Say No to Fleas
Reviewed and updated for accuracy on June 7, 2019 by Dr. Natalie Stilwell, DVM, MS, PhD
Ah, the joys of the outdoors. Swimming, hiking and going to the park—all reasons to look forward to going outside. But fleas? Not so much.
Not only are these blood-sucking parasites unsightly and creepy, but they can also cause some serious issues, such as allergies and skin infections.
So, how can you keep your dog flea-free year-round?
All pets in your household should receive flea prevention, even if you don’t think they have fleas. All pets are at risk, including those that don’t spend much time outside. It just takes one trip outdoors to bring fleas into the home, which can quickly infest the house and put you and your pets at risk.
It’s also important to provide flea prevention year-round, even in colder climates, as fleas will happily survive in a heated home environment for up to a year.
Here are 9 methods for keeping fleas away—not just from biting your canine companions but also from getting into your home in the first place.
1. Flea Shampoo
Giving your dog a flea bath with a special medicated flea shampoo can be an inexpensive (though labor-intensive) method of protecting your dog year-round. Many flea shampoos kill fleas on contact and prevent them from returning.
In addition to killing adult fleas during bathing, the best flea shampoos for dogs also prevent flea eggs and larvae from maturing into adults for a prolonged period of time. Many of these shampoos also include ingredients like oatmeal or aloe to soothe itchy skin.
You may need to give your dog a flea bath as often as every one to two weeks, as the effective ingredients won’t last as long as a topical or oral medication.
2. Topical Flea and Tick Treatments
While topical flea medications seem like they would only work on the spot they are applied to, they are actually very effective at covering the dog’s entire body.
The drops work by a process of translocation, where the dog’s oil glands spread the medication throughout the body.
These medications are not affected by bathing, swimming or being out in the rain.
Topical treatments will kill and repel fleas for several weeks before the need for reapplication and may also work to interrupt the flea life cycle.
Your veterinarian can help you to pick out the best topical product for your dog that’s appropriate for her age, size and breed. You will need your vet’s prescription to purchase topical flea and tick medication.
3. Oral Flea and Tick Medication
Flea pills are popular with pet parents, and they can be used alone or in combination with topical treatments depending on how severe the flea risk is.
Once-a-month flea control pills come in the form of small, chewable tablets. They work to disrupt the life cycle of fleas but will not kill adult fleas on your pet.
Flea pills are somewhat easy to administer, even for dogs that are difficult to medicate, with added flavors to make them more like treats.
4. Flea Collar
Flea collars are another option, though their effectiveness may depend on the invasiveness of the fleas in your environment and how much contact the flea collar makes with your dog's skin (in order to transfer the chemicals).
Your veterinarian can help you decide if a flea collar is an effective solution for your dog.
Before choosing a particular flea collar, find one that is appropriate for your dog’s age and size. Keep in mind that some collars can have a strong smell that may be offensive, so be sure to read reviews before purchasing.
After fitting a flea collar for your dog, cut off any excess length of collar to prevent your dog from chewing on it. Watch for signs of discomfort (e.g., excessive scratching) when your dog is wearing the collar in case an allergic reaction occurs.
5. Flea Dip
A flea dip is a concentrated chemical that needs to first be diluted in water and then applied to the dog’s fur with a sponge or poured over their back.
This is not like a shampoo bath, and you will not rinse your dog off after applying the dip product.
The chemicals used in flea dips typically kill adult fleas for two weeks or less. These chemical products can be very potent and are messy to administer, so flea dips have become less popular than other control methods.
Ask your veterinarian if a flea dip is recommended for your dog; misuse can lead to toxic reactions, both in pets and in the people treating them.
6. Flea Powders, Sprays and Wipes
Flea powders (the kind you apply on your pet), sprays and wipes are relatively inexpensive methods for repelling fleas.
However, the spray or fine powder forms can be irritating to the mouth and lungs if breathed in (for both dogs and humans). It’s important to avoid applying these products near your pet’s eyes, nose and mouth.
As these products will wear off the skin faster than a topical treatment, you may need to reapply them as often as every two days.
Ask your vet before using flea powders, sprays and wipes, and use them with caution. These are not the most effective or convenient methods for flea control on your pet.
7. Cleaning the House
Did you know that adult fleas account for less than five percent of the total flea population in an infected home? That’s why a thorough house cleaning is a crucial step in breaking the parasite’s life cycle for even mild infestations.
You will need to clean daily until the situation has been brought under control, as immature fleas can persist for several months in the environment.
Vacuum the entire house, giving extra focus to your dog’s favorite areas and all corners and baseboards. A recent study has shown that vacuuming can collect and kill fleas at all life stages—it is 96 percent effective at killing adult fleas and 100 percent effective at killing flea eggs.
Wash all of your dog’s bedding and toys with hot, soapy water, and vacuum the car, too. Even if your dog never rides in your car, you may be carrying fleas on your shoes or pant cuffs.
Removing the majority of flea eggs and larvae will help reduce the population of adult fleas hatching in your home.
8. Household Sprays, Carpet Flea Powders and Foggers
To further treat your home, sprays, carpet flea powders and/or foggers are available that will kill the adult fleas, as well as the larvae and eggs as they hatch.
Sprays and foggers are available at your veterinarian’s office, but they must be used with caution, as these products can be toxic to fish, birds, cats and children.
Most carpet flea powders claim to kill adult fleas, flea eggs and flea larvae, and some will even kill ticks.
Read labels carefully and ask for advice from your veterinarian before attempting to use these products. If you’re concerned about treating your home thoroughly in cases of severe infestation, you may want to hire a professional exterminator.
9. Trimming Your Yard
Keeping your lawn, bushes and trees consistently trimmed back will help reduce the population of fleas in your backyard.
If you still have a problem, consider using yard sprays or granular treatments. Or, you might consider hiring a pest control service for regular yard treatments.
Just be careful when using these products, as they can be harmful to pets, pond fish and humans.
Talk to your vet about which of these methods you should be using for your own flea situation—you might need combine several to provide comprehensive flea treatment for your pets and your home.
#1 Clear the Yard
Keeping your lawn, bushes, and trees consistently trimmed back will help reduce the population of fleas in your backyard. If you still have a problem, consider using the various yard sprays or granular treatments that are available from your veterinarian, pet store, or local garden center. Or, you might consider hiring a pest control service for regular yard treatments. Just be careful when using these products, as they can be harmful to pets, fish, and humans.
Honorable Mention: Bathing
For light infestations, a simple lukewarm bath will often take care of the fleas that are on the body. The water and soap are enough to get rid of the fleas, and if used along with a flea comb, the situation can be brought under control with little fuss. Dogs in particular are often agreeable to bathing in the yard with a hose, which can make the chore a bit easier. This must be followed up by a thorough house cleaning and another method of repelling the fleas (see above solutions), otherwise the fleas that are hiding in the floor and furniture will jump back onto your dog.