Fleas on Dogs: A Complete Guide

If there’s one thing dog owners would love to take the guesswork out of, it’s flea prevention. With the range of treatments and prevention methods out there, it can be difficult to know the best way to keep fleas off your pet. Particularly if your dog is social or frequent dog parks, how can you help prevent fleas?

We’re here to help.

We’ve created a guide for you not just to prevent fleas from damaging your dog’s health, but detailing how to treat fleas once your dog has been exposed.


A Primer on Fleas

Before we get into flea treatments and prevention to keep your pup from that dreaded itch, there are a few things you should know about fleas.

Spotting Fleas on Dogs

Fleas are parasites that jump (they can’t fly) from host to host, feeding on the blood of warm-blooded animals like dogs. Fleas are linked to serious diseases and infections for humans and animals, including tapeworms, if accidentally ingested by your dog.

What do flea bites look like on a dog?

Immediate and obvious effects of a flea bite or infestation include visible symptoms: incessant scratching or biting at the skin to relieve an itch, scabs where your pet has broken the skin when seeking relief red, irritated skin. Pets with more severe reactions may also be diagnosed with dog allergies to flea bites. Patchy hair loss is also a common marker.

What do fleas look like on a dog?

Adult fleas can be hard to see on a dog with fleas, especially if your dog has dark fur. Fleas are very thin, reddish-brown, and about 0.039 to 0.13 inches in length. You would need a microscope to see more of the features.

More likely, you’ll be able to see flea dirt, another name for flea blood and excrement, on your dog’s fur or where your dog spends its time. Flea dirt looks like tiny black pepper flecks that will turn redder in color if you wipe away at them with a wet cloth. A flea comb for dogs is a good way to check for the specks.

Misconceptions About Fleas

Now let’s examine some common misconceptions about fleas so that you’re fully prepared to keep fleas away from your dog.

Yes, healthy dogs can get fleas.

A flea infestation is more about your dog’s exposure to fleas than how healthy they are, although a healthy diet for your pet is always a good immunity defense.

Yes, fleas can infiltrate a clean house.

No matter how tidy your home, your dog can still bring fleas inside. Remember, fleas can jump impressive distances for their size, so it’s easy for a flea to hop onto your pet from another animal. And, fleas don’t just live on their hosts. They can survive in any dark, moist area, waiting for the right time to feed. That means a curious pet can easily bring them in from the outdoors, including a yard infested with fleas.

No, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to fleas.

Some flea prevention approaches and management will work in some parts of the country but are less effective in others. Certain times of year are friendlier to flea infestations, too. Spring and summer are prime times for fleas in many parts of the country due to increased rain and humidity. But, if you live in places with mild temperatures year-round, flea season is constant.

Yes, flea treatments are an ongoing process.

Treating an infestation in your home and on your pet can be difficult, and it should be ongoing. Your work isn’t done once you think you eradicated the fleas on your dog. If you see a flea on your pet, likely, there are more where your pet spends their time.

Consider this: A single female flea can lay up to 2,000 eggs in her lifetime. When those eggs hatch, you could have another flea infestation on your hands.

Prevention is the key. Get your dog on a regular flea treatment program to prevent fleas from biting, and even sickening, your four-legged friend.

Let’s next see what dog owners can do to treat and prevent fleas, keeping parasites and their nasty side effects at bay.


Flea Preventatives for Dogs

The best way to treat fleas on dogs is to prevent a flea infestation in the first place. Flea prevention is important to the overall health of your dog. They not only cause infection and disease, but fleas cause discomfort for your beloved pet.

Let’s take a look at the most popular flea prevention options to make sure your dog remains happy and flea-free.

Topical Treatments for Flea Prevention

Topical treatments are a safe, easy, and effective way to prevent fleas from feeding on your dog. This type of treatment is one of the most popular flea preventatives on the market, replacing older methods like flea spray for dogs as the preferred dog flea treatment.

How does a topical flea treatment for dogs work?

Most topical flea treatments are not repellents. Instead, they kill fleas at any stage of their life cycle on contact. ZoGuard Plus, for example, is made with ingredients (fipronil and S-methoprene) that lead to the fleas’ paralysis and death when they get close to your dog. This treatment will also kill any existing flea eggs on your pet.

Topical treatments like ZoGuard Plus also kill lice and ticks, offering multiple layers of protection from the most harmful parasites to your dog.

How do I apply a topical flea treatment?

Topical treatments are typically applied between your dog’s shoulder blades or around the back of your dog’s neck. There’s no need to rub anything in, but you will need to make sure you’re applying the solution to your dog’s skin rather than their fur. Allow the topical treatment to dry completely before giving your pup free reign of the house or letting them interact with other pets.

How long does a topical flea treatment last?

Always read the application instructions that come with topical flea treatments for dogs, but most treatments should be reapplied after 30 days. Your pet can still enjoy (or merely tolerate) baths after flea treatment. However, wait a day or two for the solution to get absorbed into the skin before bathing your dog.

Can all of my dogs use the same flea preventative?

The topical flea preventative you use will depend on your dog’s size, and most topical treatments are appropriate for puppies 8 months and older. Always check with your vet before starting a new treatment.

Oral Flea Treatment for Dogs

Oral flea treatments are a popular flea preventative for dogs. Some pet owners find that giving their pup flea chewables for dogs rather than a topical treatment is easier, with less mess or potential exposure to other pets, including cats.

Rather than applying a topical treatment to your pet, your dog will ingest a fast-acting oral flea treatment. Many oral treatments also include protection against other pests, commonly tick, heartworm, and flea prevention for dogs are one dose of oral medication. Oral flea meds for dogs vary by manufacturer. In most, the active ingredients – often Fipronil and Imidacloprid – ingested by your dog are transferred to the adult fleas when they bite your pup.

When searching for the best oral flea treatment for your dogs, you’ll need to consult with your veterinarian. You will need a prescription to start your dog on an oral medication regimen. Some oral flea medications are linked to side effects in dogs, most seriously seizures and muscle tremors in products with active isoxazoline-class ingredients. While side effects are rare, dog owners need to be aware of them.

Flea Collars for Dogs

Flea collars for dogs are not as popular as other options, as they’ve can be less effective than topical or oral flea treatments and risk unpleasant side effects. Pet owners complain that collars leave behind a greasy film on a pet’s neck, or that odd odors emanate from the bands.

However, the dog flea collars on the market today are much-improved, and the diversity of flea collars available gives pet owners options even in this flea prevention method.

You can choose between all-natural collars or those with the same active ingredients found in topical treatments. Collars come in odorless varieties or with pleasant scents for human noses. Some options offer not just preventative treatment, but also treatment for active flea infestations. Most collars are also waterproof or water-resistant, which helps dogs who spend a lot of time in the water. Some are even reflective, giving your pup some extra visibility on walks before bed. The flea collars of today are longer-lasting, as well, while remaining budget-friendly.

The Best Flea Preventative for Dogs

Now that you have read about the different kinds of flea preventatives for dogs, you will have to decide what’s best for you and your furry friend. A topical flea treatment will likely tick most boxes for pet owners due to its effectiveness and ease-of-use. Keep in mind that, as with any flea preventative, it is up to you to administer the product correctly. Keep on top of treatment schedules and apply topical treatments the right way for the highest effectiveness.


Flea Treatments for Dogs

What if fleas are already making themselves at home on your pup?

What is the best way to treat fleas on dogs?

If you have confirmed an active flea infestation, take similar prevention measures to keep fleas coming back. Flea combs for dogs are helpful as an obvious check for fleas on your pet. If you’re only spotting flea dirt on dog skin rather than actual fleas, it doesn’t mean your pet is free of fleas. Flea dirt is evidence enough that you have a flea problem on your hands.

While repeat flea infestations are rare, you should look into alternative prevention methods if you do become re-infested. Keep in mind that no flea preventative measure is 100 percent effective.

Topical Treatments for Fleas on Dogs

Your monthly topical flea preventative is a good line of defense for dogs who already have fleas. A topical treatment like ZoGuard Plus effectively kills adult fleas, flea eggs on dogs, and flea larvae.

Keep in mind that flea baths for dogs are not needed with the use of a topical treatment applied to your pet. Soapy baths will render a topical treatment less effective within 24 hours of application – it takes time for a topical treatment to absorb. A flea bath is also not as long-lasting as a topical or oral treatment for fleas on dogs.

Oral Treatments for Fleas on Dogs

Similarly, oral flea preventatives will kill any adult fleas already on your dog. Whether or not your oral flea option kills fleas in the larvae or egg stage will depend on the manufacturer. Oral flea treatments are prescription-only to ensure you’re giving your dog the correct dosage, the appropriate medication type, and that you are aware of any side effects.

If you’re finding active fleas on your pet, though, assume that they are in your home too. You’ll need to treat a flea infestation in your house on top of what you’ve already done for your dog.

Treating Your Home for Fleas

Now that you’ve handled any active fleas on your pet, even stubborn flea larvae on dogs, you’ll need to clear your house of fleas. Here are a few quick tips for handing a flea infestation at home:

  • Vacuum areas with heavy pet traffic daily for up to two weeks. This practice will target existing flea eggs and larvae. Make sure to empty that vacuum canister immediately after each pass and dispose of it outside of your home.
  • Clean all of your floors thoroughly- fleas don’t just live in carpeting.
  •  Though it’s a good rule of thumb to clean bedding regularly anyway, wash your pet’s bedding in hot water. If your dog sleeps in your bed, wash your bedding on the hottest cycle.
  • Consider treating your home with a house spray with ingredients that kill dog flea eggs as an added precaution. House sprays can be all-natural!

Treating Exterior Spaces for Fleas

Pay attention to where your pup lives and to any exterior areas they spend time in, such as yard space at your home, outside kennels, or dog runs on your property. You may need to treat your outdoor spaces with insect repellents formulated for fleas. Or, consider using your green thumb to plant natural flea repellents like lemongrass and mint. Keep your grass short enough that fleas stay at bay, avoid overwatering to discourage moisture-loving fleas, and remove debris before it piles up.


Prioritize Flea Prevention for Dogs

Fleas are nasty pests that cause discomfort for your pet and can even cause harmful side effects if you do not handle the problem swiftly. The best flea treatment is a prevention regimen for your dog to keep fleas from biting your pup in the first place.

You have options when it comes to pet care. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and unsure about a comprehensive approach to pet essentials, My Pet Defense is here to help. We can set you up with a monthly subscription plan to make sure your pet has everything they need, including monthly flea treatments proven to keep dogs happy and healthy.

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