If you have dogs and they run around in woodland, parks or even in a yard there is a very good chance that you will need a flea treatment for your dogs at some point.
Fleas are really unpleasant critters, not only are their bites itchy, but they have been known to spread many diseases and can even pass the eggs of tapeworm into your pet's or your own blood stream. This is why it is imperative you deal with any fleas your pets may pick up as quickly as possible.
How to check your dog for fleas
Fleas cannot fly but have an incredible leap and can find their way onto a host from the ground or other animals. Once there they will feed and lay eggs and before you know it man's best friend has a lot of unwelcome guests. Before you know it they can quickly spread to other pets and make themselves at home in your house.
If you see your dog scratching or chewing itself a lot, it is a sign your pet has fleas, but how do you know if your dog has fleas? The problem is that fleas are very tiny they move very fast so they are hard to spot. In fact if you actually see a flea your pet, well you're in trouble as there are probably thousands more lurking in your dogs fur and elsewhere in your home.
The problem is that most of the time you don't actually ever see adult fleas as even the biggest, fattest adult flea is barely larger than the tip of a ballpoint pen. What you are far more likely to find is what is called flea dirt, which is really just a polite way of saying flea poop!
When you run a flea comb through your dog's fur you have probably seen these little black dark specks of dirt. The trouble is how do you know if this is flea dirt or just dirt?
Now since fleas suck blood, that is what gets processed and goes on through to be pooped out in your dogs fur. So if you comb your dog's fur over a sheet of white paper or an old sheet you should see a good amount of dirt fall out of your dog's fur.
Once you have this on your sheet, gently spray some water over it and leave it for a minute or two. What you will see is the dirt disolve into the water and then start to stain the sheet. If this is brown or black in colour, then you don't have any problem with fleas. However if it is red, this is a pretty good sign that it is the blood the flea has pooped out.
This is a routine that you should get into a habit of performing regularly as by the time your dog is scratching, the fleas have usually got a hold and both your pets and home are going to need treatment.
Understanding What You Are Up Against
If the fleas have got a firm hold, then eradicating them is not going to be easy and may take some time and several treatments. The problem is that the adult fleas usually only account for about 5% of the flea population, the rest are eggs and larvae. This means that if you kill all the adult fleas, the reinforcements are not going to be far behind.
The flea's life cycle goes like this - once they have food (ie blood!) the fleas mate and the females lay eggs. These are small and fall off the host, usually into places like the dog's bed or the carpet. Here the larvae hatch from the eggs and feed on what they find nearby - dead skin cells, dog food and flea dirt, so the cleaner your house, the less there is for them to feed on.
If they have enough food they then pupate and form a cocoon which protects them while they metamorphose into adult fleas. They can emerge within a few days, but they can survive for months in the cocoon with no food and the cocoon protects them from the worst of the elements and our pesticides.
Once they detect a potential victim nearby they emerge from their cocoon as an adult flea and quickly find their way to their new host and start feeding, starting the cycle again. This means that even if you wipe out all the other fleas, the ones in the cocoons are still there, ready to pounce when conditions for them get better.
From egg to adult can take a little less than a month and a female can lay up to 5000 eggs in its lifetime, which means that even if a small number survive in their cocoons, a new generation will quickly grow and infest your home all over again.
This is why it is imperative you treat not just the dog, but also everywhere it likes to go in your home and yard and for every stage of the flea's life cycle.
Do Dog Fleas Bite Humans?
You would think that the most likely culprit would be the dog flea (Ctenocephalides canis) but in fact most dog infestations are actually the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis) As this shows, while fleas do have preferred hosts, they are not exclusive and there are literally thousands of species of fleas, all of which will happily make their home on your pets, in your home and have no problem with snacking on human blood either - you can find out more about treating flea bites on humans here
So what is the first step in treating your dog for fleas?
Use a Flea Comb to remove Fleas and Eggs from your dog
The best place to start is by removing the fleas and flea eggs from your dog with a flea comb. The best way to do this is by getting a bowl of soapy water and making sure your flea comb is thoroughly wetted at all times.
Stand your dog over a lightly coloured sheet or towel so you can see what is coming off of them and begin to comb. Concentrate on the thickest parts of the fur around the tail and hind legs. You may also find a few on their back and by their neck, even on their bellies depending on how furry your dog is.
Make sure you keep the comb wet by putting it in the water and clearing off the fur. If you see any live fleas, make sure you drown them in the water otherwise, these hungry critters will just jump back onto your dog...or you!
Flea combs are also a great way to remove fleas from young puppies as well as pregnant or nursing females, as you cannot use any chemical treatments on them.
This should have cleared away many of the fleas and will give you an idea of how bad the problem is. The next step is a flea bath.
Giving Your Dog A Flea Bath
You will need a dedicated flea shampoo to get rid of fleas on your dog. Check with your vetenarian for advice before using products on your dog and make sure that you read the instructions as many are unsuitable for younger dogs, pregnant dogs and can be lethal to other animals such as cats!
We have found Animology Flea and Tick Shampoo to be excellent as it is effective and comes in large 5 litre bottles, which works out much cheaper especially if you have dogs like ours that run through woodland a lot.
When you give your dog a flea bath, make sure that you lather it well and wash all of your dog's fur including the belly. As you rinse you should see fleas coming off your dog. The water and the shampoo will make sure the fleas are dead, so I usually drain the bath and then dry my dogs in the bath as this usually avoids some very wet shakes afterwards!
What Is The Best Flea Treatment For Dogs?
If the above have not worked, you will probably need to use something stronger. We have tried many different ones over the years and we have written a review of the best 3 we have found, namely K9 Advantix, Advantage II and Frontline Plus. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, so we would recommend you read the review to figure out which is the best fit for you and your pets.
These should be applied monthly if you have problems with fleas or 6-8 weeks during the summer months to prevent an outbreak.
You should always read the instructions thoroughly, but don't be put off by the pipettes making it sound highly scientific, essentially you just apply the pipette on the dogs neck to ensure they cannot lick it off. Typically within a day or two you should start to see dead fleas in places where your dogs rest.
Make sure you also treat your home with a product like Indorex too. By treating your pets and the local environment you should be able to break the flea infestation cycle and get your home back to its non-itchy, flea free self!
What About Dog Flea Collars?
Dog flea collars generally work in one of two ways. The first is to emit a toxic gas that kills or repels fleas, the other type release a substance that is absorbed by the dog and spreads through it's skin killing fleas anywhere on the animal’s body.
The first type are generally only found at the low end of the market and are generally very ineffective as only fleas in close proximity to the collar are killed. Also some of the chemicals used in this type of collar can be toxic to other pets, for example some dog flea collars can cause illness or even death in cats that come into contact with the collar.
In Summary - Break The Flea Cycle
Fleas are incredibly tenatious and potentially very bad for your health on top of being immensely annoying and itchy. However you cannot treat them in half measures - taking repeated action over a period of a month or two is the only way to get rid of them.
We would recommend that you first of all try the more gentle solutions like flea combs and shampoo, especially on younger or older dogs, or those expecting as this is more gentle on your pets. However if the situation does not improve, we would go with a good spot-on treatment like Advantage over something like a flea collar for most healthy adult dogs.
We must point out that we are not vets and you would be very well served to get your vets advice before trying any chemical solution, especially on one of the high risk dogs we mentioned above.
Also make sure that you also treat your home to make sure there are no fleas, eggs or larvae left in your carpet, dog bedding or they will come back with a vengance!