General Dog Care

How to Prevent (and Treat) Fleas on Dogs

Spring is right around the corner, and for those of us in the colder states we may be starting to feel the first signs of the new season right around the corner. The snow is melting, the days start to be above freezing and we occasionally get that beautiful day above 50 F. As great as that all is, this is also the time that the fleas (and other bugs) start to stir. In Michigan, I have seen that our ‘flea season’ (fleas can be a problem year round for pets, the season just indicates when they are most active) is typically between April thru November. So let’s prepare our pets to make sure that fleas are a non-issue this season! If fleas are already a problem, stick around because I’ll go over how to get rid of them if they are already on your dog and in your home. 

I am going to say, I am not well versed in natural ways to prevent fleas. Because of that, I am not going to cover that topic here. I do not want to spread information that I am just not well knowledgeable in, but I implore you to speak with your veterinarian before adopting any sort of new flea treatments for your pets: natural or medications.

Let’s first go over how to prevent your dog from getting fleas! 

My first recommendation would be a flea preventative. You can get these prescribed by your veterinarian or over the counter at most pet stores. Not all flea preventatives are created equal! In my years in grooming salons I have found that brands that are cheaper have a tendency to cause a chemical burn and reactions on dogs’ skins. Your vet will have a preferred brand that they like to work with and I would always go with that brand. Even if you find it more expensive than what you would like to pay, your veterinarian will know that brand and how it acts better than any other and can help you just in case your pet does have a reaction to them. 

For my dog, we used K9 Advantix II, which is a spot on treatment, and it seemed to work great for us! Spot on treatments work by applying a small dose of liquid medication on your dog where they won’t be able to disturb it: typically in between their shoulder blades. This medication then starts to be absorbed into the skin and will spread to the rest of the body, killing the fleas that may be living on your dog and being able to do so typically for about a month. If the fleas were able to lay eggs before dying, once the eggs hatch they will also die once they start to bite. Keep this in mind if you swore you got rid of the fleas and a few days later more show up, they will not be able to lay new eggs and they will most likely stop appearing.

Another flea preventative is oral medication. From what I have read, these medications can work in a variety of ways depending on what brand you decide to go with. They use either hormone growth regulators possibly alongside insecticide (which is what is used to kill the adult fleas in spot on treatments), which targets the eggs of the fleas by preventing the eggs to hatch and molt. However, a lot of brands do not have insecticide in them and oral medications are often paired with spot on treatments to make sure all bases of flea prevention are covered! Speak to your vet if you would like an oral medication that has both growth hormone disruptors and insecticide. 

Collars are a very popular option, but reviews and opinions on them vary especially in the animal care world. In my opinion, I do not recommend flea collars. Although there are some brands out there that work by slowly being soaked in by the glands on the skin, others only protect that specific area of the dog. In my salon days, I have seen many times where a dog came in with a flea collar on and we still found fleas on the dog; they just migrated to the belly or the base of the tail. I would use this method alongside one of the two mentioned above if you do want to use a flea collar. Please also be careful with the brand you pick, as stated above for spot on treatments these collars can also create burns and skin irritations and some brands seem to have these issues more than others. Speak within your veterinarian on what flea collars they would recommend for your dog. 

So what if you already have fleas? Let’s go over that now

First, start with picking one of the first two options above. Getting that preventative started will help to make sure the fleas have no home to go to if new fleas find their way onto your dog again. Fleas can hop on your dog from any place, even walking across a parking lot if they just happened to have jumped off any other animal right before you walked by. It truly can happen that quickly. 

Let’s also make sure we do not over medicate our dogs. A lot of people will want to give them a flea bath and then put preventative on and I suggest extreme caution. Giving a bath is fine, but using a highly medicated and toxic shampoo then putting even more medicine on them with a spot on or giving it to them orally can possibly cause a reaction because of all the toxins. 

For baths, I personally like to use a tea tree shampoo. It will help relieve that itching that they have been feeling, and is also said to be a natural flea killer. Saying that, DO NOT apply tea tree oil to your dog! It is extremely hard to dilute properly so purchasing a well known tea tree dog formulated shampoo is the safest option, as if not diluted properly could make your dog very sick! I used the brand Espree while working in a salon and it smells wonderful and the dogs really seemed to enjoy it. At home in a pinch I have used dawn dish soap, but it can really damage their coat so be careful. 

*Groomer tip: Don’t wet your dog before putting the soap on. Lather the soap super thick all over, avoiding the eyes and ear canals and let them soak for a good 10 minutes. This will help your dog’s skin feel better and also help drown/kill the fleas that are on there, and I find the element of surprise (no water) catches the most fleas without them jumping off! Make sure to focus on the areas where the fleas will want to hide: belly, base of tail and the armpits!

If you have no access to a bath and you find some fleas, there are sprays that are also sold at pet stores but I have personally never used them. Please read all the instructions before using any of the above products on your dog! 

Once we have the fleas off your dog and have a flea preventative on them, you may need to focus on how bad the infestation is in your home. With your dog on a preventative, the fleas should slowly start to fade away, however, if the infestation was really bad you may need to take further steps to make sure they are completely gone. At most pet stores you can find foggers which contain a high amount of toxins and chemicals that spread through the house and will kill most if not all the fleas. You need to be very careful to read all instructions on the package to keep all of your belongings safe during this process, as again these foggers are highly toxic. Another solution to consider is using a flea treatment in your yard. This will help, as other animals like squirrels and rabbits also carry fleas. 

If you are unsure on how to proceed with ridding your home and yard of these pests, I would recommend contacting an exterminator. They will be able to guide you in the right direction!

References

Burke, A. (2019, July 24). How to get rid of dog fleas in 4 steps – American Kennel Club. American Kennel Club. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/how-to-get-rid-of-fleas/

Prevent and treat fleas. (2018, February 21). WebMD. https://pets.webmd.com/fleas-prevent-treat#3

2 thoughts on “How to Prevent (and Treat) Fleas on Dogs”

  1. Thanks for this article, looks like dogs have the same as cats, many drugstore shampoos are not good for their health. Agree that Espree
    brand is good for both.

    1. Yes! Cats especially are sensitive to medicines, it may be even MORE important to avoid drugstore shampoos and flea medicines! I love Espree, I recommend it to all my clients for at home care!

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