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My Dog Has Fleas, What Should I Do?

A Step-by-Step Guide for Getting Rid of Fleas

By Lauren Leonardi. December 06, 2012 | See Comments

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    PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian

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My Dog Has Fleas, What Should I Do?

Fleas. Few things are worse. They climb on your dog's back and, using them like a makeshift Trojan Horse, launch a full on assault on your home. Learn how to prevent a flea attack here.

That moment when you realize, “My dog has fleas!” can be dreadful. It doesn’t matter how clean, or even how well-protected some pets are. If the environment is right, fleas have a way of finding their way onto your pet and into your home. Here’s how to tackle and end a flea infestation.

First Things First, Be Sure It’s Fleas

Not all scratching indicates a flea infestation. Scratching of the ears may indicate ear mites or another ear infection. Scratching or licking other parts of your pet’s body may indicate a food allergy, or other irritation.

Fleas are about half the size of an apple seed, but may be as large as the size of a grain of rice. They’re jumping insects, with laterally flat bodies, and they have no wings. If you don’t see actual fleas, look for flea poop! Flea waste may collect on the skin of your pet, and will look like tiny crumbles of dirt.

Two Steps to Controlling the Issue

Once you’ve established that your dog is definitely infested with fleas, time is of the essence. There’s a chance that your home may have fleas, too. If your pet has been licking and biting at the fleas, it’s possible your dog will get tapeworms. Take things one step at a time. First, delouse your pet. Then tackle your home. Take care with the products you use and be sure to read all warning labels.

Step 1: Treat Your Pet

There are several pesticides on the market that will target adult fleas as well as their larvae. Killing the larvae is essential to becoming and remaining flea-free. When choosing a pesticide, see that the active ingredients list includes a larvae-killing chemical like pyriproxyfen or methoprene.

Dogs and cats should not be bathed in the 4-5 days before or after applying a spot-on flea and tick treatment like K9 Advantix II or Advantage II for dogs. This is because most spot-on treatments migrate into the subcutaneous fat layer on your pet, making their bodies inhospitable to fleas and their eggs. If you bathe them too close to application, the natural oils that carry the medication into their subcutaneous fat will not be plentiful enough. Also, if you bathe them too soon following treatment, you may wash away the medication.

In the case of fleas, apply the medication right away. Over the counter flea killers, such as Capstar Flea Killer, will rid your dog of their infestation within 6 hours. After about a week, you can give your dog a bath with flea killing shampoo. Don’t overuse the shampoo. Flea shampoo can be drying to your dog’s already tender skin. Remember, fleas are parasites that bite and suck blood. They’re bothersome and itchy for your pet. Be gentle on their skin while you treat them.

In the interim, between applying the medication and giving the bath, you may comb your dog’s fur with a flea comb. Keep a small bowl of soapy water on hand. If you scoop up a flea or eggs, drown them in the soap water, and keep going.

As soon as you’ve applied the spot-on treatment, you can begin treating your home.

Step 2: Treat Your Home

First, thoroughly vacuum the entire house, including hard surfaces. When you’re done, seal your vacuum bag in plastic and throw it away. Some folks recommend putting a flea collar into the vacuum bag to kill fleas and their eggs as you suck them up. Others argue against this practice, as flea collars are heavy with chemicals. It’s a matter of personal preference.

Before you vacuum, you may wish to sprinkle an even layer of borax onto carpets you suspect might be infested. Let it sit overnight, then vacuum. Some find that the borax is an effective, non-toxic way to help suffocate the fleas, and to make them sluggish so they’re easier collect.

Then, wash your pet’s bed in hot water, and if possible, dry in a hot dryer. Be careful: some synthetic beds may melt in the dryer, in which case it may be easier to replace the bed.

If you continue to find more evidence of fleas, it might be time to call an exterminator. Exterminators are better at containing and controlling the chemicals they use to rid you and your home of fleas. If an exterminator is out of the budget, you may opt for a do-it-yourself fog kit or spray. Just be sure to read the labels. Some flea killing chemicals can be hazardous to birds, fish, and of course, human children.

Prevent Future Infestations

All experts agree: the best way to be flea-free is to prevent infestations in the first place. Treat your pets monthly with a veterinarian recommended spot-on flea repellent. In areas with an especially high flea population, you may consider allowing your pet to wear a flea collar while they’re cavorting outdoors. (Remove flea collars when indoors.)

Use flea shampoos, even when no fleas are present. If the flea repelling shampoos appear to be too harsh for your dog, try adding a few drops of eucalyptus, lavender, tea tree, and citronella essential oils to some unscented castile soap. Essential oils may irritate cats, so only try this with dogs. Adding brewer’s yeast and garlic to your dog’s food may also help to repel fleas.

More on Treating Flea Infestations

What's the Difference Between K9 Advantix and Frontline Plus for Dogs?
What's the Flea and Trick Threat Level in Your Area?
What Are Fleas?
Oral Flea Control: Flea Pills For Dogs And Cats
How To Treat Fleas In Your Yard

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This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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Dogs with Fleas at a glance

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  • 1Be sure it’s fleas. Scratching can indicate an array of issues.
  • 2Delouse your pet with a spot-on treatment. Wait a few days, then bathe your dog.
  • 3As soon as you’ve applied a flea and larvae killing treatment, Vacuum thoroughly and wash all dog beds.
  • 4Take special care with prevention to avoid future infestations. Prevention is the best way to avoid fleas.