Why Is Dog Flea Treatment Not Working?

Updated on October 26, 2018
alexadry profile image

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Why are dog flea treatments not working?

Dog flea treatment not working
Dog flea treatment not working | Source

Why are Dog Flea Treatments not Working

So you purchased an expensive topical flea product and Rover is still scratching? This cliche' is more common than thought. Truth is, there is more than just applying flea products on your pet to eradicate the flea population problem. Also, there are several issues to keep into consideration so to get to the root of the problem. Following are some considerations to keep in mind.

  • Increased Scratching After Applying a Topical Product

"I just applied a topical flea product and my dog is scratching more than ever!" I used to get these frantic phone calls when I worked for the vet's office. The answer to why this is happening is good news. The dying fleas, indeed, tend to move a lot causing a temporary bout of intense scratching. Not to worry, this is sign the product you are using is actually working! Indeed, according to Frontline, the fleas get hyper-excited, which draws them to the top of the coat making them also more visible to pet owners. Keep in mind that it takes about 12 hours for the fleas to die in most cases.

  • Fleas Are Still Present on the Dog

If you are using some cheap over-the-counter product it may not be effective as other prescription products. Many fleas have become resistant to over-the-counter products. Also, it could be you are under-dosing your dog if you do not know your dog's exact weight. Make sure you weigh your dog carefully before purchasing a flea product. Many vets allow you to use their scales for free. Also, avoid bathing your dog within 24 hours of applying topical flea products. If you are applying the product after a bath, make sure your dog is completely dry. Last but not least, make sure you are applying the topical product on your dog's skin and not the coat alone.

*Note: many cats and dogs have developed adverse reactions to cheap over-the-counter flea products.

  • Fleas Are Still Present in the Dog's Environment

If you are using a prescription product already and there are you are still seeing fleas, consider that it takes time for the fleas in the dog's environment to die. According to Frontline, several flea eggs may be present in the dog's environment which is causing the flea population to continue growing. It takes consecutive monthly applications of topical products to completely eradicate the flea population. This is because the female flea lays up to 50 eggs per day. These eggs develop in about 21 days into adult fleas. Once you see adult fleas, you are generally 3 months behind getting them under totally control. The fleas you find on your dog are only a tiny percentage of the whole population, thus only the tip of the iceberg! Below are more tips on how to take care of the dog's environment.

  • The Dog is Still Scratching Despite Doing Everything Right

If you have applied flea products both on your dog and your home, why is your dog still scratching? It could be your dog is suffering from flea bite dermatitis. Just one bite from a flea may cause your dog to be miserable and the effects may be lingering for some time even after successful treatment. According to Pet Education, studies have shown that up to 40% of dogs may test positive for flea bite allergies. However, if your dog is still scratching and there are no signs of fleas, consider your dog may be suffering from some other type of allergy.

How to Treat Your Dog's Environment

So if topical products take care of killing adult fleas on your dog, what can you do to prevent fleas from still thriving in your home? There are many steps you can take to remove and kill those eggs and larvae.

  1. Vacuum your home. Vacuuming may remove as many as 95% of eggs and larvae from your carpet. Remember to immediately dispose of the bag!
  2. Treat all your pets. This will avoid them re-infesting each others.
  3. Invest in insect growth regulators that help kill all stages of the flea cycle. Ovitrol, for instance, kills eggs and larvae for up to 2 months.
  4. Use Food Grade Diatamaceous Earth. This product dries out the waxy outer layer of fleas making them dehydrate and eventually die.
  5. Get rid of rats, mice and other pests that are known to carry fleas.
  6. Don't forget to treat outdoors areas. Treat under porches and decks, and areas where your dog sleeps and plays.

Normal Dirt or Flea Dirt? A Simple Test

How can you tell if those black specks on your dog's coat are just debris or actual flea droppings? There is an easy way to find out. Collect the dirt and then place it on a wet paper towel. If the dirt "bleeds", in other words, becomes red when rubbed, then yes, you are looking at flea droppings which are made of digested blood. If the color remains the same, then very likely you are dealing with actual dirt or debris.

Another good way to catch fleas and flea dirt if your dog has long hair is to brush your dog with a flea comb and look at what you collect. You may find and actual live flea with the hair you collect or some traces of flea dirt. In this case, drown the live fleas in a bucket of water.

Which Products Work Best?

You may feel slightly overwhelmed by all the dog flea products on the market. The table below will help you compare one product from another so you can the best deal for your money.

  • Frontline contains Fipronil which kills adult fleas within 12 hours. Frontline plusthough contains the Insect Growth Regulator Methroprene which kills fleas before they hatch out of the eggs.
  • Advantage II is a topical product that kills adult fleas stopping them from biting within 5 minutes and killing them within 12 hours. The insect growth regulator pyriproxyfen prevents fleas from developing into the next stage.
  • K9 Advantix, is a topical product that kills, fleas ticks, lice and flies. The imidacloprid and permethrin paralyzes and kills adult fleas while the insect growth regulator pyriproxyfen prevents the flea from developing to the next stage.
  • Comfortis is one of the most effective products on the market for killing fleas. It's an oral pill that not only kills fleas, but also prevents fleas from developing into adults. It's given to dogs just once a month. Here's some more information.
  • Program is an oral pill that stops the flea reproduction cycle since female fleas produce eggs out of which no larvae can hatch. It must be used with a flea adulticide if adult fleas need to be killed.
  • Capstar is an oral pill that only kills fleas but studies have found that it achieved 90% effectiveness against adult fleas on dogs which were killed within 4 hours. However, it does not have an effect on fleas in the dog's environment.
  • Vectra 3D is a topical product that kills adult fleas and other pesky parasites. Its insect growth regulator pyriproxyfen prevents fleas from developing into the next stage.

Compare Dog Flea Products, use bar to scroll

Yes, works within 12 hours
Once a month
Firponil and Metho- prene IGR
Yes, workis within 12 hours
Once a month
Imidacloprid and pyriproxyfen IGR
Yes, works within 12 hours
Once a month
Imidacloprid, permethrin pyriproxyfen
Yes, works within 24 hours
Ticks, mosquito,flies, lice
Once a month
Oral pill
Once a month
Oral pill
Yes, works within 30 minutes
As needed
Yes, works within 2 hours
Ticks mosquitoes lice, mites sand fly.
Once a month
Oral pill
Yes, works in just 30 minutes
Once a month
Compare different products against dog fleas

Are fleas only annoying?

The answer to this question is no. They may cause flea allergy dermatitis and also hot spots. Fleas may also occasionally enjoy a bite of human flesh, often attacking the ankles. Worst of all, should a dog ingest an infected flea it can get tapeworms. You can read more about tapeworms, how dogs get them with accompanying graphic pictures of what they look like, in the blow link:

Dog Tapeworms: the Monsters inside your Dog

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.


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    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      3 months ago from USA

      Steve, you may need to use products to kill the flea eggs hiding in areas around the home.

    • profile image


      3 months ago

      My 2 dogs still have fleas after I gave them frontline plus almost 3 weeks ago

    • profile image


      15 months ago

      What about the Zodiac brand? It is sold my central Garden & pet company

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      5 years ago from USA

      We used to sell program and it sold pretty well, not too sure why it's not as popular as before. I will have to stop by and look at your hub, thanks for stopping by.

    • SmartAndFun profile image


      5 years ago from Texas

      I have used Program on my dogs for probably about 20 years. It works wonderfully, and there's no poisonous insecticide to worry about. We have zero fleas! I like it so much I wrote a HubPages article recommending it. Several years ago doctors figured out it helps protect against ringworm and yeast, also. I think it's a shame vets don't recommend it much anymore. It seems like hardly anyone has heard of it, even though it works great and is very safe.

    • Peter Geekie profile image

      Peter Geekie 

      6 years ago from Sittingbourne

      I'm sorry but please do not use tea tree oil or any essential oil on cats or dogs. It is extremely toxic and will cause irreversible damage to the animals kidneys and liver. You will not see an immediate reaction but the organs will be damaged and in the case of an older animal with impaired liver and kidney function could cause complete failure and death.

      If you need further info please look on my hub pages.

      kind regards Peter

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Oral flea preventatives tend to be more effective. Frontline was once a great product, however, we are starting to see some resistance because it's been out for several years. Products such as Trifexis and Comfortis are the most effective and it's much easier than the topical options. Don't waste your money on the stuff at Walmart and Petsmart. There's a reason those products are sold there and not at a lot of vet clinics. Shampoos are great for getting rid of live fleas, but don't act as a preventive agent. Most importantly, have your dogs on heartworm prevention! Heartgard is a great product, and Trifexis, which I mentioned earlier, is actually a combination flea and heartworm prevention.

    • Zens-Media profile image

      Carla Kohlhase 

      6 years ago from Corpus Christi, Texas

      Tea tree oil is another great alternative to assist in ridding flea infestations. It's also soothing to the animals skin. The chemical based treatments can be harsh on a dogs skin. I usually try to find a shampoo that is natural, as well as soothing to the irritations afterward. An anti-itch, or oatmeal shampoo works great when tea tree oil can't be used.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      6 years ago from USA

      Be careful with the garlic though as long term it can cause heinz anemia. Read here:



    • JubePlaysGames profile image


      6 years ago from Canada

      I used to use Advantage, and while it is effective, it's also poison and can cause some really bad side effects.

      Now I feed my dogs garlic and they haven't had a single flee or tick in 2 years. For my 35 pound guy I give a 1/2 small clove every second day, and my 85 pound guy gets a full decent sized clove every second day.

      As for heartworm... I have them tested every year and give them Black Walnut during the spring and summer months to prevent heartworm.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      6 years ago from USA

      It does sound like she has flea bite dermatitis which causes those crusty wounds you are most likely seeing. Treating the yard is very important, especially under decks where the fleas thrive. Make sure you use an insect growth regulator . If there are fleas in the yard, it just takes one flea to get on her and bite her before dying and she is off scratching and biting. Sure sounds like a challenge!

    • beadreamer247 profile image


      6 years ago from Zephyrhills, FL

      Alexadry, first of all thanks for responding to my question in regards to my dog's problem (and mine)! I've read all this before on the internet - all this is familiar to me and I never had any issues with previous dogs. Now I have 3 dogs, but with just one of them I have the severe problem that absolutely nothing is effective. All the medication you mentioned I have tried and others (except for the last one in your chart - must be newer). Also tried the ones over the counter, shampoo, have treated the home again and again etc.....After treatments always the same result....latest within a week of treatment I have fleas on her and I do see them. I had times when I actually "overdosed" her, because I had no other choice and the situation was so bad.

      Because she tries to rub off any topical treatment because of the smell (even when my other dogs got treatment she roams around trying to get rid of the odor)I thought for a while that was the reason and switched to oral treatment, which was praised so highly by so many who I spoke with....Revolution. The result - fleas after a week again. But as usual only her but not my other dogs, they were fine! In addition she reacts strongly to fleas and bites herself bloody - she never really looks nice and healthy.....always full of wounds.

      The only think we have never done is treating the yard - that's what we will try as the last hope.....to bring some relief.


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