How to Get Rid of Fleas in Dogs
We’ve recently tried getting rid of fleas. It’s been an epic battle, so to speak. We have numerous outdoor semi-feral cats, and I’m sure they do their part in bringing parasites into our yard and to our back door. We sprinkle the cats with flea powder and apply liquid topical flea treatment when we can get close enough to the kitties.
We also have three indoor dogs, and one is a walking fleabag. I don’t know why, but our Basset Hound is much more prone to these blood-sucking parasites than our Great Danes have ever been. Before we adopted Sparky, the hound dog, we rarely saw fleas in our home or on the Danes. We use topical flea control on the big boys, and we assumed that it would work on Sparky, too. In the world of incorrect assumptions, this one was king.
It took us months to finally discover a completely effective flea treatment—and that was just for the dog. For real flea control, you have to cover all your bases. You’ll need to treat your home, your yard, and your pet’s sleeping spots, too. Dog fleas are prolific breeders, and if you don’t stop the process in its tracks, you’ll be inundated with the tiny parasites. Read on to find out what kills fleas, the best flea treatment we’ve found, and other tips for getting rid of fleas.
Dog Health and Human Health
Try to imagine how it must feel for fleas to be crawling on you and biting you. Dogs with fleas can be totally miserable. Fleas can also affect dog health, and not just through the stress and annoyance of the itching and biting, either. Dog fleas can cause some pretty serious health problems in canines, and some can even be spread to humans.
Some dogs have flea allergies. The correct term for this is flea allergy dermatitis, which is an allergic reaction, not to the fleas themselves, but to the flea saliva. When a flea bites a dog to get a blood meal, the insect leaves behind some of its saliva. If the dog or puppy is allergic, it will react with red and swollen skin, excessive licking and biting, and almost constant scratching. Openings in the skin caused by scratching can be an invitation for bacteria to enter. Hair loss often occurs with flea allergy dermatitis, too, causing hairless red patches or “hot spots.”
Dog fleas spread tapeworms, too. Fleas ingest the eggs of tapeworms, and when a dog swallows such a flea, the eggs are passed on to the canine. The hatched tapeworms set up shop in the dog’s intestine, and they can grow to several feet in length. And yes, humans too can get a tapeworm infestation by accidentally swallowing fleas.
And here’s something really alarming: fleas carry typhus. For a long time, it was believed that endemic typhus was carried by fleas on rats only, but that’s changed. Typhus-infected fleas have also been found on dogs. More specifically, this is murine typhus, caused by the bacteria Rickettsia typhi. The infected fleas don’t cause typhus in dogs, but dogs can carry the fleas. Instead of the infamous Typhoid Mary, your pooch could be Typhus Fido.
Have you ever heard of tularemia? Here in the Deep South, we usually call this disease “rabbit fever” because rabbit hunters can get the disease from handling and skinning their infected rabbits. Tularemia can also be carried by fleas and ticks. Tularemia is rare now in the United States, but it hasn’t been totally eradicated.
Here’s an infection I’ll bet you’ve never heard of: hemotropic mycoplasmosis, or haemobartonellosis. This disease of dogs is caused by bacterial parasites that damage red blood cells. Dogs with healthy spleens might not be affected much, but in some cases, the bacteria can be fatal if not properly treated in time. The bacteria can be spread by ticks and fleas.
Sparky's Miserable Flea Infestation
How do you get rid of fleas on dogs? What kills fleas? As far as Sparky is concerned, it’s been an uphill battle. We tried just about everything for flea control, but nothing was very effective—until recently. I’ll tell you more about that in the next section.
Poor Sparky was miserable, and as responsible, caring owners, we wanted to relieve his discomfort, of course. We tried several different brands of flea shampoo, but they had little effect. We also used several brands of topical flea control, and they didn’t help much, either. At night, when the hound dog was sitting in my lap, I’d manually pick fleas from his skin and coat. Boy, dog fleas are tough little critters! I had to do some real “smashing” to kill the little buggers by hand.
Fleas on dogs are common, but Sparky seemed to have an uncommon amount of fleas and flea eggs. His skin and coat were wall-to-wall flea dirt. Flea dirt is the term used to describe the tiny black particles left behind by the parasites. It’s made up mostly of droppings, but it might also contain some particles of dried blood. Flea eggs are different, although they’re often found with flea dirt.
What do flea eggs look like? They’re tiny oval shapes that are pearlescent white in color. They sort of resemble grains of salt. If you see an area on the skin or in the fur that resembles salt and pepper, it might very well be flea dirt and flea eggs. You might also find them on your pet’s bedding, where fleas are most likely to breed and lay eggs.
Why do fleas like the Basset Hound so much better than the Danes? We really haven’t figured this out yet. His coat is very similar to the Great Danes’ coats, so what is it about Sparky that the external parasites find so appealing? I sometimes wonder if it’s because he’s so close to the ground. His belly is just a few inches from the dirt and grass when he’s outdoors, and when his head is down, his ears drag the dirt or grass. Maybe it’s just super easy for dog fleas to hitch a ride on a hound dog.
Use Dawn to Get Rid of Fleas
We just found the best flea treatment we’ve ever used, and it’s cheap, easy to use, and readily available. Before I tell you what it is, let me tell you how we found out about it.
After the run-of-the-mill commercial flea treatment soaps and shampoos proved to be ineffective, we went back to the pet store and purchased the most expensive and most powerful flea shampoo they had. We followed all the directions on the bottle, but we were disappointed with the results. It did kill some fleas, but it barely put a dent in the crawling, hopping population residing in Sparky’s fur.
Hubby returned to the pet store and explained our plight to the owner, adding that we’d already tried their “best” flea control products. Know what he told my husband? He said to use Dawn dishwashing liquid! When hubby came home and told me this, I was extremely skeptical. How was Dawn going to work when so many commercial flea remedies had failed?
We were pretty desperate by that time, however, so we gave Dawn a try. It was amazing—the best flea treatment ever! I just examined Sparky closely, and I couldn’t find a single flea, a single flea egg, or any flea dirt.
I’ve been trying to figure out why this easy flea treatment worked so well. I think it could be because Sparky has an oily coat, maybe more attractive than a drier coat as a parasite habitat. Dawn is a “grease cutter,” so maybe it got rid of the oil, and along with it, the fleas.
If that’s the case, Dawn might not work as well for all dogs. On the other hand, I’ve read that Dawn is toxic to fleas. I’ve also read that the lather suffocates the fleas. I don’t know why or how it works—I just know that it does, in fact, work! It’s the best flea treatment we’ve found—hands down.
Using Dawn to Get Rid of Fleas
I’m going to explain here how we use Dawn as an agent for flea control.
- We fill the bathtub with warm water—about six inches deep.
- We use a large plastic cup to thoroughly wet Sparky’s coat.
- Next, we lather up Sparky’s chin and neck with Dawn. Why start there? When fleas feel threatened by liquids being applied to the host, they’ll usually try to seek “higher ground,” which in most cases, is the animal’s head. If you apply the lather to the underside of the chin and all the way around the neck first, the parasites will find their escape route blocked.
- Apply the Dawn to the back, working the lather into the skin.
- From the back, move down to the sides.
- Apply the soap to the tail, working it in against the way the hair grows.
- Work on the chest and belly next, followed by the legs and paws.
- Leave the dog lathered up for five minutes, then use a dog brush to brush the coat all over, except for the head and ears. Dying fleas will often cling firmly to the dog’s skin, so using the brush will help loosen their death grip.
- Rinse the dog with clean water. You should see dead fleas and flea dirt in the dirty water in the tub.
- To remove fleas from the head and ears, apply a small amount of Dawn to a wet washcloth. Wipe the face and the inside and outside of the ears with the cloth.
- Wait five minutes, then wipe the areas with a soap-free wet cloth.
- Use your fingers to examine the head and ears for any surviving fleas.
- Once you’ve completed all these steps, drain away the dirty water and refill the tub with clean water. Repeat the bathing steps.
The second bathing process should take care of any tough individual fleas that might have survived the first treatment. Make sure to rinse the dog thoroughly and not to leave any soap residue behind to irritate the skin.
Dawn can be extremely irritating and drying on the skin. For dogs with allergies, Dawn may trigger dermatitis. Consider using this technique minimally to avoid over-drying and discomfort.
Fighting Fleas in the House
We don’t have a lot of fleas “running loose” in our house. Most of the tiny vampires are happily hitching rides on our pooches. Once in a great while, we might see a “loose” flea, but such occasions are out of the norm, probably because we have all hardwood floors. Back when we had a lot of carpeted rooms, however, fleas in the house were a big problem.
I sprinkled the carpet generously with flea powder and then vacuumed it up after a couple of hours. I repeated the process for three days, and on the fourth day, I vacuumed thoroughly without using any flea powder. The process worked to get rid of fleas in the house. Some people use the same process with Borax, and excellent results have been reported. Borax can be harmful to cats, however, so if you have felines in your home, you’ll probably want to use cat-safe flea powder instead.
Other methods for fleas in the house might work, too. If the pest infestation is really bad, you might consider using a flea bomb. Use one that contains an insect growth regulator (IGR). I’ve also spoken with pet owners who shampoo their carpet and rugs with a solution of Dawn and warm water, and it seems to be effective. Some homeowners actually combine a little Dawn with water in a spray bottle and mist their floors with it.
When my mom got fleas in the house, in her upholstered furniture, she sprinkled flea powder under the cushions. She also sprinkled some common table salt there. She got rid of fleas in her furniture, but I don’t know whether it was the powder or the salt that did the trick. Maybe it was the “double whammy” that worked. Crushed mothballs might work here, too.
You’ll also need to take care of your dog’s bedding. If your pet has fleas, its bedding and blankets most likely contain flea eggs. You can wash the bedding in hot water and Dawn liquid and then dry it in the clothes dryer. You’ll also need to wash your sheets and bed coverings, along with any small rugs and throws your dog is fond of.
Another great flea treatment for inside your home is Conquer insecticide. It’s safe to use indoors and out, so we use it in both places. I like Conquer because it’s odorless, unlike many other insecticides. The effective residuals last for about a month, too, so it’s not like you have to spray your yard and home for flea control every time you turn around. And, by the way, this is the stuff many professionals use for getting rid of fleas and other insects. You can save a lot of money by doing flea control yourself.
How to Get Rid of Fleas in Your Yard
Getting rid of fleas is usually a multi-step process. If you have fleas in your yard, you have to get rid of them for proper flea control. It amazes me that so many pet owners overlook this integral part of the flea treatment puzzle.
Think about it: Even if you kill every flea and flea egg in your home and on your pets, you’ll wind up with another infestation if you don’t take proper steps of getting rid of fleas outdoors. Unless your dog is trained to use a human toilet, it will have to make several trips outdoors every day in order to relieve itself. If fleas are living in your yard, they’re going to hop on your pooch as it passes by.
Hubby sprayed our yard with Conquer Residual Insecticide Concentrate, which kills fleas, ticks, termites, ants, roaches, and spiders. He mixed it with water in a regular garden sprayer and treated our lawn with it. It works best if you mow your grass first, like a day or two before spraying the fleas in the yard with Conquer.
Based on our results, I can recommend this product. If you prefer not to use chemicals like insecticides, you can find natural products that might be just as effective. After treating the yard, the house, the dogs, and the bedding, we finally find that we’re getting rid of fleas.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.