So, you’ve just discovered that your dog has fleas. You need to find the best dog flea treatment – ASAP!
Well, you have come to the right place. There are a variety of products available today that can rid your dog of these annoying, potentially deadly parasites. Mild cases can usually be eradicated with the use of an effective over-the-counter product. Heavier infestations may require the assistance of your veterinarian, especially if your furry kid is sensitive to flea bites. Here are some tips to get you started on the right path.
Fleas – they’re the enemies of dog owners everywhere; from tiny Chihuahuas to pony-sized Great Danes, canines of all shapes and sizes suffer from these pests. Although fleas are a common pitfall to pet ownership, many dog lovers struggle with effectively controlling these persistent parasites on their pets and in their homes. With the right knowledge and persistence, though, it’s relatively simple to show fleas the back door and keep them out for good.
First, it’s important for dog owners to know the facts about fleas in order to battle these little bugs. Fleas are tiny insects - typically brownish-black in colour - that live the majority of their lives on mammals. There are over 2,000 noted species of fleas, each with a preferred type of mammal host, but interestingly, it’s the ‘cat’ flea (Ctenocephalides felis) that primarily infests both dogs and cats. It can also sustain its life cycle for short periods on other mammals as well, including humans; I’ve had many a pet owner question me about mysterious bites that appear on themselves whenever they cuddle their pooch, only to be horrified to be told that Molly or Max are jumping with fleas!
Since fleas are wingless, they aren’t able to fly, but they can quickly crawl or jump onto their chosen host, and feed from blood vessels near the surface of your dog’s skin. The ‘itchy-scratchy’ feeling that many flea infested pets have is caused by the small amounts of saliva that the fleas inject to prevent the blood from clotting while they feed, which causes a skin reaction at the site of the bite.
How Do I Know If My Dog Has Fleas?
So can you tell if your dog is simply scratching an itch, or if fleas are the culprit? There are a few simple ways to detect the presence of these pests on your pet. First, check around your dog’s head, neck, and shoulder area and at the base of their tail. While you may not see actual fleas if there’s only a few on your dog, you might notice signs that they’ve taken up residence, such as a raised itchy bumps, red skin, and a black, grainy, pepper-like substance. If you stand your dog over a white sheet or towel and run your hands vigorously through their fur, you might find that some of this falls off your dog – if it turns a reddish-brown color when wetted with water, then you’ve unfortunately confirmed the presence of flea excrement – and therefore, fleas – on your favorite furry friend.
So how do dogs ‘catch’ fleas in the first place? Well, since fleas are wonderfully efficient travellers, your pup can be at risk in a number of situations. Places like dog recreation areas or pet daycare situations are a flea’s nirvana! Dogs can also pick up these unwelcome hitchhikers from a friend or neighbour’s pets, from outdoor areas, and even from riding in a vehicle where other pets may have been as well. Fleas have also been known to travel on human clothing or bedding from one place to another.
You need to regularly inspect your dog to make sure that you deal with fleas effectively. Thankfully, this site will show you everything that you need about dog fleas, including the most useful home remedies!
What Do They Look Like?
You’ll be able to notice the fleas on dogs relatively easily for the most part, as they will be itching themselves constantly and will have rashes all over their bodies. Another big spotting point is when you see the fleas actually on the bedding with the dog – inspect this regularly to try and catch the fleas before they become a significant problem.
Looking for these signs on a regular basis will be vital in keeping your dog in the best of health.
Flea life cycle
The basic strategy of any good battle is: know your enemy. There are nearly 2000 species of flea, but only one affects our precious pets – the dog flea! Knowing the dog flea’s life cycle can help you understand how to kill these insects most effectively.
As revolting as fleas may seem at first discovery, try to rein in the temptation to tear apart your house willy-nilly in order to treat them, however! Understanding the flea life cycle first is going to be the most effective way to get rid of them for good, and more importantly, keep them from coming back again! One particular client comes vividly to mind – before she had called her veterinarian for advice when her Border Collie had fleas, she’d not only tossed all her couches, bedding and pillows in the trash, but she had also called in an extermination company and doused all her children in louse treatment....all for the sake of ‘just in case!’
First, let’s take a close look at how fleas live and reproduce. There are four major stages of flea development: eggs, larvae, pupae, and adult fleas.
The dog flea has 4 life stages:
Your dog’s body is the place where most of the action happens! Adult fleas feed and breed there, laying batches of up to 20 eggs at a time, which then roll off your pup into the surrounding environment. A female flea can produce several hundred eggs during her lifetime! The adult flea lays eggs on the host (your dog); a female can lay up to 40 eggs a day! Then, the eggs fall off of your dog and into the environment. They can be anywhere your pet spends a lot of time – his bed, your bed, the sofa, the carpet, cracks in your hardwood floor – anywhere! About 1/3 of the fleas in your home are in the egg stage.
Larvae hatch from the eggs in 1-2 weeks, and avoid sunlight, staying hidden in dark places like floor cracks and bedding. They feed off of adult flea excrement (dried, digested blood), dander and other organic material around the house. Once the egg hatches, tiny maggot-like larvae crawl around your dog’s living areas. They molt 3 times before moving onto their next life stage. Almost 2/3 of the fleas are in the larval stage.
After the flea enters its final larval stage, it spins a protective cocoon, where it develops into an adult flea. Fleas can remain in a resting state in this stage for long periods of time (even several months!) as they wait for outside signals that a host is approaching before hatching. The cocoon is very strong, and there are NO products available that can get rid of this stage of flea. The pupa develops into the adult flea inside the cocoon, and can live inside for up to a year before it hatches.
- The adult dog flea
The flea inside the cocoon waits until a host is detected. They sense vibrations in the floor, carbon dioxide in the air, and can react to sounds and light. Once they detect a meal close by, they hatch and feverishly search for the host. The female flea begins to lay eggs 1-2 days after taking her first meal. Only about 5% of the fleas in your home are the adults, so the problem is always much larger than what you are actually able to see.
On average, the flea life cycle, from egg to adult, is around three weeks, though it can be faster in warm, humid conditions. What this means for you and your pets, however, is that one or two fleas can rapidly become a large infestation; the presence of even one flea on your pup can mean that there’s hundreds more in various life stages around your house, invisible to your eyes.
Why Should I Be Worried? Aren’t They Just Bugs?
Beyond the typically itchy reaction to flea bites, fleas also present some health hazards to both canines and humans. Some dogs may develop a condition called ‘flea allergy dermatitis’, which is an extreme reaction to flea saliva that causes intense itching, hair loss, scabbing and occasionally secondary skin infections. Anemia is also a risk for dogs that have a large or long-standing chronic flea infestation or for toy breeds and young puppies as well.
A flea infestation on your pet can also increase the risk for contracting some diseases and parasites. Although many of us are aware of the historical role that fleas played in the spread of bubonic plague, these aggravating insects don’t stop there. Fleas are a host for tapeworm larvae, for instance, and the ingestion of a flea by a dog or human (which typically happens more commonly in children) can lead to tapeworm infection in both people and pets. Fleas also transmit the bacteria Rickettsia typhi and Rickettsia felis, organisms which cause the disease typhus.
Diseases spread by dog fleas
Apart from being pests that keep your dog up all night scratching, fleas can spread some rather nasty bacteria and parasites. A very heavy infestation on a young puppy could even lead to death if not addressed promptly. These make it extra important to protect your pet.
Flea allergy dermatitis
This is a condition in which the pet is extra sensitive to flea bites. A single bite in a span of 4 days is all it takes to keep this kind of reaction going. Dogs with this condition suffer greatly with fleas.
A heavy infestation can drain so much blood from a puppy that they can succumb to blood loss if the fleas are not destroyed.
These are intestinal parasites that suck nutrients from the dog’s intestines. Most adult dogs do not suffer ill effects, but a young puppy could become malnourished if infected.
Fleas can cause serious hair loss in a dog and this will become easily noticeable after a short period of time – it’s vital to look for this problem as quickly as you can.
Bacterial infections that can cause pus ridden skin sores – this is disgusting to see and will cause your dog plenty of problems.
Serious infections may result from your dog constantly trying to alleviate the problem on its own. This can actually be fatal, so be vigilant about this serious problem in dogs.
Dog Flea Treatment Products
Fleas are persistent breeders with an extreme drive to survive, and they’re not easily eliminated! Moderate to severe flea infestations can take even take months to get rid of, but the good news is that there are many different options on the market today. Let’s take a look at some of the most common ways to get fleas ‘out of your hair’ – and your dog’s hair, too.
Choosing a dog flea product depends on many factors. Are you treating an infestation or preventing one? Do you have time to shampoo every few days, or do you want a product that can be applied quickly and infrequently?
When you find one that works, it is ok to use it for a while. But, it is recommended that you change your products periodically, as fleas can become resistant to certain pesticides after a time.
Most products concentrate on killing the adult fleas, which is only 5% of your problem. You should look for products that can kill as many of these stages as possible. This will ensure that you get rid of the fleas as fast as possible.
When there is an infestation, all pets in the house need to be treated, and the treatment may need to continue for several months, to make sure that all the life stages of the flea are killed.
Check your labels
Always check the age and weight range before you purchase flea products. This should be clearly marked on the label. If you use the wrong weight range on your dog, he could be left unprotected (too little product), or he could have a serious reaction (too much product).
Very young puppies cannot have topical flea drops or shampoos applied to them. Their nervous system is still developing, and they are very sensitive to these pesticides. Plus, if you apply a smaller dose and your pet has a growth spurt, they may not be fully protected against parasites.
Many treatments that are safe for dogs are toxic to cats, so you should NEVER apply a dog product to a cat without checking with your veterinarian first. These products are clearly marked as “not for use on cats” or something to that effect.
All of the following products are available without a prescription, through Amazon.co.uk:
Spot on products are convenient and effective. They are placed in a small area of the skin and spread to cover your entire pet. Most are waterproof after they dry; swimming and bathing usually do not affect the strength of the product unless your pet swims or bathes frequently. Most last about 1 month, but some can last as long as 4 months.
This type of flea control can be used to prevent as well as treat infestations. These packages are excellent in terms of value, and provide a strong and resistant solution to dog fleas. They’ll start to wipe out 98-100% of all fleas within 24h, and continue to do so for a 2 month period. This also deals with ticks, and can be the perfect solution. Frontline also comes in 4 different sizes and is safe for dogs older than 8 weeks. Pets can be bathed and go swimming with the product applied.
Effipro, a generic version of Frontline, is also available in 4 different strengths. It can be used on dogs older than 12 weeks. It lasts for up to 8 weeks for fleas, and 4 weeks for ticks. Effipro is a reliable treatment that offers effective and decisive tick treatments, offering a long-term solution that is extremely easy to use and also offers a clean solution too; no grease here, and no leaks during the usage process on your dog.
Bob Martin Flea Clear Spot On is available in 4 strengths and can be used on pets over 2 months old. It kills adult fleas and ticks. They offer a Double Action version, which kills adult fleas and flea larvae, and a Pesticide-Free version, which protects against fleas and ticks without chemicals.
Comes in 3 sizes and kills flea eggs and larvae for 3 months.
Advantage comes in 4 different sizes and can be used on dogs older than 8 weeks. It prevents and kills flea infestations and can treat lice. It kills adult fleas within 24 hours, and works for 4 weeks.
Beaphar is available in a 4-week formulation or a 12-week formulation that works against fleas and ticks. It can be used on dogs as young as 2 weeks of age.
Biospotix uses an all-natural active ingredient to repel fleas on puppies over 3 months old.
Advantage comes in many forms, and can be found in various formats for different kinds of dogs. It’s effective within a 48h period and is excellent for preventing and controlling the infestation of fleas that may have become a problem for your dog.
Dog Flea Sprays
Flea sprays can either be used in the pet’s environment, or applied directly on the pet. They are usually just a spray version of the topical product.
4Fleas Household Spray kills adult fleas, larvae, and prevents the eggs from hatching.
Beaphar flea spray can be used directly on dogs over 6 months old and has a silent sprayer, making it perfect for nervous pets.
Biospotix offers a chemical-free spray for puppies over 3 months. It should be used weekly.
Bob Martin offers an all-in-one spray that can be used both on your pet and inside your home. It is pesticide free and kills adults, eggs and larvae.
Indorex, the spray version of Effipro, works inside your home to kill adult fleas for up to 2 months and prevents the egg and larval stage of the flea for 12 months. One can will cover your entire home.
Dog Flea Collars
Today’s flea collars last a long time and do not have a foul odor like the ones they had when you were a kid. Most are safe to be around, but if you have young children, you should discuss the benefits and risks of having a flea collar on your pet with your veterinarian and pediatrician.
Flea collars are incredibly useful and will provide a proven solution for your dog.
It’s handmade and provides a strong protection point for dogs to prevent fleas from starting up. It’s totally chemical free, too, and can be the perfect solution for getting rid of fleas and ticks. However, it won’t treat a current infestation so be sure to get something else that can do this.
The Beaphar collar will protect your dog against fleas and ticks for 4 months.
Biospotix offers an all-natural collar that repels fleas on puppies over 3 months old.
The Bob Martin Flea Collar protects your pet for up to 5 months against fleas and ticks.
Flea powders are poured onto the coat and the excess is shaken out. They do need to be applied frequently.
Shampoo and powder products (like VetZyme Flea Shampoo or Johnson’s 4Fleas Powder) are only effective for killing the adult fleas that are on your dog at the time of treatment. These treatments often only last a few days at most, and some contain insecticides called pyrethrins that can be toxic to puppies, and can be lethal for cats. These options usually only provide short term relief, and since they don’t have any effect on fleas, eggs, or larvae in the environment, they’re not ideal options for long term flea control.
Beaphar Flea Powder
is made from diatomaceous earth, and does not contain any chemicals. It works by drying out the flea’s body.
Johnsons 4Fleas Powder
can be used on puppies over 12 weeks old.
Still seeing fleas?
Flea treatments work pretty fast, but it is still possible to see a live flea on your pet, even when the treatment is working. This happens when your dog goes outside into a heavily infested flea area. A flea can jump on your pet and hitch a ride, and you might just happen to see it before it dies. Some products do lose their “punch” towards the end of their recommended life. They might take a bit longer to work than before, but they should still do the job.
Keep in mind, that to hit fleas where it counts, it’s best to use both a flea control product on your dog and a household treatment as well – don’t forget about all those flea eggs and larvae around your home just waiting their turn to strike! There are some other simple ways for you to help de-flea your domicile as well:
- Vacuuming – The noise and vibration stimulate flea pupae to hatch, forcing them to come into contact with flea control products more quickly (or be sucked up and disposed of!)
- Make a weekly habit of tossing your dog’s bedding, blankets, toys and rugs into the washing machine. A hot water cycle with vinegar will do away with flea eggs and larvae in no time!
- Don’t forget about treating all the pets in the house – if fleas can feed and breed off your cat or your guinea pig, your chances of eliminating an infestation is far less likely.
When to see your veterinarian
If your pet is uncomfortable, and the treatments you have tried are not working, it may be time to admit you are losing the battle and seek some assistance. In addition to providing prescription strength topical treatments, your veterinarian can prescribe oral medication that can be used in conjunction with topical products to get the problem under control as soon as possible. These oral formulations, such as Comfortis or Bob Martin Flea Tablets, start to kill adult fleas within minutes, and last for 24 hours.
Finally, remember that your veterinarian is usually a fantastic resource for information about effective flea treatment. Although it’s always a good idea to check with your vet with any questions, there are a few situations when a visit to your dog’s doctor should be the first stop on your list before starting flea treatment:
- Your dog has hair loss
- Your dog has red, inflamed or raw skin
- Your dog has crusty lesions or scabs on the skin
- Your dog is itching uncontrollably, is extremely distressed or has open sores because of flea bites
- Your dog is lethargic, not eating, or acting abnormally
- Your dog is already ill, a toy breed, a senior dog or a very young puppy
- Your dog lives with cats - there are some canine flea control products that are toxic or even deadly to our feline friends, even if they’re only used on the dogs in a household
If your pet is exhibiting these signs, it could be indicative of a skin infection as a result of all that scratching. Your pooch may need medication to treat the infection, as well as something to help reduce the urge to scratch. These will help him feel more comfortable while waiting for the flea treatment to do its job. Young puppies with a heavy flea infestation should be checked by a veterinarian to rule out anemia and to check them for tapeworms and other parasites.
Fleas are one of the oldest species of pests on the planet, and unfortunately, they’re not going to disappear from existence any time soon. With persistence, vigilance, and the right routine of flea prevention, though, you can keep these bothersome little bugs from becoming a big problem. Hopefully, this has given you an understanding of what you are up against, and has prepared you for your fight against these disgusting parasites.
If you have a flea problem, or you need more information to choose a product, consult your veterinarian.