Flea Control For Dogs: Causes, Removal & Treatment

Flea Control For Dogs
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

Taking your dogs outside can be one of the most enjoyable experiences of the summer. It gives them a chance to get in some much needed exercise, fresh air, and sunlight. Not to mention all the wonderful smells that come with being outdoors. However, being outside can expose your pets to one of the most annoying pests: fleas.

These parasitic bugs can turn your dog’s day sour, as their presence on your dog’s skin can induce a lot of irritation, as well as carry horrible diseases that can affect the future of your dog’s health. That’s why flea control for dogs is essential in keeping your dog safe. Your dog may be suffering from skin allergies due to flea bites, so see our past article on flea allergies.

So if you start noticing that your pooch has been scratching or biting incessantly at his skin, there are measures that should be taken immediately in order to alleviate your dog’s condition and prevent fleas from taking up residence on his skin again in the future. There are a wide variety of choices that you can use to keep away fleas, from the conventional methods of topical pesticides to more natural alternatives that you have to make yourself.

Symptoms to look out for

One of the most obvious signs of fleas is your dog’s continuous scratching and itching. Using your fingers or a flea comb (which you can get from your vet), part the hair where you’ve noticed your dog scratching at. It’s unlikely that you’ll see any actual fleas, as they are very fast and can jump very far. What you might notice are very small black and white specks on your dog’s skin.

The black specks are «flea dirt», also called the flea feces. The white specks are the flea’s eggs. If you do notice eggs on your dog, there are extra measures that you can take to ensure that they don’t hatch and continue the cycle.

Guide to protect your dog from fleas and ticks

Ticks are a lot easier to spot on your dog, and can range from being dark brown to a grey color once they’ve feasted on your dog. They tend to the warmer, moist areas of the body, so the ears and underside of your dog are areas you should definitely look over once your dog comes back inside. Ticks are well known for carrying blood borne diseases that can make your dog very sick, especially Lyme disease. These diseases can be transmitted to you as well, and you could start experiencing fevers, chills, and body aches.

If you want a very effective way of preventing all of that incessant itching and scratching, you should use a method that eliminates both fleas and ticks so that you’re not using several products at once, or forgetting which ones you’ve already applied to your dog.

Natural methods of flea control

More and more people are starting to look for alternative methods of flea control as the more conventional methods can be a little more pricey than dog owners are ready to bargain for, and would prefer using safer means to keep their dogs free of fleas. Not only are these methods easy and cost-effective to make over and over again, but it eliminates the risk of accidentally making your dog sick from using the wrong dosage of flea control that you can find at the vets.

Dealing with flea infestation

Here are some of the most efficient ways that you can keep fleas of your dogs without jeopardizing your their health. The great thing about these methods is that they can be used in conjunction with each other without resulting in any harmful side effects:

  • Homemade flea collar: If you’re not keen on adding ointment to your dog’s skin, you can create your own flea collar from scratch. It works for a much longer time than topical ointment and even smells great.
    The first thing that you’ll need is a bandana or the collar that your dog normally wears when he goes outside. Mix together one to three tablespoons of water with three to five drops of cedar or lavender oil. Using an eyedropper, apply the mixture on several spots on your dog’s collar or bandana. The mixture can be reapplied once a week in order to maintain the protective barrier against fleas.
  • Flea prevention tonic: Why only battle fleas from the outside when you can help your dogs from the inside as well? You can create an easy tonic for your dog to drink that not only keeps fleas away, but also improves his skin and coat. For every forty pounds your dog weighs, add one teaspoon of distilled white vinegar or apple cider vinegar to one quart of drinking water.
    The digestion of the vinegar is secreted through the skin, and makes your dog unappetizing to fleas. If you find that your dog doesn’t appreciate the taste, you can also spray the diluted mixture directly onto your dog’s skin.
  • Combed lemon juice: fleas are known for hating the smell of citrus, so why not give them a reason to stay away from your dog? Add slices of freshly cut lemon to a pot of boiling water. Turn off the heat and allow the lemons to steep overnight. Sponge or comb the liquid throughout your dog’s hair or fur. This can be used as often as you need to without harming your dog’s health, and actually smells nice, especially after he’s spent a day outside rolling in the grass and chasing squirrels.
    Lemon juice can also be added to your regular dog’s shampoo in order to kill two birds with one stone and still retain all of the benefits of the lemon juice in repelling fleas.
  • Brewer’s Yeast/B complex vitamins: added to your dog’s food, it can boost their immune system and repel any bugs that might believe him to be a tasty treat. You can add half of a teaspoon of brewer’s yeast or 50 mg (for small dogs) to 100 mg (for larger dogs) to their food and mix it in. The digestion process makes your dog less attractive to both fleas and ticks, and they are more likely to stay away from your dog’s fur when he ventures outside.

Whether you’re using cedar oil, lavender oil or any kind of citrus oil on your dog, it’s very important that it be diluted first. Such scents can be very strong for a dog’s nose, and may also be too harsh for their skin. You may believe that these natural oils can’t harm your dog in any way, but diluting them beforehand eliminates the risk of a skin problem on your dog in the future. Always be sure to do a test spot area of your dog before treating his entire fur coat for fleas. This way, you can see how your dog is going to react beforehand.

You might want to take a look at our piece on flea bath for your dogs and see if it can help you.

Topical flea control

The pet market has always been booming with what companies promote as the best flea control method. Many of them do the same thing: preventing fleas on dogs through the use of a topical pesticide. There are a wide variety of flea control products to choose from, and it can be a little confusing to determine which ones are best. However, before you run out and purchase the first thing that you find, there are some important points to consider to make sure you’re getting the best for your money.

Firstly, you should always consult your vet first with the products that are on the market. Because they’re in the business of ensuring that your dog is healthy and happy, they have access to what does and doesn’t work, and can provide you with the information that you need to make an informed decision. Many dog owners prefer to go out and find the cheapest one that they can find in the pet store, but this can be the worst decision that a pet owner can make.

Bayer Advantix II, Extra Large Dogs

Generics, although cheaper, do not work the same way as name brand flea control products. Although they may contain the same active ingredients, the liquid base that distributes the product may be something that makes your dog terribly sick. Here are a few of the more popular brands that you can choose form.

  • Frontline: Frontline is prescription medication that can be applied directly to your dog’s skin in order to keep fleas away. It contains the active ingredients fipronil and S-methoprene that is designed to kill fleas and their eggs, as well as ticks. It’s waterproof, and can withstand at least four medicated shampoos before the solution is no longer effective. It can kill fleas during any stage of their life cycle within twenty-four to forty-eight hours.
    It can even be used on puppies as young as twelve weeks old and four pounds. It needs to be reapplied once a month in order to maintain an effective barrier against fleas.
  • K9 Advantix: Advantix is a topical medication that is use to kill both fleas and ticks. The ointment is waterproof and lasts for roughly thirty days. It kills fleas and ticks, as well as their larvae and eggs. They come in a wide variety of options, including two-month, four-month and six-month options, as well as different solutions for different sized dogs.
    There are flea treatments for dogs up to ten pounds, eleven to twenty pounds, twenty-one to fifty-five and over fifty-five pounds. This makes it easy for consumers to determine the solution that is right for their dog.
  • ParaStar: ParaStar is a topical ointment that is waterproof, fast-acting and lasts a long time. It works on both ticks and fleas, and continues to work even after a bath or swimming.
    It’s starts working within the hour after application, which makes it quite good at killing terrible infestations very quickly. It is available in four different options for various sized dogs, which eliminates the risk of exposing your dog to the wrong dosage. It should be applied to your dog once every month.
  • Capstar: Capstar is a flea control pill that is ingested by your dog in order to prevent the onset of a flea infestation. It’s a pill that is taken once a day, and has nitenpyram as its active ingredient. It is available in two options — for dogs up to twenty-five pounds and for dogs over twenty-five pounds — which makes it quite easy for any dog owner to decide on which version to get.
    Once ingested, the pill starts going to work within thirty minutes and can kill all of the fleas present on your dog within four hours. However, it does not affect flea eggs and is not very effective as a long-term treatment against fleas. It is meant to be a fast treatment for an infested dog, and alternative measures should be taken in order to create a more effective, long-term flea prevention plan.

As mentioned before, it’s important that you do a spot test of any topical treatment on your dog before a full application. Some dogs may be susceptible to certain chemicals that can trigger a terrible dermatological reaction. If you have multiple dogs, be sure to test them all separately so you can figure out which treatments your dogs can handle.

How to apply dog flea treatments

Even if you only notice the infestation on one of your dogs, that doesn’t mean that your other dogs won’t be affected. Whether you choose topical treatments or any of the natural methods suggested, it’s important that you treat all of your dogs at the same time.

This way, you can prevent the infestation spreading to another pooch and having to go through the same cycle all over again. The procedure of treating fleas is already a stubborn battle that no one wants to face, so it’s best to cover all of your bases so that you can ensure that they don’t make a resurgence somewhere else.

What to do when you’ve found ticks and/or fleas

In the off chance that you do find ticks and/or fleas on your dog, it’s important that they be removed before they can cause more damage to your dog’s health. Fleas can be removed simply with a flea comb, which is a very fine-tooth comb that will remove them from your dog’s skin, as well as their eggs and flea dirt. For best results, have your dog lie down on a white sheet. If you notice any black flecks coming off or small brown dots appearing out of nowhere on the sheet, then your dog has fleas.

Dog fleas

For ticks, you can use a pair of tweezers or a flea scoop to do the trick. Make sure that the tick is grabbed by his head, as they have a tendency to bury their heads under the skin to ensure that they continue feeding. Once you have a grip on its head, pull gently upwards until the tick releases its grip. Do not twist or yank on it in order to make it let go, as the head or mandibles can break off into the skin.

Be sure that you don’t grab the tick by the body; this can force disease-carrying secretions back into your dog and increase the chances of an infection. If you don’t have a pair of tweezers or a tick scoop, you can pry the point of a needle between a tick’s jaws to pull it out. To help you, see our tips on how to safely remove ticks and fleas from your dog.

Once the flea or tick has been removed from your dog’s skin, be sure to clean the area with some antiseptic before taking your dog to the vet to get tested. Not only will this prevent more bugs from trying to take another bite, but it keeps the area clean and the bite wound from becoming infected from dirt or other debris.

Our article on treatment for hot spots in your pet can give you more options to try out.

Keeping fleas out of your home

You may think that having taken care of the fleas on your dog that the problem is over. However, what you may not have realized is that fleas can be quite stubborn to get rid of if they’ve hitched a ride on your pooch and gotten into your home. Because fleas themselves are quite difficult to see, it can be next to impossible to determine if you have an infestation. They can easily work their way between your bed sheets and towels, making it easier for you to quickly become their next meal.

The best flea and tick control for dogs is to nip it in the bug and kill the ones that may already be infesting your home. Here are some easy and natural methods that you can exercise to keep your home flea-free.

  • Flea bag: these are not only easy to make, but are quite effective at keeping fleas out of the more comfortable areas of your home. Take two six-inch square of breathable fabric (anything that is used to make pot pourri bags will do) and sew them together to make a sachet. Place a handful of cedar chips, a few teaspoons of driver lavender and the peel of one lemon. Tie the top off with a ribbon and place it under your dog’s bed and anywhere around your home that is susceptible for a flea infestation.
    The mixture can be changed every month by simply dumping the contents and adding new ones. This way, you can reuse the bag over and over again as needed.
  • Boric Acid/Diatomaceous Earth/Salt: if there are fleas in your home, then it’s likely that they’ve already laid eggs. Flea eggs are known to hatch every three days, so this is a process that you will have to be repeated for a little over a week to ensure that all of the larvae, eggs and fleas have been killed.
    Sprinkle the substance of choice on your carpet and anything else that your dog has been in contact with. It should be left overnight to dehydrate and kill the bugs and eggs in your carpets and on your furniture surfaces. Then simply vacuum everything and empty into an outside garbage can.
  • Nematodes: nematodes are a very essential bug that can help to combat any fleas living in your yard. They eat flea larvae and cocoons, reducing their populations by up to 80 percent within twenty-four hours, and won’t destroy any of the ecosystem of your backyard.
    If nematodes are a solution you’re interested in, you can locate your local gardening store, as there are special watering instructions that are required in order to prevent the ground from drying out and killing your nematodes. They live best in moist, sandy soil and out of direct sunlight.

Methods that don’t work

You may be surprised to discover that there are some flea treatment options on the market that don’t work. This is because fleas have been around for a very long time and have learned to adapt to certain pesticides and chemicals that no longer make them effective.

Topical products that only contain permethrin, such as ointments and especially flea collars, have been proven to be no longer efficient at keeping fleas away from dogs. This is because fleas are immune to the substance, so they are free to make your dog their new meal. Be sure to read the active ingredients of all the flea control products that you’re interested in purchasing in order to ensure you’re getting something that will actually work.

Confused dog

If you’ve noticed that none of these products are helping to cull the infestation of fleas and ticks on your dog, then it’s time to seek out a professional. Consult your veterinarian for stronger products that can be applied to take care of the problem. Be aware that these methods will likely require a prescription and will be more expensive than any of the above suggested methods.

However, it isn’t a situation that you should leave untreated. Fleas and ticks not only carry deadly diseases, but a severe infestation can actually lead to anemia in your pet. Take care of the problem as quickly as possible and don’t miss out on any of the daily treatments you can apply around the home. Fleas can be stubborn, so it’s important that you be just as unrelenting in waging the war against fleas.

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.