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Fleas are a nuisance. These tiny, blood-sucking parasites irritate your dog and infest your home—often before you realize that fleas have moved in. Many dogs are allergic to flea bites, which can cause intense scratching, red and flaky skin, scabs, hot spots, and hair loss. Fleas can also cause tapeworm and anemia.
Fleas prefer animal hosts but will resort to biting people when animals are unavailable. They can transmit germs that cause disease by feeding on hosts or through fecal contamination (when infected flea feces are scratched into an open wound).
If you and your dog are scratching your heads, and you’re wondering how to kill dog fleas, we’ve got you covered. Here are the four steps you need to take to eliminate these unwelcome freeloaders.
1. Understand the Flea’s Life Cycle
The first step is understanding the enemy. Fleas go through four life cycle stages:
The adults live on animals like your dog, where they digest blood and lay their eggs. One female flea can lay up to 2,000 eggs. These eggs hatch in 1-10 days and spread throughout your home and yard every time your dog scratches, shakes, or lies down.
They then hatch into larvae that can move on the host and feed on blood and flea dirt (digested blood from the adult fleas). During the pupa stage, they form cocoons, where they wait for several days or up to one year—preferably for the fleas in the comfort of your carpet, sofa, or bed—until a warm-bodied host appears. Then they hatch, become adults, and infest their animal hosts, such as your dog.
It’s important to know about these stages because different flea treatments for dogs address different parts of the flea’s life cycle, so make sure you read the label of any flea elimination products and follow the directions before use.
2. Prevention and Treatment
The best way to deal with fleas is prevention. Flea and tick preventatives kill fleas that come in contact with your dog, preventing your pup from bringing them home in the first place. There are several options out there, from flea collars to topical liquid applicants and pills. Talk to your vet about the flea preventative that is safest and right for your puppy or dog.
If your dog already has fleas, these preventatives will still kill them, but you may need to take more aggressive action, like a prescription preventative. You can also use a flea shampoo or a fast-acting chemical treatment, such as a flea pill that kills the fleas on your dog within hours. Again, it’s important to ask your dog’s veterinarian for recommendations.
3. Get Fleas Out of Your Home
Killing the fleas on your dog is just one part of the problem. You also need to determine how to get rid of fleas in your home. This requires patience. It can take as long as three to four months to get rid of an infestation, as it takes this long for all of the fleas in your home to go through their life stages.
Here are the steps you need to take to eradicate fleas in your home:
- Wash all dog beds and soft dog toys in hot, soapy water. Repeat this frequently until the infestation has ended.
- Wash your own bedding, throw rugs, bath mats, and any blanket or cushion where your dog likes to sleep in hot water.
- Vacuum all carpets, hardwood floors, linoleum and tiled floors, curtains, and upholstered furniture, and throw away the vacuum bag immediately in an outside garbage bin. You will need to vacuum on a regular basis to be sure all of the stages are addressed.
- Choose and apply an environmental flea control spray or fogger that will treat all stages of fleas, or call a local exterminator.
- Choose and apply a spray, pellet, or nontoxic flea treatment for your yard. Keeping grass and brush short will also make your yard less inviting to fleas and ticks. Patch fences to discourage raccoons, rabbits, and other wildlife that carry fleas from coming into your yard.
- If your dog has ridden in your car lately, you should vacuum the seats.
- Continue to treat your dog and any other pets with a monthly preventative.
- During flea season, don’t let your dog interact with strange dogs. Be sure any puppy playmates are free of fleas.
4. Talk to Your Veterinarian
When in doubt, call in the experts. Ask your veterinarian about how to get rid of fleas on dogs, as vets are up-to-date on the latest flea treatments and preventatives and can help you find the best and safest treatment option for you and your dog.