Fleas... a nightmare for dogs and dog owners alike. These little pests can reek havoc on your pup and throw you into a frantic state in an attempt to get rid of them before they multiply out of control. There's no such thing as one flea. Where there is one, there are many, many more. In this article, we'll break down how to spot fleas early on in order to prevent a total flea infestation. We'll also cover several ways to prevent fleas in the first place as prevention is always the best medicine.
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Knowing the Culprit: What Are Fleas
Fleas are small insects that feed off hosts like dogs, cats, and even humans. Fleas thrive in warm, humid environments. An individual living in Georgia in the summertime is much more likely to deal with the pests than someone living in a desert climate like California. However, fleas have the ability to exist (and thrive) just about anywhere making them an issue that we all may have to deal with at some point.
If you've ever tried to pluck a flea from your dog's coat, you'll see that the fleas literally jump. In fact, the parasitic insects jump from host to host, making their presence known in your dog's fur and spreading to other animals extremely quickly. Fleas are known to cause a lot of discomfort and itchiness for your four-legged friend so the moment they are spotted, they need to be taken care of.
What Do Fleas Look Like
Fleas often look like tiny black specks. They often grow no bigger than the tip of a pen. Their round, flat bodies have a hard, outer shell without wings. Due to the fact that fleas cannot fly, they jump from one warm bodied host to another. Fleas can also be brown in color and some may look like almost nothing, making them difficult to spot depending on the coloring of your dog's coat.
Once the fleas choose their next victim (likely poor Fido), they make their presence known by biting. These bites are incredibly itchy and painful. The bites themselves look like tiny red bumps and are usually clustered together until the contact biting and scratching cause them to move to a new location on the dog (this can continue until your pup is covered in bites).
Typically, a significant amount of flea poop can also be seen around the bites. Flea poop looks like little specks of dirt. However, pet owners will be able to see that it's in fact flea poop when it is mixed with water as it will turn a reddish, brown color. If the dog is allergic to flea saliva, the reactions can have increased severity and can spread throughout the entire body.
Fleas and Humidity
As we previously mentioned, fleas love humidity. However, fleas don't only love humidity, they need it. It is critical for their survival. Flea eggs need humidity levels of 70-75% to hatch and 50% humidity to survive and become adult fleas. That's why desert locations see significantly lower numbers of flea infestations. The fleas simply can't survive, especially in the winter months. Nevertheless, we want to reiterate that fleas are resilient and it is entirely possible for them to exist anywhere.
Flea Life Cycle
Fleas can live up to several weeks and will feed off the host 2-3 times every day. Female adults fleas can lay over hundreds of eggs during the course of their life. Think about that for a moment. The fleas only live a short time yet lay hundreds of eggs... it's a little worrisome when you consider the potential for a total infestation. Furthermore, flea eggs can obviously be found on the host, but also anywhere the host spends time such as the yard, bedding, carpet, etc. You can see how this problem can get out of hand very quickly.
Does My Dog Have Fleas
Realizing that Fido has fleas can be a tough pill to swallow for a pet owner. You do everything you can to keep Fido clean and healthy and yet somehow, your pup is covered with tiny black bugs. A flea problem is no fun and can quickly spread so recognizing when your dog has fleas is the first step to prevent attention issues from arising.
First of all, fleas aren't indicative of a dirty dog. Yes, stereotypically we think of fleas covering unkept pups who aren't being taken care of appropriately. However, this isn't always the case. In fact, the cleanest of pets can easily have fleas. Again, fleas are resilient and spread incredibly quickly. It only takes a very short amount of time being in contact with either another dog or an environment with fleas for the spreading to occur.
Additionally, fleas are difficult to spot because of the fact that they are so tiny. Therefore, pet owners may only recognize the flea existence when it's on its way to becoming a full-on infestation. The major thing to look for is flea poop. Adult fleas can quickly jump away, flea poop cannot.
One way to determine if your dog has fleas is to place a damp white towel under them and then brush the dog until brown specks of dirt fall onto the towel. Next, examine the towel. If the little brown speaks turn a reddish color (due to the towel being damp), chances are, it's flea poop. If the little brown specks run away... well... you get it.
You'll especially want to check certain areas of Fido for flea poop. Fleas don't like the light so they often settle in places like the belly, inner thighs, armpits, tail, and ears.
Symptoms of Flea Bites
Once the flea biting ensues, typical symptoms include:
- Biting and gnawing at the paws, legs, and stomach
- Increased scratching
- Shaking their head
If you've ever had several mosquito or ant bites you can begin to understand the itchiness and agitation that your poor pup is dealing with. However, the irritation isn't the only thing that pet owners need to be concerned about. In some cases, fleas can also lead to more serious issues and diseases. Additionally, developing skin conditions is also something pet parents need to look out for. The contact scratching and itching can quickly lead to open sores or hair loss.
Pet owners should be aware of symptoms such as hair loss from constant scratching and licking, pale gums, as well as tapeworms in their dog's feces. These are typically clear indicators of much larger problems that must be dealt with accordingly.
Additionally, as we previously mentioned, many dogs may suffer allergic reactions from flea saliva. A hypersensitivity to flea bites can result in a slew of other problems such as scabs and sores on large regions of your dog’s skin. Even a small amount of bites can lead to a severe reaction for a dog with hypersensitivities to the flea saliva. If your dog experiences these symptoms, it is important to see a vet in a timely manner in order to avoid even more reactions from occurring.
How to Get Rid of Fleas
Now that you know how to identify whether or not your pup has fleas, it's time to cover what to do if that fateful day has come. Flea bites are one of the most irritating things your dog will deal with in their life, and no dog is totally immune to the potential agitation of these pests. Luckily there are ways to not only safely kill fleas, but also prevent them from calling your dog's coat "home."
First Step - Flea Bath
The first step to kill fleas is giving Fido a flea bath. Fleas hate water and soap which is great news for pet owners since we have both. Warm and soapy water can quickly help remove a good amount of the fleas. Dish soap* such as Dawn help break down a flea’s water-repellent outer layer. Dawn also makes it more difficult for the fleas to grasp onto the dog's fur.
*Please be sure to use soap that has proven to be safe and gentle on animals. The last thing that you want to do is cause more irritation to your dog's already delicate skin.
After the flea bath comes brushing for fleas. Use a fine-toothed comb (or a flea comb) to eliminate the remaining fleas and flea eggs that may be hiding deep under your dog’s coat. Be sure to cover the entirety of your pup but pay special attention to the areas favorited by the pests such as the dog’s belly, tail, neck, and legs. It is important to have a bowl of warm water handy so that you can be constantly cleaning the brush of fleas. This will ensure that they are fully eliminated and not accidentally transferred other pet, the furniture, carpet, or you (yes, fleas bite people as well).
Coconut Oil - Helping the Itch
Unfortunately, removing the fleas won't automatically relief the itch and irritation. This is where coconut oil comes into play. The benefits of coconut oil for dogs span from internal health to boosting the immune system to (you guessed it) treating flea bites. Coconut oil has antibacterial and antifungal properties as well as incredible anti-inflammatory effects. When applied topically, coconut oil is a safe, non-toxic way to ease the irritation and pain caused by flea bites. Additionally, coconut oil can be used as a preventative measure to repel fleas and boost overall immune health. More on that in a minute.
Home Remedies for Flea Repellent
Thankfully, there are a number of all-natural remedies for flea prevention. Even once you get rid of the fleas, you're unfortunately not exempt from them reappearing. Trust us... once they are gone, you'll want to keep it that way. Check out all of the ways that you can ensure your pup stays flea-free.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar serves as a potent repellent for fleas. Fleas can't stand the smell or taste of ACV which makes it a great all-natural repellent. Unfortunately, pet owners may also not love the smell of apple cider vinegar so you may want to limit it topically for instances where you know your pup may come into contact with the pesky fleas. Additionally, ACV can also be given orally to repel fleas from the inside out. Be sure to contact your holistic vet to get the OK and the proper dilution for your dog's individual size and needs.
Garlic for Flea Control
There is a bit of controversy surrounding garlic for dogs. If you look up a list of human foods that are dangerous for Fido, garlic is sure to be on it. However, this is really only the case if your ingests a large amount of garlic for their size. When administered appropriately, using a garlic spray as an external repellent or taking it orally makes for an excellent and effective flea repellent during times of the year that flea infestations are at an all-time high.
Even though garlic is all-natural, we always recommend starting small and gradually building up to the recommended dosage. Dogs can safely consume 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder per pound of food or 1/4 to 1/2 of a fresh clove. Again, this will depend on the size of your dog and it is important to consult with a specialist in holistic wellness in order to ensure that your dog is receiving exactly what they need.
When garlic and apple cider vinegar are slowly ingested, they will begin releasing the scent and taste through your dog's pores thus repelling fleas before they have a chance to make landfall.
Lemon Spray Repellent
One of nature's best all-natural flea repellent is actually lemons. We want our readers to be aware that lemons don't kill fleas. Instead, it repels them from your carpet, furniture, bedding, and even your dog's coat. Once out of the flea bath and after fully defleaed with a comb, pet owners can apply lemon juice to their dog's fur into order to ensure that the fleas make a complete exit. Pet owners can make a homemade lemon spray by boiling lemons and then allow them to seep overnight so that the oils and juices mix in the water. If kept in the refrigerator, a lemon spray repellent can last up to a week.
Many pet parents wonder about the medicinal properties found in many essential oils. We want to touch on this due to its overwhelming popularity but also mention that it is incredibly important to do your homework. Some essential oils are incredibly safe and make for wonderful, all natural flea repellents. However, other oils (such as tea tree oil) can cause your dog a great deal of harm if too much is ingested. All essential oils must be diluted with a carrier oil such as coconut oil or olive oil.
A few of the essential oils that pet parents have found to be beneficial in preventing fleas are:
- Eucalyptus oil
- Lavender oil
- Rosewood oil
- Lemongrass oils
- Geranium oils
Again, just because something is natural doesn't always make it safe for your pets. Another example of this is rosemary. Rosemary oil or powder can do wonders for repelling your dog's fleas. However, it should not be applied to cats as it can many have an adverse reaction to rosemary.
All-Natural Flea Shampoo and Powders
It's no secret that chemically based shampoos and powders can cause your pup to develop some serious skin reactions. We encourage our readers to purchase all-natural, pesticide-free pet shampoo for both flea treatment as well as standard cleaning shampoo.
We cannot stress enough the importance of diet. So many conditions begin from the inside and only are recognized when surface level symptoms appear. Pet owners can control a slew of issues and prevent them from developing by ensuring that their pets are receiving all of the nutrients they need in their diet. Fleas and other parasitic insects such as ticks and worms seek out dogs that are weak and unhealthy. Fleas are also attracted to odors found in sugar, carbs, and processed foods. Whenever possible, we recommend pet parents to give their dog a species appropriate raw food diet. This will ensure that your dog is receiving all of the vitamins, nutrients, and probiotics, that their bodies need and ward off pesky insects from calling your dog's body "home."
Coconut Oil - Given Orally
We mentioned how coconut oil for dogs can be used topically as a wonderful, safe way to relieve the itch and irritation that flea bites leave behind. However, coconut oil can also be ingested and serve as a flea repellent and a boost for overall health. We love this CBD Infused Coconut Oil (+HP LINK). The CBD infused coconut oil not only provides the dog with all of the healing, soothing properties of coconut oil, but also the incredible benefits of CBD wellness.
Protecting Your Home From Fleas
In order to ensure that fleas haven't migrated to other parts of the home (such as carpet, bedding, etc.) there are a few things that pet owners should do on a regular basis.
Regular Cleaning & Vacuuming
Be sure to wash your dog's bedding every week with warm water and unscented detergent. We know this may seem like a lot for some, but consider all of the places Fido explores during a single week. Even a quick jaunt around the neighborhood can easily lead to your pup bringing fleas back into the house. Regular washing is paramount for flea prevention.
Additionally, regular vacuuming will also help prevent a flea infestation. Dirty carpets give fleas exactly what they are looking for: a warm place to thrive and multiply while waiting for their next host. A severe flea infestation may require additional cleaning methods. Pet owners may need to do a deep steam cleaning with a non-toxic Borax treatment in order to totally rid the area of flea larvae and eggs hiding in the carpet fibers.
All-Natural Flea Spray
There are also many flea sprays on the market. We want to reiterate the importance of choosing a non-toxic, all natural flea spray in order to protect Fido and protect yourself. There are also many flea sprays available that are safe to spray in your home as well as directly onto your dog's coat.
If you haven't already heard of Diatomaceous earth, you're in for a treat. DE is a wonderful, all natural pest repellent. It is a siliceous sedimentary rock that is crumbled into a fine white powder. DE kills fleas from the inside out without causing any harm to Fido. Diatomaceous earth can be sprinkled on the dog's coat, mixed in with their food, or placed in any cracks and crevasses in your home where insects may be able to enter.
Flea Bites on Humans
We briefly want to mention that fleas do not solely feed on dogs and cats. They can also bite humans. If Fido sleeps with you at night and you wake up to tiny, irritating, itchy bumps, check your dog straight away for fleas as they may be biting you, too.
How to Get Rid of Fleas: The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, fleas live up to their reputation for being pests that no one wants to deal with. Unfortunately, at one time or another, you will likely have to. Knowing the signs of fleas and what to look for is the first step in getting rid of them and getting your dog back to their itch-free self. We hope this information was helpful and we sincerely hope that you rid your pup of their pesky fleas ASAP.