How to Get Rid of Fleas on Your Dog

Dog scratching

Fleas live within pets’ hair, feasting on a buffet of blood. Combing for fleas, and treating them accordingly, are important steps in caring for your furry friends. First, identify if the issue is fleas, then wash and groom your doggo, clean and protect your home, and do what you can to prevent future outbreaks. Here you’ll find important information in identifying, rectifying, and preventing flea problems at home.

A lot of us were subject to lice checks in elementary school. I specifically remember my mom curling my hair for picture day, only for me to arrive at school and be confronted by a lice comb wrecking my long, blond curls. Just as lice love human heads, fleas love the coats of your four-legged companions. The most common flea, even on your dog, is the cat flea — so it’s perhaps no wonder Fido is pretty unhappy these days.

What Happens

Fleas are attracted to three things: carbon dioxide, heat, and vibration. Fleas simply need a host with tasty blood to feed on, and so are frequent companions of rats, rabbits, skunks, opossums, and raccoons. Once indoors, their preference for hairy animals draws fleas to dogs, but they will jump on cats if short on options.

When fleas feed on the host’s blood, they secrete saliva, which often causes an allergic reaction. Such reactions include itching, lesions, and welts. In severe cases, host animals might even lose their hair. The resulting itching can lead to serious complications, including anemia and death in puppies, and even tapeworms from ingesting adult fleas during routine grooming.

What to Look For

Dogs (and cats) that have become host to a few fleas probably won’t show signs. However, as the happily fed fleas invite their friends over for dinner, your pets will begin to scratch and bite themselves. A heavy infestation — and your dog’s desperate attempts to relieve the itch — will lead to a roughened coat and red, irritated skin.

If you’re concerned about Fido’s behavior, look for the fleas by carefully inspecting your dog’s coat. If fleas are present, you’ll see tiny black specks on your friend’s fur. Once they’ve dined, fleas leave behind little red dots. However, fleas are so tiny (just 1/16 of an inch) they’re hard to spot, so your pet’s behavior is the best indicator of an issue.

How to Treat Your Dog for Fleas

Happy dog

Home Remedies

If you notice your dog suffering, you can use household items to bring Fido some relief.

First, use a flea comb and carefully groom every inch. If you place a damp, white towel beneath your dog while combing, you will see the fleas gather on the towel, confirming their presence.

Next, a bath with citrus Castile soap will help. There are many brands of the soap, which is a safe, effective cleanser made from vegetable oils. It originated from the Castile region of Spain. After a good shampoo, use one part apple cider vinegar and 10 parts water to create a mixture for a final rinse. This should kill the fleas and soothe irritated skin. This process should be repeated as necessary.

Over-the-Counter Products

Many pet store products will help as well. They may be a good option, especially if fleas are recurrent in your doggo’s life.

Flea collars are a great option for ongoing prevention. It’s best practice to talk with your veterinarian and see what their experience recommends. If the issue is serious, your vet might be able to offer prescription remedies.

FrontLine Plus is often considered the best product group, including collars, shampoos, and sprays. The specific product should be selected based on your dog’s size and breed. After consulting with your vet and choosing a product, follow directions properly and keep an eye for worsening or unusual conditions.

Take Care of Your House

The first step to ridding homes of fleas is to understand their life cycle, so that you can plan a strategic attack. There are four stages in a flea’s life cycle, and normal circumstances see the entire cycle completed in three to five weeks. However, if undisturbed and without a host, fleas can actually survive for more than three months. This means that a really bad infestation will probably require a few treatments to ensure that all eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults are eradicated.

You’ll first want to vacuum carefully, focusing on the spots where your dog sleeps, eats, and relaxes. Vacuuming will collect eggs, larvae, and the adults. Immediately throw away the vacuum bag or dispose of the canister’s contents.

Wash all pet bedding, bandanas and etcetera in hot water, and run through a hot dry cycle if possible. You’ll probably need to repeat this process a few times, as the eggs will hatch in a couple of weeks, you’ll be confronted by this old foe.

You can also use insect growth regulators (IGR) from the local home supply store. These products can be used to kill fleas, but are not effective on pupae. This means you’ll probably see a reemergence in about two weeks, and will need to reapply.

Remember: When using pesticides or chemicals of any kind, read and follow directions carefully. After the IGR has done its job, clean up to ensure a safe environment for you, your family, and your pets.

How to Get Rid of Fleas in Your Yard

Spot needs to go outside every day to take care of business. Fleas should not accompany him on the return trip. To make sure they don’t, check your lawn to see if there are fleas present there.

The easiest way to check to see if you have a problem starts with opening your sock drawer. Find a pair of white socks and put them on. Go out in your yard. Walking around the yard for a few minutes in your white socks will quickly show if you have fleas. They’ll leap onto your socks where you can easily spot them.

The next step is to get rid of fleas on your yard. There are plenty of commercially available sprays. You probably need to spray only the shady areas of your yard; fleas don’t hang out in the constantly sunny spots.

What to Do Next

As mentioned, seeking guidance from your veterinarian is always best practice when anything is hassling Fido. No one knows your dog’s habits and health better than the vet. When the problem has gotten out of hand in your home, it might be time to bring in a pest control expert.

Experts can identify the hotspots where fleas are breeding, and apply highly-effective treatments in appropriate cycles to eradicate the problem from your home. Perhaps surprisingly, fleas will take to humans if they aren’t provided with enough animals to feed on. As soon as you see dark, moving spots and red welts on your ankles and feet, it’s past time to call in reinforcements.

In retrospect, that lice check saved me a lot of potential discomfort (and my mom from a lot of washing and cleaning). It’s like this for your favorite four-legged buddies and fleas. Use a flea comb every so often just to keep an eye on the situation. It’s unlikely Fido has spent extra time preparing for picture day, so he won’t mind the extra grooming attention.

Main image credit: Lee Haywood, CC by SA 2.0.

Alison Hoover

Alison Hoover

Alison is a Midwesterner through and through, and loves to spend her time baking and reading. Always at home in the dirt, as a kid, Alison raised a vegetable garden with her dad, and flower gardens with her mom.