bad news is that it will take a lot of work and patience on your part. You need to be consistent and have a well thought out plan of attack when it comes to treating fleas.
As a dog owner, you are their best and sometimes last line of defence when dealing with fleas. You need to know how to fight them effectively and the best way of preventing them from infesting your dog’s coat.
Treating fleas is not just about getting rid of them from your dog’s coat, but also clearing your home of them entirely.
In this article we are going to be giving you advice on the best flea treatment for dogs, and what you can do to prevent them from coming onto your pet and in your house. You must always be vigilant and if you notice any signs of fleas you must act immediately.
What Are Fleas Anyway?
Dog fleas (Ctenocephalides Canis) are a species of flea that lives as an ectoparasite on a wide range of various mammals, especially dogs and cats. They are closely related to the cat flea, which can live on even more animals and is more common.
Fleas can live without food for several days, however, females must have a blood meal before they can produce eggs. The little critters can produce around 4,000 eggs on the host’s body in one go and they take about two to three weeks to reach adulthood.
Adult female fleas can live up to two years in the right environment and can lay thousands of eggs during this time. They can live in your furniture, carpet and many other places for a considerable amount of time, so watch out!
Rather than using wings to get around, fleas use their long, powerful legs to jump from one host to another. Their hard bodies are compressed laterally and they have hairs and spines, which make it easier for them to move through a host’s fur.
Are Fleas Dangerous to Humans?
While fleas typically live on animals like dogs and cats, they can make their way onto humans (there is also a specific human flea). Fleas can sometimes bite humans, however, it is unlikely they will cause serious issues apart from a bit of irritation.
Despite this, fleas can cause different reactions in people and different types of fleas can cause diseases such as plague, typhus and cat-scratch disease.
Flea bites on humans typically occur around the ankles and will be extremely itchy. The bite area usually has a small red spot that is no more than around 5mm in diameter.
How to Tell If a Dog Has Fleas?
A dog that is suffering from a flea infestation will be itchy in the affected areas and will usually bite. lick and scratch themselves. Shaking the head often and scratching at their ears is another possible sign that your dog has fleas.
In severe cases, it is possible to see fleas moving and jumping on and off your dog.
Additionally, dogs may show signs of the following problems:
- They may become anaemic due to blood loss from large infestations of fleas. This is typically more common in puppies.
- Some dogs can have an allergic reaction to flea bites and can become extremely irritated.
If the infestation has been left too long, your dog can begin to develop sores and infections due to the excess scratching, licking and chewing.
The Main Symptoms of Fleas
- Here are some of the signs your dog may have fleas:
- Hair loss
- Flea eggs on your dog or in their environment
- Excessive scratching, biting or licking of the skin.
- Allergic dermatitis
- Pale gums
- Scabs and hot spots
Allergy Dermatitis Caused by Fleas
As we stated earlier, some dogs can be allergic to flea bites. This is called flea allergy dermatitis and it is a condition where a dog is allergic to flea saliva. If your dog is suffering from this, they may experience more severe symptoms.
While most flea treatments do kill fleas, they do not do it until after they bite. This is obviously a bad thing for dogs with an allergy to fleas and they may still suffer the effects of it after they are treated.
You need to thoroughly cleanse your house of fleas if your dog is allergic to them and you may need to prevent your dog from licking, scratching or chewing their body.
How to Check a Dog’s Coat for Fleas
Fleas can move and jump extremely fast, so you are going to need a good set of eyes to see them, unless the infestation is really bad. They are incredibly small, flat-bodied creatures that are dark brown, almost black in colour. The more blood they take in the lighter in colour they will appear.
To check for fleas on your dog, turn them onto their back and look at the areas that are the best hiding place for them. The areas you should look at are the armpits, around the groin and ears, but they can be in other places.
Black specs on your dog or in your dog’s bed can be a sign of “flea dirt” – fecal matter from fleas. There are a couple of ways you can check for the fecal matter:
- Place a white paper towel under your dog’s body and rub your hand across their fur. If you find any black specks on the towel, it may be a sign of fleas. To distinguish between normal dirt and flea dirt, look for signs of a dark reddish-brown colour when it is wet. This indicates that digested blood has passed through the flea and been excreted.
- The other way is to run a flea comb across your dog’s body. Make sure the comb touches their skin through the coat and any black specks you find could be a sign of flea dirt. If you find any fleas on the comb, drown them in soapy water before they have any chance of getting back on your dog.
Flea combs are specially made combs with closely set teeth. The teeth on a flea comb are design to catch and pull fleas out from under the coat where they may be hiding. We recommend a flea comb like this one from Safari Pet Products.
Understanding The Life Cycle of Fleas
Before we go into the treatment process for flea infestations, let’s look at the life cycle of fleas. It is important to understand what you are up against and what works best for the different stages of a flea’s life cycle.
Fleas are a multi-stage life cycle insect. They start off as an egg, then turn into larvae, then a cocoon, and finally they will become a fully-fledged adult flea, ready to cause havoc on your dog’s body.
Let’s Look at Each Stage
Flea eggs are the main population of flea infestations, with up to 90% of fleas being in the egg stage. They are less than 0.5mm in size and are white or transparent, which makes them very difficult to see. At a glance they can look like small pieces of dandruff.
A female flea will lay eggs on the host, but they can quickly roll off and land on the floor. They do not stick to your dog’s coat like flea dirt, so you they can easily be found all around the house.
The larvae of a flea remain dormant until they detect a host. They are negative phototaxic, which means they move away from sources of light. Once they have settled, larvae spend about one to two weeks developing and feeding on flea dirt and organic debris like skin. They will then form cocoons, eventually turning into adult fleas.
You can read more about flea larvae here.
Adult fleas that have access to blood will look to breed and can create around 4,000 eggs a year. Fleas in their fully grown adult form make up less than 5% of the flea population at any given time.
This is why it is important to not only kill adult fleas, but also treat the flea infestation at every stage of its lifecycle.
My Dog Has Fleas, What Do I Do?
Now that you know your dog has fleas, let us take a look at what you can do about the problem. Remember that if your dog has fleas, they are probably all around the house and on your other pets as well.
If you have a cat, make sure you use flea treatment that is designed for them. Dog flea treatment products can be dangerous to cats. In some cases, cats have been poisoned by simply sleeping in the same bed with dogs who have been sprayed with flea treatment.
How to Get Rid of Fleas On Your Dog and In Your House
There are a number of ways to get rid of fleas and it will require treatment of all the animals in your house and a good tidy up as well.
What is the Best Flea Treatment for Dogs?
When it comes to treating fleas, the sooner you start the better. A large flea infestation will be harder to eliminate, so if you see any signs of fleas get onto it immediately.
The first thing we are going to look at is tackling the adult fleas that are irritating your dog and breeding. There are many options when it comes to flea treatment and we have listed some of them below:
Prescription Flea Medications
One of the best ways of getting your flea problem under control is using prescription medication. There are a wide variety of products on the market, but newer ones seem to be a bit more effective at treating the infestation. In some cases, it is even possible to gain control by treating only the dog.
Interestingly, some of these products do not hard the adult flea itself, but actually prevent the eggs from hatching. This breaks the life cycle of the flea and as there is no reproduction the flea population they eventually die out.
While these products are great for treating fleas, those with dogs who are allergic to flea saliva may want to look at an alternative method. This is because they do not kill the adult fleas immediately, leaving them to bite.
If you are interested in prescription flea treatment medication, talk to your vet. They can recommend the best option for your dog.
Non-Prescription and Natural Flea Treatment for Dogs
We have looked at prescription flea medication, but what about non-prescription or natural treatment. There are many other products or treatment methods that will kill fleas. The main drawback of these is that they can sometimes be less effective than prescription products. We have created a list of some of the best non-prescription or natural methods of treating fleas in dogs below:
Use a Flea Comb
We’ve already talked about using a flea comb to find out if your dog has fleas, however, it is also a great way of getting rid of them as well. Flea combs will keep your dog happy, healthy and well groomed.
Before using a flea comb, make sure your dog’s fur is not tangled as it can cause pain when you use it. Look for a comb that has narrow teeth or bristles that will catch adult fleas, eggs and larvae (although most eggs and larvae do not live on the host).
The main drawback when using a flea comb is that it they can be hard to see, making them easy to miss. Missed fleas can easily start the population again, so we recommend combining the flea comb with another treatment method.
Use a Dog Shampoo
There are many dog shampoos that are designed to combat fleas. These can be an effective way of eliminating the flea problem on your dog, while making them smell better.
Using a shampoo designed to eliminate fleas is much the same as any other normal shampoo. Apply to your dog’s coat and lather with water. Leave it for a few minutes and then wash it off with water. Combine this with a flea comb and you have a great flea fighting weapon!
Try A Flea Spray
Another option is to try one of the many pre-made sprays for fleas. These sprays will break the life cycle of fleas and will prevent them from forming large numbers. You must follow all the instructions correctly and do not get them in your dog’s eyes.
Use Apple Cider Vinegar to Repel Fleas
Apple cider vinegar doesn’t actually kill fleas, but it does make an unpleasant environment for them. Both the smell and taste of apple cider vinegar will make fleas want to move on and it is a great natural flea treatment that you probably already have at home.
Apple cider vinegar is not only great for helping your dog’s flea infestation problem, but it is also great at preventing them. Fleas are much more difficult to deal with once they are on your dog, so it is best to prevent that from happening.
To use apple cider vinegar for flea treatment, just add equal amounts of it and water to a spray bottle. Spray the mixture on your dog when you see fleas, or before they go outside to repel them. You can also use the apple cider mixture around your house when you notice you have a flea problem. Remember to test the mixture on a small bit of the material to see how it reacts.
Make sure you do not spay apple cider vinegar mixture into your dog’s eyes, nose or ears.
You can also add a small amount of apple cider vinegar (about one teaspoon) to your dog’s water as well. This will keep the skin and coat slightly acidic which helps to repeal fleas. This may be better if your dog’s skin becomes irritated by the apple cider vinegar.
Make or Buy a Flea Collar
Mix two drops of lavender oil or tea tree oil to one teaspoon of water. Apply this mixture to your dog’s collar to keep the fleas away.
You can also buy a flea collar that gradually releases insecticide onto your dog’s coat, which keeps fleas off them. Vets do not usually recommend flea collars as they do not deal with the infestation and only keep them at bay.
Use Lemon to Keep Fleas at Bay
Similar to apple cider vinegar, lemon can be used to repel fleas. Fleas do not like the taste of lemon, making it a great natural flea preventative/treatment. Simply add a cup of lemon juice to your dog’s bath or put some on a comb while you are brushing them.
Another popular option when it comes to flea control is using a spot-on treatment. These are absorbed into the skin and are perfectly safe for both you and your dog. Topical flea treatment products do tend to be a bit more expensive, however, they are simple to apply. This is because they are usually applied to just between the shoulder blades, rather than the whole body.
Treat the Environment
While you are treating your dog, you also need to go after fleas in their environment. As we know, around 95% of fleas do not live on your dog, so the battle is not over. You need to break this down into two sections, indoors and outdoors.
Treating Fleas Indoors
The first place you should start is in your house. Make sure you sweep, vacuum and mop everywhere, even places where your dog doesn’t go. Fleas can easily move all over your house by hitchhiking on people, clothes and other animals. Pay particular attention to corners and crevices where fleas like to hide or where there could be flea eggs and larvae.
Steam cleaning the carpet can be a good way to kill larvae and after vacuuming, throw the bag away immediately. Remember that vacuuming and shampooing can still leave a good amount of fleas alive, so some chemical treatment may be required.
Wash all your dog’s bedding and any other furniture or material that they lie upon. Additionally, drying is another effective tool when it comes to killing adult fleas, eggs and larvae. Put anything you can into a drying and set it to maximum heat.
The last thing you may want to do is use a flea spray to kill off the remaining fleas. We recommend using something like Vet’s Beast Flea & Tick Spray, which can be used indoors, outdoors and on your dog.
Treating Fleas Outside
Once you have treated the inside of your house, the next thing to do is to move outside. It will be almost impossible to completely remove fleas from the outside of your home, but you can reduce the amount of them.
Use a spray like the one we listed above in shady spots or places where you dog is likely to be.
Preventing Fleas from Getting onto Your Dog and into Your Home
There is always a risk when it comes to fleas. When you take your dog to the park they may encounter fleas and it is incredibly difficult to completely eradicate them from your home. While this is a problem, there are a few things you can do to prevent a flea infestation problem from happening.
Make sure you regularly wash your dog and check their coat for any signs of fleas. Keep them well-groomed and try to stop them from getting close to animals that you know are infested with fleas.
Always remember to regularly wash your dog’s bedding and keep their environment clean. This includes vacuuming, moping and dusting the inside of the house. Keep the outside of your house tidy as well. This means cutting long grass, trimming trees and shrubs and possibly even use an insecticide where fleas could live.
Try to have your flea control treatment ready, so if you do notice any fleas you can start the treatment process immediately. This will prevent the problem from getting any worse. Containing the infestation or effected animal is also important to stop the fleas from spreading.
Final Words on Treating Fleas on Dogs
Fleas can be incredibly difficult to get rid of and they are frustrating to deal with, but they can be beaten. You need to be consistent with your treatment plan and make sure you clean, clean, clean!
If the flea infestation has become serious, it may be worth talking to your vets. Fleas can lead to other diseases and skin conditions, so it is better to be safe than sorry.
Tell us your best tips and tricks for dealing with fleas in the comments below.