Summer is heating up – and so is your dog’s itching. When the weather gets warmer, fleas come out in droves, and they can take over your home in weeks. If Fido’s scratching more than he usually does, he may have fleas.
That means you’ll have fleas, too.
Taking steps to control and eliminate the population early on can help you enjoy a happy, flea-free season.
We’re going to show you how to get rid of fleas, discuss the best methods for treating your dog, and how to tackle common problems with these pests.
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Table of Contents
- Why Do Dogs Get Fleas?
- How Flea Infestations Start
- How to Tell If a Dog Has Fleas
- What Do Dog Fleas Look Like?
- Can Fleas Kill a Dog?
- What Type of Environment Do Fleas Thrive In?
- What is the Best Flea Medicine for Dogs?
- Natural Flea Preventative Care
- How to Get Rid of Fleas On a Dog the Conventional Way
- Home Remedies for Dog Fleas
- How to Treat Flea Bites on Dogs
Why Do Dogs Get Fleas?
Fleas truly are blood-sucking creatures. They live and thrive on the blood of warm-blooded animals, and they use their tiny hose-like mouth to feed on your four-legged friend.
But why do these pests flock to dogs? Sure, they bite humans, but they tend to stick to our furry friends.
That’s because they have one thing we don’t:
- A thick coat of fur
Your dog’s fur provides fleas with the perfect environment.
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- It’s warm
- It’s moist
- It’s dark
In a nutshell, your dog is a flea’s dream house. They can set up shop in your dog’s fur, going virtually undetected until the population has gotten out of control.
On top of this, dogs are closer to the ground, which makes it easier to latch on and hang out.
How Flea Infestations Start
You know why dogs get fleas, but how did your Fido get infested? Even the most diligent of pet owners will find that their dogs get fleas from time to time. And at times, there’s nothing you can do about it.
Dogs commonly get fleas the following ways:
From Other Dogs
Fido may love his weekly visits to the dog park, but his play dates may be the reason he has fleas. Other pet owners may not be as diligent as you are with ensuring their pets are protected against fleas.
If an infested dog plays at the park, you may unknowingly bring these pests back home with you – even if that dog wasn’t there when Fido was.
From Other Animals
Dogs can get fleas from other dogs, but they can also get them from other animals, too, including squirrels, raccoons, feral cats and other rodents.
Kennels or Doggy Daycares
If dogs can get fleas from other dogs and animals, then they can certainly get them from kennels and doggy daycares. If Fido has been to either of these places recently, he may have gotten fleas from other animals there.
Yes, you may be the reason your dog has fleas. Anyone can track fleas into the home, and once they do, they’ll quickly find refuge in your dog’s fur.
You’re at even greater risk of bringing home fleas if you’re an outdoor enthusiast – hiking, biking or even a simple walk in the park can lead to you coming home with fleas.
These tiny pests have claw-like feet that attach to skin – or pants, socks, or any other type of clothing. And they’re easy to miss until you see them jump off or notice itchy bites later on.
The bottom line – it’s easy for humans to bring fleas into the home, and once you do, they will find your dog and make him their host.
How to Tell If a Dog Has Fleas
Does your dog have fleas, or is he scratching because of something else, like allergies or skin irritation?
Severe flea infestations on dogs are easy to spot. You’ll see them hop off of the fur, and you’ll see them hop onto you, too.
But if the infestation is still in its early stages, the symptoms may not be as obvious. Some common early signs of fleas include:
- Excessive scratching, chewing or licking on certain areas of the body
- Scratching at the ears
- Shaking of the head
These are just behavioral signals that may give you a hint that something is up. You can’t go off of these clues alone – you’ll need to investigate to make sure you have fleas and not something else.
How do you do this? Check your dog’s coat and skin.
The two areas you want to check first are the groin and armpits. These are two areas that are well-hidden, warm and protected. Just have your dog roll on his belly, and give him a good once-over to check for fleas. In most dogs, the lower belly has less hair, which makes it easier to see these pests if they’re using him as a host.
If he has them, you’ll see them scurry around or hop off. If you have light-colored flooring, you’ll likely see the flea if it jumps off your dog.
Do keep a close eye – you might miss the flea otherwise. They can jump incredibly fast and high, so it’s easy to miss them.
You’ll also want to check:
- Behind the ears for signs of scratching, dried blood and flea dirt
- The skin. If your dog is getting bit, his belly may appear red and bumpy.
- For hair loss. Sometimes, flea bites can cause hair loss if the dog is scratching excessively.
Another way to check for fleas is to use a flea comb. These combs have teeth that are designed to catch fleas and pull them out of the fur. You’ll find fleas or flea dirt on the comb if you have an infestation. Comb the back and legs for best results, and try to get the comb down near the skin.
Make sure that you have a bowl of soapy water to dip the comb in after each stroke. The soapy water will kill the fleas you picked up, so they don’t hop somewhere else and lay eggs.
What Do Dog Fleas Look Like?
Did you know that there are different types of fleas? Most people don’t because they’re so tiny, it’s hard to differentiate physical characteristics.
Two of the most common types are dog fleas and cat fleas.
Cat Fleas Vs Dog Fleas
The dog flea is dark brown in color and 1.5-3mm in size, and its appearance is very similar to the cat flea. The cat flea, however, is a tiny bit smaller at just 1-2mm.
Another primary difference between these two species is that the dog flea can spread the flea tapeworm. These parasites can not only infect dogs, but cats and even humans. Children in particular are at risk for becoming infected with the flea tapeworm.
Can Fleas Kill a Dog?
We all know that fleas can be a nuisance, but can be they dangerous? Is it possible for fleas to kill your dog?
Generally speaking, fleas and their bites won’t kill your dog, but there is a risk of death in certain situations. Veterinarians warn that severely infested puppies can develop anemia, which is a life-threatening condition that needs to be treated immediately.
Of course, this is an extreme scenario that’s incredibly rare under normal circumstances, but a severe infestation can lead to this. Fleas drain blood from your dog. In the case of a very severe infestation, where there are hundreds of fleas, a puppy may lose a lot of blood quickly and develop anemia.
But even if death is a miniscule risk at best, that doesn’t mean fleas are harmless. They can still cause your pets pain, and let’s not forget that they can also spread the flea tapeworm. Tapeworms rob your pet nutrients, which can lead to malnourishment among other health issues.
And if your dog happens to be allergic to flea bites, he can develop flea bite dermatitis, which can cause severe itching and hair loss.
What Type of Environment Do Fleas Thrive In?
Try as you may to prevent fleas from invading your home, you may wind up with them anyway – no matter how clean your home is or how diligent you are with prevention.
Your dog – and any other warm-blooded creature in your home – is the biggest attractant.
Fleas love warm climates. Their ideal temperature is between 70 and 85 degrees, so in some regions, fleas can be an issue all year long.
While they prefer the 70-85-degree range, they can still live – and thrive – in warmer or cooler temperatures. But extreme temperatures on either end of the spectrum will kill fleas. Heat will also kill eggs and larvae.
Aside from temperature, fleas also prefer higher humidity – in the 70% range. Moisture is essential for a flea’s survival because it allows the egg to hatch and then progress through the remainder life cycles.
Temperature and humidity are two important things, but there’s one more piece of the puzzle: light – or lack of it.
Fleas love dark places, so they’ll hide in cracks and crevices in your home. Remember, fleas are incredibly tiny, so there are plenty of places to hide. More often than not, they can hide in your carpeting and you not even realize it until it’s too late.
In the outdoors, fleas tend to prefer hiding in brush, grass and sandy places.
As you can see, it’s difficult – virtually impossible – to change your environment to drive fleas out. Even if you sealed up every hole (even the tiniest ones) and turned on every light, fleas would still stick around because they want to feed on your dog.
If you can’t drive out fleas by changing your environment, what can you do to get rid of them? Treat your dog with the appropriate medicine.
What is the Best Flea Medicine for Dogs?
If Fido is infested, you want the best flea treatment for dogs. If you don’t take an aggressive approach and use the right products, you’ll be dealing with fleas for months – or longer, depending on where you live.
So, what’s the best preventative flea medication for dogs?
Vets say it’s best to choose a product that will protect your dog against most parasites. Many of the top-rated products will not only prevent fleas, but ticks, worms and other parasites and pests. Most medications will have a label of “flea and tick for dog.”
There are several types of flea medications, and the right one for you will depend on your pet.
Topical flea medications are the most common, and what most pet owners are familiar with. Frontline and K9 Advantix are two of the most popular topical medications.
In most cases, these medications last for three months, and often come in packs of two or three treatments, which provides 6-9 months of protection.
Applying a topical treatment is relatively simple and straightforward, although you do have to be careful of how and where you apply the medication.
Topical treatments are typically:
- Applied at the top base of the neck, just above the center of the shoulder blades.
- Applied to skin, which requires you to part the dog’s fur.
The reason the medication is applied at the top base of the neck is because this is an area that’s difficult or impossible for Fido to reach.
If the treatment is applied to another area of Fido’s body, one that’s easy for him to scratch or lick, he may wind up ingesting the medication (which is, essentially, poison) and become very ill as a result.
Humans need to be cautious when applying as well. If any part of the liquid treatment gets onto your skin or into your eyes, you must wash that area or rinse your eyes for at least 20 minutes.
Please note: Flea medications will have their own set of instructions and precautions. Make sure that you follow them thoroughly to avoid injury or illness.
Don’t let these precautions scare you into avoiding topical flea medications – they are one of the most effective means of flea prevention and typically the solution veterinarians recommend. And these treatments are available over the counter – no need for a vet’s prescription.
If you have a difficult time applying topical flea treatments or would rather not take any chances (maybe your dog is extra rambunctious), oral treatments may work perfectly for you.
Typically, oral flea medicines are only available with a vet’s prescription. If you’re on a tighter budget and cannot afford to see a vet for this specific purpose, you may consider one of the other options here (topical, powder or spray).
One advantage that oral treatments offer is that they provide protection for your pet’s entire body, whereas topical treatments sometimes miss certain areas. And many times, these medications start working within 30 minutes. In as little as four hours, all fleas on the dog are usually dead.
Oral treatments may be right for you if:
- You want immediate results
- You would rather not deal with messy topical treatments
- You want to ensure that you treat your dog’s entire body
There are two different types of oral flea medications:
- One for immediate infestation treatment. These only last 24 hours, but start working in 30 minutes and will kill all fleas in 4 hours. This type of treatment is ideal for dogs that already have fleas, or pet parents that want spot prevention (e.g. to take before trips to the dog park, etc.).
- One designed for preventative purposes. These tablets, which usually come in chewable form, provide protection for up to one month.
If you’re interested in going the oral route, your vet can prescribe flea pills for dogs once a month or for 24-hour use.
Oral and topical medications are the two most common preventative flea treatments available. But what if you want to go the natural route? Are there any natural flea prevention methods out there? Yes.
Natural Flea Preventative Care
Many pet owners are concerned about their dogs ingesting insecticides or applying poisons to their skin. The good news is that there are natural methods you can use to keep fleas at bay all throughout the year.
1. Diatomaceous Earth
One of the most effective natural flea preventers is diatomaceous earth (DE). It can treat flea infestations, too. In fact, you can use this powder to get rid of a flea nest on a dog.
Made from the fossilized remains of a certain type of algae, this powder cuts through the exoskeletons of fleas, causing them to dry out and die.
The great thing about this powder is that it’s completely harmless to humans and pets, and you can apply it directly to your dog’s coat to prevent flea infestations.
DE typically comes in a shaker can, which makes it easy to apply to your dog’s fur. Just sprinkle the powder onto Fido, and massage it into his coat. Try to work the powder all the way down to the skin, where fleas tend to hang out.
Once applied, the powder will kill any fleas that jump onto your dog. But for best results, you need to apply daily and ensure that you cover virtually all of his coat.
DE can be found online or in your local hardware store. Some products are designed specifically for pets and also include other beneficial ingredients, like rosemary, which naturally repels bugs.
2. Natural Flea Spray for Dog
If you’re looking for spot prevention, a natural flea spray is a great option. These sprays harness the power of essential oils to ward of not only fleas, but ticks, mosquitoes and even flies.
While each product uses its own combination of oils, the most common blends include:
- Cinnamon oil
Do be cautious of blends that have heavy concentrations of cinnamon oil, as dogs can be sensitive to this “hot,” or spicy, oil.
Using a flea spray is simple:
- Spray the back, feet, belly and base of the tail.
- Avoid spraying sensitive areas.
Consider spraying the solution onto a clean cloth, and rubbing it into your pet’s coat rather than spraying it directly.
3. Natural Flea Collars
Flea collars are one of the oldest and most effective ways to prevent and treat fleas, but most conventional collars use insecticides to kill and repel these pests.
There are natural flea collars, Only Natural Pet’s Easy Defense, which use natural essential oils to ward off fleas, ticks and other pests. Oils like peppermint, thyme and geraniol are excellent for keeping fleas away.
The great thing about these collars is that they are completely natural, so they’re non-toxic to your pets – and the humans they live with.
These are the three most common and effective ways to naturally prevent fleas.
But what if you already have fleas? How can you get rid of them?
How to Get Rid of Fleas On a Dog the Conventional Way
If you’re dealing with a flea infestation (it happens), you have quite a few treatment options. But we do have to stress the importance of not only treating your dog, but treating your home as well.
Fleas spend a great deal of time away from their host, and they have a tendency to live in carpeting. If there’s a place to hide, that’s where they’ll be. If fleas are making nests and laying eggs in your carpets or furniture, treating your dog will only slow the population growth – not stop it completely.
We’re going to focus on the best ways to get rid of fleas on your dog using conventional and natural methods, but your flea-killing strategy should also include home treatments.
1. Flea Shampoo
Medicated shampoos are one of the quickest and most affordable ways to get rid of fleas. These products contain insecticides that kill adult fleas on contact, but they won’t kill flea eggs on dogs.
Because these products contain potentially toxic ingredients, it’s important to wear gloves when washing your dog and to avoid getting any of the product into sensitive areas, like the dog’s ears, nose or eyes.
What is the best flea shampoo for dogs? One that has effective ingredients, like pyrethrins or pyrethroids.
Now, shampoos should only be considered a temporary treatment. They will do a great job of getting rid of the fleas, but you’ll still need to use a preventative treatment to keep them from coming back.
How to Use Flea Shampoo
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Flea shampoo
- Bucket or cup for rinsing
- Place to bathe (outdoors on a blanket or indoors in a tub or sink)
How to give your dog a flea bath:
- Start out by wetting your dog’s coat. Use warm water (not too hot or cold).
- Work the shampoo through your dog’s coat. It should lather up just like the shampoo you use in the shower.
- Concentrate on getting the shampoo into key areas, like the belly, base of the tail and back of the ears.
- Continue massaging in the product for two to three minutes, giving it time to work.
- Rinse thoroughly. Take your time when rinsing out the shampoo. You don’t want any residue left behind.
- Dry off.
It’s important to note that the shampoo you buy may have specific instructions for use, so be sure to read these carefully before you start washing.
You should see a lot of dead fleas wash down the drain as your rinse off your dog. Any adult fleas that were on your dog should be dead at this point.
2. Flea Collar for Dog
Earlier we talked about natural flea collars as a form of preventative care, but you can also use conventional flea collars to help treat infestations.
Flea collars work in two ways: they repel and they treat. We’re just going to focus on the treatment aspects right now.
If you’ve ever used a flea collar before, you know that they have a rather potent smell right out of the package. That smell helps to repel fleas, but it’s also part of the medication in the collar, which seeps into the fat layer of your dog’s skin. The collar may also have other active ingredients that spread the medication using your dog’s natural skin oils.
In the first case, where the medication seeps into the fat layer, the dog must be bit by a flea for the collar to do its work. In the second case, where active ingredients work with the pet’s oil to spread the medication, fleas are killed on contact before they even have a chance to bite.
The great thing about flea collars is that many of them continue treating and preventing for months – sometimes up to 8 months. Other flea medications treat for only one to three months. They’re also far more affordable than other flea product options.
3. Other Flea Treatments
Two other common flea treatments include:
- Flea Dips: Typically performed by a groomer, flea dips are similar to shampoos, but they have residual effects (they continue killing fleas for a short time after the treatment). Flea dips need to be performed in a well-ventilated area.
- Chews: We talked about these at length in the Oral Medication section. These chews kill fleas within 30 minutes, and all fleas are dead in four hours. But this treatment only works for 24 hours, so it’s ideal for treatment – not prevention.
Conventional flea treatments are highly effective, but many pet owners prefer to go the natural, alternative route.
Home Remedies for Dog Fleas
If you’d rather avoid using products with insecticides and other potentially harmful ingredients, there are home remedies to help you get rid of fleas.
What’s the best natural flea treatment for a dog? One that’s effective, safe for use and can easily be reapplied. Let’s take a look at some of the most common remedies pet owners use to rid their pets of fleas.
1. Homemade Flea Spray
A homemade flea spray can help prevent flea infestations and also keep other bugs at bay. This particular spray is commonly used by pet owners looking for natural flea solutions, and consists of three simple ingredients:
- 1 quart of purified water
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2-3 drops of lavender oil
Place all of these ingredients into a spray bottle, and apply to your dog daily to prevent fleas.
Be careful to avoid the ears, eyes and nose when spraying this solution. Concentrate on applying to the neck, ears, belly and feet.
Many pet owners recommend spraying the solution onto a clean cloth, and rubbing it into your pet’s coat this way to prevent it from accidentally getting to sensitive areas. This is also a good route to take if your dog gets nervous or scared of the spraying noise/sensation.
Who knew that a common household staple could actually be used to get rid of fleas? You probably have salt in your home already, and if you do, you’re already halfway to killing the fleas on your dog – and in your home.
Salt actually dehydrates the flea, causing it to dry out and die. Now, this treatment is ideal for getting rid of the fleas in your home, but you can use it sparingly to help kill the fleas on your dog. The most difficult thing is getting the salt to stay put.
3. Flea Comb
Another natural, non-toxic way to get rid of fleas is to use a flea comb. We talked about these briefly earlier, but let’s look deeper into how and why these combs work.
Flea combs have teeth that are made to catch and hold onto fleas – sort of like how lice combs work. With each stroke, the comb will pull out fleas, flea dirt and possibly eggs (depending on how close together the teeth are). Once the fleas are out, the comb is dipped into a solution to kill the fleas (usually warm soapy water). The comb needs to be dipped after each stroke for best results.
Flea combs are relatively inexpensive and do not use harsh toxins to kill the fleas.
You’ve treated your dog for fleas and applied a preventative treatment, but your dog still has flea bites that seem to be driving him crazy.
What can you do to bring him some relief?
- Neem Oil Spray: There are natural neem oil sprays that help soothe insect bites on animals. These sprays contain natural ingredients that are safe to use on both cats and dogs.
- Lavender Spray: You can also spray diluted lavender oil onto the bite to soothe inflammation and itching.
Oftentimes, the best solution is to allow the bite to take its course – unless your dog is allergic to fleas. If your pup develops flea dermatitis, a trip to the vet can help bring him some relief. Your vet can prescribe medication to ease Fido’s symptoms.