What To Do If Your Dog Has Fleas

What To Do If Your Dog Has Fleas - Vetster

Fleas are not only a common nuisance for dog owners, but they can also cause health issues and spread diseases to both pets and people. Fleas can cause tapeworm, anemia, allergic reactions, irritated skin, and scabs. The good news is that with proper treatment, you can safely and effectively ban fleas from your home for good.

While adult fleas prefer to live and feed on animals, their eggs and larvae can be deposited in your carpet, furniture, and bedding in your home. Occasionally a flea may even jump over and take a bite of a nearby human. So how do you get rid of these blood-sucking pests? Keep reading to find out all of the ways to get rid of fleas on your dog.

How dog owners handle flea infestations

Vetster surveyed U.S. dog owners asking what they would do if their dogs had fleas. The results showed that only 49% of dog owners choose to use effective commercial flea treatments, such as oral medicines, topical treatments, or a flea collar with a pesticide. This was closely followed by 37% of dog owners saying they prefer grooming their dogs more frequently to physically remove the fleas, even though this is not an effective way to get rid of fleas or keep your dog from getting them.

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  • 49% Use a safe and effective flea control program like oral meds, topical treatments, or flea collars.
  • 37% Groom their pet more frequently to try to physically remove the fleas, but fleas are experts at evading combs and shampoo.
  • 14% Try homeopathic remedies such as apple cider vinegar, dangerous essential oils*, or other ineffective and sometimes harmful methods.

*Essential oils can be very dangerous to pets and should not be applied or fed to them, especially cats.

Once fleas take hold in your house, they become more difficult to get rid of and can require months of treatment to fully eradicate.

How to spot fleas

If you notice your dog scratching or biting and decide to inspect them for fleas, there are several things to look out for. Adult fleas and flea dirt are the two easiest signs to spot on your dog. Adult fleas can look like small bugs and can run and jump through your dog’s fur. Flea dirt looks like small black specks and can appear on your dog's skin or show up on the bedding where they sleep.

If you aren’t sure if you’re spotting flea dirt or regular dirt, put a little water on the area. Flea dirt is dried specks of blood and will turn reddish when wet. Flea eggs and larvae can be harder to spot and look like tiny off-white grains of salt or worms. They can live deep in your carpet or other similar soft and deep surfaces, such as furniture, where you may not be able to see them or easily clean areas.

Are fleas really hard to get rid of?

Before modern methods of flea prevention and control were developed, fleas were famously hard to get rid of. Just when you think you’ve seen the last of them, your dog starts scratching again. But what is it that makes fleas so resistant to treatment? Well, they’re not, if you choose the correct type of treatment. Fleas have a life cycle with four separate stages:

  1. Egg
  2. Larva
  3. Pupa
  4. Adult

Modern flea treatments will address the fleas in your home and yard while they work on the ones on your pet, but you must use them through all stages of the flea's life. Getting rid of fleas can seem like a frustrating and time-consuming process.With the right course of consistent treatment, you can have peace of mind knowing your home will soon be flea-free. Booking an online virtual care appointment can ensure that you have the most effective treatment strategy. Generally, this includes:

  • Using an effective, veterinary-recommended flea treatment such as an oral or topical treatment or flea collar. Correctly applying the treatment and not washing it off is critical to success.
  • Using the recommended treatment for the full length of time. Typically this is about three months to address all stages of a flea’s life cycle.
  • Treating all pets that live in the house with the recommended treatment. If you have a cat, you will need to treat them as well. However, be cautious because flea treatments that are safe for dogs can be harmful to cats.

A Vetster vet can help you formulate a safe plan to treat all animals in your house. Even if it seems like the fleas are gone, it is important to continue the full course of treatment to prevent further infestation.

4 Common mistakes when treating fleas

There are several mistakes dog owners make when treating fleas on their dogs, which contributes to the idea that fleas are difficult to get rid of. Not dealing with fleas effectively from the start allows them to continue their life cycle and increase in numbers over time. In the long run, it will save you both time and money to use a safe and effective product. Four of the common mistakes made when treating fleas are:

1. Using the right flea control products incorrectly

Common commercial flea products include oral medicines, topical treatments, and flea collars that contain a pesticide. These flea products can be incredibly effective and are recommended for most pets. However, instructions must be carefully followed to allow the product to work properly. Common mistakes when using these products include:

  • Not treating all pets in the household
  • Not applying the product correctly or washing it off before it takes effect
  • Discontinuing use too soon or allowing too long between treatments. It can take three months of proper treatment to fully eliminate fleas that have taken hold.

It's important to speak to your Vetster online vet first to find the best solution for your pet. All flea products may come with the risk of side effects or contraindications for some pets, so it’s best to schedule an online virtual care appointment at your convenience to ensure these products are right for your pet and ensure you are using them in the right way.

2. Trusting homeopathic flea treatments

Homeopathic flea treatments include natural treatments like apple cider vinegar, essential oils, and diatomaceous earth. However, just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s safe for your dog! Many natural “treatments” can allow for your dog’s flea problem to get worse as they don’t address the root of the problem. And others may even harm your dog.

3. Relying on hygiene and physical removal of fleas

Bathing your dog and physically removing the fleas can help to make your pet more comfortable and are an important part of dealing with the aftermath of a flea infestation. However, bathing and grooming alone will not completely get rid of fleas. Some flea shampoos contain the same types of pesticides that are in other commercial flea products and can kill fleas on contact. Even plain dog shampoo and water can stun the fleas and cause them to move more slowly, making them easier to remove. But, fleas are experts at hiding out and will need to be treated consistently with a product that is proven to address all life stages to be truly effective.

4. Treating the environment instead of the pets

Whenever you spot one flea on your dog, that means there are many more hiding out in the background. But where do these fleas hide? Fleas can take up residence in your carpet, furniture, or any cozy materials in your home when not feeding on your dog. One flea can lay up to two thousand eggs and once they hatch and reach the pupa stage, they can wait in their cocoons for up to a year to come out and attach to a host animal.

To succeed in your war against fleas, you will need to wash all carpeting, bedding, bath mats, etc., regularly vacuum all surfaces, and throw away the vacuum bag or empty the vacuum container outdoors where the surviving fleas can’t find their way back into your home. In some cases you may be advised to treat your home and yard with a pesticide spray made for fleas, however, in most cases, the modern flea treatments that are made for your pet will also address the fleas in their environment.

Getting rid of fleas for good

Year-round flea treatment is recommended by vets for dogs in North America. If your dog already has fleas, it will take up to three months, or more, of proper treatment to fully eliminate them in all stages of their life cycle. Book a virtual vet appointment to discuss how to treat or prevent fleas on your pet without leaving your home or potentially spreading fleas to your vehicle. You can even have flea medication delivered to your doorstep with the click of a button.

It may take several rounds of consistent flea treatments taking a minimum of three months to fully eradicate a serious infestation. If you feel like you're losing control of the flea infestation or that your dog may be suffering from secondary issues caused by fleas, contact Vetster to help you to come up with a plan that will work the best for you and your dog.

The Vetster Editorial Team is comprised of seasoned writers and communicators dedicated to elevating stories about Vetster, pets and their owners.

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