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Is your dog infested with fleas? How best to get rid of them

Puppy beagle scratching advice

Your pet is affected by numerous pests like fleas and ticks.

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Our dogs can often suffer from a flea infestation. They can become infected after contact with another animal who has fleas, or just by being in contact with fleas present in the dog’s surroundings.

By Justine Seraphin

Published on the 03/09/2020, 16:36

Fleas have strong back legs that allow them to jump easily onto various hosts.

What is the life cycle of fleas on our dogs?

In order to halt any infestation of fleas, it is imperative to stop their life cycle before completion, when an infestation will initiate. The lifecycle of a flea can take as little as 12 to 14 days, or even extend up to 180 days. However, under everyday conditions, the complete life cycle of a flea normally takes between 3 to 6 weeks. 

An adult flea is capable of laying hundreds of eggs in just a few days

  • The eggs laid by the fleas can fall off your dog to the ground, onto the furniture and the carpet    
  • After the larvae hatches, it will eat organic debris and the faeces of adult fleas, before creating a cocoon and then pupating  The pupa will wait for the right conditions, remaining in the cocoon for up to 12 months, before a flea emerges
  • To rid your dog of these pests, it is important to break this life cycle

How to know if your dog has fleas

It is a common misconception that dogs only get fleas when outdoors. Your veterinarian might have told you already that pets can be affected by fleas indoors as well. It doesn’t matter if your dog barely goes outside, he is still at risk.

Fleas can cause many health risks to your dog, so it is recommended to stay alert of any signs that might indicate he has them. According to Dr Judy Seltzer,

Sometimes one flea will mean you have a hundred fleas, just in different life stages, and other times, your dog simply picked up a single flea from being in contact with another dog”.

Year-round preventive care is therefore very important!

Follow these 6 steps to examine your dog for fleas

  1. Firstly, see if your dog is scratching excessively or biting his skin. Flea bites are very itchy.
  2. Examine your dog’s skin for any small red bumps. Flea bites are hard to spot.
  3. Observe your dog's fur to find adult fleas. Fleas are usually located at the base of the tail, the abdomen, and the ears.
  4. Stand your dog in a white towel and brush his coat. This way, you can easily spot any fleas.
  5. Use a flea comb to check your dog's coat for "flea dirt". They look like small black dots (dried blood). You can put them in water to see if they turn red.
  6. Check your dog's gums to see if they are pale. This is a sign of anaemia which indicates blood loss due to a flea infestation.

If your dog does indeed have fleas, go to the vet or a pet store to purchase a flea treatment.

How to get rid of fleas on dogs

Prevention is the best option, so try to find a year-round prevention method that is suitable for your pooch. Be aware that options may not be the same for every dog, depending on age and size.

Treatment options to get rid of fleas

There are many different treatments available to eradicate fleas on dogs. They vary in the way they are given to your dog, the strength of solution or product, and the period of time they will last. According to Dr Seltzer, “You need to give it about three months of treatment to really see how effective the flea control is”.

Flea collars: A flea collar can keep your pet free of pests for at least 8 months. They are very simple to use, however, some say they only kill fleas in close proximity to the collar itself. It is advisable to always have a flea collar on your dog. Note they are not compatible with water.

Topical treatment: This is one of the best flea treatments for dogs because it is very resistant to weather conditions (waterproof formula). Apply it once a month. Topicals are quite effective at flea control. As a matter of fact, they start to work within 12 hours. Lastly, they exterminate all stages of fleas thus preventing reinfestation.

Flea shampoo: This treatment will kill any fleas present on your dog at the time of bathing, but once rinsed off, there is no continuing effect.

Sprays and rinses: Usually applied weekly but varying in their effect. May require more frequent administering if a severe flea infestation appears. A rinse must be applied at the correct concentration, to a dry, clean dog’s coat for it to be most effective.

Powders: May get rid of the fleas on your dogs, but probably not the most successful of the treatments available.

Chewable treatments: This option is only reserved for dogs suffering from a huge flea infestation. Most anti-flea pills are made with imidacloprid, which is an insect neurotoxin that paralyzes and kills fleas within one hour of ingestion. That is why this is one of the best flea treatments for dogs. Chewable treatments can immediately stop flea infestations. However, this treatment is a one-time solution. If you want long-lasting effects, you should try a topical or the flea collar.

Natural remedies to get rid of dog fleas

If you are one of the many dog owners who prefer not to use medication that contains potentially dangerous insecticides, maybe try a natural parasite deterrent. Good repellents to try are Neem or lavender oils. Garlic and Brewer’s Yeast can also be given to repel the pests.

How to deal with fleas in your home environment

It’s not only the dog that will harbour fleas. Everything that the dog touches, such as his bed, soft furnishings, grass and carpets could conceal these pesky bugs. It is relatively easy to get the fleas off your dog, but more difficult to eradicate the hundreds of eggs that will drop from your dog’s coat.

  • Wash the dog’s bedding on a high heat wash
  • Thoroughly vacuum everywhere, especially places close to his bed, corners of the room and underneath furniture 
  • Put flea powder into the vacuum cleaner bag, and dispose of this bag after every use
  • Continue with this thorough deep cleaning of your home for several months until all traces of fleas have been eliminated

How to keep fleas off my dog

Don't wait until your dog is infested with fleas before coming up with a prevention plan. There is no guarantee your dog will never catch fleas, but with a proper prevention plan, you can greatly reduce that risk! If your dog does become infested, you should consult your vet first. He/she can help you come up with the best treatment plan for your dog.