How to Treat Your Dog and Home for Fleas
If your dog is scratching more than usual, fleas might be to blame. These pesky bloodsuckers can spiral out of control quickly, turning into an infestation that causes all sorts of trouble for your pet and your home if not eradicated. But do you know how to get rid of fleas on dogs? A veterinarian and flea expert weighs in with instructions on how to get rid of fleas in the house and on your pets fast and safely.
When heading into battle, it’s important to understand the enemy. And it doesn’t hurt to have an expert in your corner, either. Michael Dryden, DVM and Distinguished Professor of Veterinary Parasitology at the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine, has more than 20 years of experience investigating the biology and control of fleas. But even the flea expert himself says that getting rid of fleas—from both our pets and homes—can be extremely difficult, which is why it’s crucial to carefully follow the correct steps when you’re trying to get rid of fleas.
Here’s how to get rid of fleas on your pet, in a few simple steps:
Step 1: Contact your veterinarian.
While some suggest a natural flea bath for dogs or other home remedies for fleas, Dryden says the most important step is to get your dog on a medication formulated to kill living fleas and eggs on your pet. Not only does this provide relief from all the scratching and irritation, but it breaks the life cycle of the flea. Your vet will be able to make a professional recommendation for the right flea medication to meet your pet’s needs, and rule out any other health conditions that fleas cause, such as flea anemia or tapeworms.
From egg to full maturity as an adult flea, the life cycle of a flea can range from 2-8 weeks depending on the environment. Once a mature flea finds its way onto your pet and has a meal, she will lay up to 50 eggs within 24 hours—every day, day after day. This means that even if you remove every single flea from your pet with a fine-toothed comb, there could still be thousands of eggs and immature flea larvae in your home or yard that will find their way onto your pets once they reach maturity, beginning the cycle all over again. For this reason, it’s important to treat every pet in your household, even if they aren’t showing symptoms.
Step 2: Treat any skin issues or infections.
Flea bites can make any dog itch, but some pets are especially prone to irritation. Flea allergy dermatitis is a common condition caused by an allergic reaction to flea saliva (similar to humans’ response to a mosquito bite). If your dog is experiencing the following, she might have an allergy to the flea bites, which will require additional medicine to help treat:
- Intense scratching
- Hair loss
- Open sores or skin damage from biting or scratching
- Chewing or biting near the tail or hind legs
Your vet will be able to check your pet’s skin for abrasions and provide a topical ointment or antibiotic if necessary. For less serious skin irritations, or if you’d like to provide your pup some relief at home, try giving her a cool bath with a mild, unscented soap. Steer clear of home remedies for fleas like apple cider vinegar as the acidity can be painful for irritated skin, and many vets question whether it’s effective.
Step 3: Remove any fleas from your pet.
While your dog’s flea medication should kill all the fleas on her within 24 hours, you both might feel better if they’re removed ASAP. When you’re trying to get rid of fleas on dogs fast, a flea comb can help. Usually made of metal, this fine-toothed comb is designed to catch lice, fleas, and other pests as you gently comb through your dog’s coat. As you remove the pests from her fur, dunk the insects in hot, soapy water to kill them, since an adult flea can jump up to a foot.
Step 4: Get rid of fleas in your home.
Once you’ve removed the bulk of the fleas from your pet, it’s time to focus on your home. “If you have fleas on your dog or cat,” Dryden says, “there are flea eggs, larvae, pupae, and emerging fleas somewhere in your carpet or outdoors in your yard.” We get it—fleas are gross. So the thought of an infestation can make your skin crawl and have you eager to find the fastest way to get rid of fleas in the house. But Dryden says proper flea eradication will take a long-game approach—not a quick-fix product that promises overnight success.
First and foremost, Dryden says that consistent vacuuming is crucial. This is because fleas lay eggs in your dog’s or cat’s fur. As your pet moves, shakes, and scratches, the flea eggs come off your pet and land throughout your home where they’ll hatch into larvae, develop into pupae, and then mature into adult fleas. To illustrate, Dryden says to imagine your pet as a salt shaker, sprinkling flea eggs wherever they go. It’s an unappetizing but effective metaphor, and one that likely has you scratching at just the thought.
In order to remove fleas from your home at every life stage, Dryden recommends vacuuming every other day for at least three weeks. “Lift all the cushions off the furniture and vacuum thoroughly,” he advises, paying close attention to beds and cushions—which are hot spots for the fleas and eggs because the animals spend so much time there. You’ll also want to wash all pet bedding regularly. And since fleas can find their way underneath the furniture—like sofas, beds, and cabinets—and live within the cracks of hardwood floors, it’s important to be extra vigilant in your vacuuming efforts. Be sure to remove the vacuum bag and dispose of it in an outdoor bin or airtight plastic bag, or wipe down the canister of a bagless vacuum after each use to make sure any fleas don’t jump out once you’ve captured them.
For especially bad infestations, it’s tempting to try chemical products like flea sprays or foggers that promise to kill fleas on contact, but Dryden points out that consistent vacuuming and proper medications should be enough to get rid of fleas on dogs and in the home for the vast majority of cases.
Step 5: Get rid of fleas from the yard.
Fleas don’t just bother dogs and cats. In fact, household pets oftentimes encounter fleas because other animals such as raccoons and opossums have dropped flea eggs in your yard as they pass through. Fleas are tough and can thrive in many environments, but they tend to lurk in moist, humid, and shaded spots such as tall grass and woodpiles. While your dog’s vet-recommended treatment will kill current fleas and prevent new eggs from hatching, if you find the pests difficult to eradicate after a few weeks, it might be wise to treat your lawn or call an exterminator.
Step 6: Prevent them from recurring.
Instead of asking how to get rid of parasites like fleas and ticks once they’ve become a problem, Dryden recommends a year-round treatment to help prevent these pests from taking over in the first place. "Since we can't really repel fleas with anything, prevention using flea products from a vet is what we need to do," he explains. There is a wide range of products available to help protect your dog from fleas, including topical drops, oral medication, and even over-the-counter flea collars that all work differently to help your pet. Since some medications only kill fleas at different stages of the life cycle, it’s important to talk to your veterinarian to choose the right product for you and your pet.
If you’re tempted to try and prevent or get rid of fleas naturally with vinegar, essential oils, and other home remedies, you may want to reconsider. Dryden says the effectiveness of so-called natural remedies hasn’t been proven. "We haven’t really found any natural [ways] to keep fleas away from an environment," he says. Because fleas multiply so quickly—not to mention put your pet’s health at risk since they can transmit tapeworm or cause anemia—it’s important to talk to your vet ASAP if you suspect a flea infestation.