Fleas are a risk to the health and wellbeing of dogs everywhere, so it’s important to know how best to tackle a flea infestation and to be prepared to prevent those tiny blood-sucking nasties from getting their teeth into you or your dog.
We’ve compiled this guide with the help of Dr. Will Woodley, founder of VetBox. If you’re looking for essential information about fleas, how to get rid of them and advice about flea prevention – you’ve come to the right place!
To help you find the information you’re looking for, use the navigation menu below and click on the most relevant chapter title.
- ‘Everything you need to know about fleas’ – brush up on your flea knowledge (knowledge is power!).
- ‘How to tell if your dog has fleas’ – If you’re worried your dog has fleas and want to know how to check, choose this option.
- ‘Flea Prevention Guide’ contains advice on regular habits to keep fleas at bay
‘How to get rid of fleas from your dog’ and ‘How to remove fleas from your home’ are most relevant if you’ve discovered a flea infestation.
Everything you need to know about fleas
As we’re about to see, fleas are bad news for dogs, cats and their owners. But that doesn’t mean we need to live in fear of them; thanks to veterinary medicine there are some very reliable medicines and treatment products on the market available over the counter and on prescription from vets, without costing too much money.
Since it’s always best to know your enemy in order to defeat them, we’ve compiled an essential fact file to help you beat those little nasties and ensure they don’t infect your home or dog.
What are fleas?
Essential flea fact file
- Size: 1.5mm to 3mm long.
- Colour: Reddish-brown.
- Lifespan: Adult fleas live for around 7 days once they’ve chosen their host.
- Reproduction rates: Female fleas lay on average 20-30 eggs a day.
Fleas are parasites that can live in the hair of pets like dogs and cats. They are classed as parasites because they require the warmth and blood of a host, such as your dog or cat, to feed, live and breed.
Usually between 1.5mm and 3mm in length, fleas can also be carried by other mammals such as foxes, rodents like rats and mice, birds and even humans.
Because of their unique and infamous leaping skills, adult fleas can leap as far as 20 cm. In various stages of the flea life cycle they live in fabrics like carpets, curtains, beds, and elsewhere in and around your home. Let’s get to know the flea life cycle in a bit more detail.
What you need to know about the flea life cycle
How does knowing about the flea life cycle help prevent fleas?
Different methods of treatment and prevention are more effective at killing a flea in one stage of its life cycle than others; so it’s best to take what’s known as an integrated flea control approach. Knowing which flea stage you’re dealing with will help you ensure the entire flea population is killed and removed from your dog and home.
The flea life cycle
- Eggs are usually laid once a female flea has found a host (ie: a dog or a cat), fed on its host’s blood (yuck!) and mated. This will usually take 1-2 days.
- These are sticky when initially laid but soon lose their stickiness. If laid on your dog, they can easily fall off and become lodged in your carpet or other soft furnishings such as your dog’s bed.
- In homes, flea eggs live for 2-3 days before hatching due to the warmth of your carpets and other furnishings.
- Mostly live in the bottom layers of carpets or in cracks in floorboards. They are around 2 mm in length and resemble a small, bristly maggot.
- Flea larvae are not parasitic; they do not live on a live host but feed off flea fecal matter (yes, flea poop – yuck!) that falls off dogs and cats.
- Larvae molt their cuticle (a technical word for skin) in order to grow. They go through this process twice and then enter the third stage of development – the pupal stage.
- Pupae are usually 1.5 mm to 3 mm long. They will appear white to begin with, turning yellow and eventually brown. The development process in ideal conditions usually takes 2-3 days.
- Pupae can remain in a cocooned and dormant state for as long as a year.
- Pupae stage fleas are stimulated by warmth, vibrations and exhaled carbon dioxide; these are all signs that a viable host, such as your dog, is nearby and they will emerge.
- Adult fleas are 1.5 to 3 mm long, with six legs and 3 segments.
- Adult fleas can live up to 185 days on a host. They are especially adept at crawling through hair, choosing to use their special jumping skills to acquire a host.
- Male and female fleas usually mate whilst living on a host around 24 hours after their first feed.
Further information about fleas
Are there different types of fleas?
There are more than 2,500 species of flea recorded worldwide and 62 of these species can be found in the British Isles. The two species of most concern are cat and dog fleas, which are two separate subspecies. Despite these two separate species classifications, both species can be carried by and bite dogs and cats, however, once a cat flea has bitten a dog, it will most likely abandon it as a host, realising that it’s not its preferred source of sustenance.
How many fleas live on a dog?
When counting fleas on dogs, the number is often referred to as a flea burden. In studies of flea burdens on dogs it was found that most infected dogs had, on average, 20 fleas living on them at one time. In more extreme cases, dogs have been known to have almost 100 fleas living on them.
However, only five percent of the flea population in your home is actually present on your dog; the other 95% are eggs, larvae or pupae hiding in warm, protected and shady areas of your home and garden. For every flea you find on your dog, there are almost another 100 fleas living in different life cycle stages in your home. That’s quite a disgusting thought!
How quickly do fleas reproduce?
Fleas reproduce at astonishingly speedy rates; a single female flea can lay as many as 50 eggs in one day. A few quick sums make these pests seem even more disgusting. Consider this: an adult flea’s average lifespan is 100 days and the average flea burden (the term for the number of fleas living on a host) is around 20.
An infected dog who doesn’t receive flea treatment for a month could be helping to spread 15,000 eggs into their environment. Those eggs will very quickly turn into larvae and then within just a matter of days, go through the complete flea metamorphosis and become adults, beginning the cycle all over again. This gives a rough idea of how quickly a flea infestation in your home can get out of control.
How do dogs and cats catch fleas?
Fleas are attracted to dogs and cats
Dogs and cats provide an ideal environment for fleas to live and reproduce; they’re warm-blooded and hairy, which provides the warmth and food source that fleas need to survive and reproduce.
In the British Isles, fleas are more likely to flourish in warm, humid environments. Letting your dog run around freely outdoors during the spring and summer months will increase the risk of coming into contact with fleas ready to pounce.
From other animals
There are several ways that dogs and cats can catch fleas. The most likely way is through coming into direct or indirect contact with another animal who is acting as a carrier. This can include other mammals like rabbits, foxes, rats and mice.
Outdoor flea infestations
Fleas are, unfortunately, incredibly resilient and so can survive either in a dormant state for months or for several days as adults in outdoor, shady and warm areas.
Your garden or local dog park can become infected if a flea-carrying animal such as a fox, rabbit or hedgehog makes its way through your garden.
Fleas will attach themselves to dogs as they pass by, especially if the dog is rolling in grass, or exploring leafy, shady areas outdoors.
Indoor flea infestations
Fleas can also live in a semi-dormant state inside your home. Flea eggs, larvae and pupae can be found in warm protected areas of your house such as in between floorboard cracks, in carpets and other soft furnishings. A dog may catch fleas by coming into contact with a dormant pupae flea population indoors.
Can humans catch fleas? Can fleas live in your hair?
The short answer is yes, and no… Yes, fleas can and will bite humans, but our blood isn’t considered an ideal meal for them, so they won’t make their permanent residence in a person’s hair. But fleas can use our clothing or hair as a convenient and fast transport until they find their next four-legged host.
Generally, one of the first warning signs of a flea infestation is when a human receives a flea bite, so we were surprised to learn from our survey of more than 1,400 dog owners that one in three didn’t realise that fleas could pass between humans and pets.
However, just because your dog is the ideal host for a flea doesn’t necessarily mean that your pet is always the entry point; freshly laid flea eggs are very sticky and can easily become ingrained on the sole of your shoes, so it’s possible for fleas to enter your house at this stage in their life cycle. This means you shouldn’t blame or punish your dog for bringing a flea infestation into your house.
Why are fleas bad for dogs?
Fleas are bad news, not only can they can cause a whole host of skin issues, including itchy, irritated and even infected skin, fleas can carry disease and tapeworms which in turn cause a whole host of other health problems for your dog.
Tapeworm larvae can be spread to your dogs stomach if they lick a flea-infected patch of skin or fur. These internal parasites are much more unpleasant to get rid of and also pose a risk to humans, too. If you suspect your dog might have fleas, be very careful about handling your dog, use gloves while checking or wash your hands very thoroughly before handling any food or kitchen equipment.
If you suspect your dog has fleas it’s important to recognise the tell-tale signs of fleas and to assess the severity of the infestation in your dog’s environment and dealing with it as quickly as possible.
How to check if your dog has fleas
What are the signs your dog has fleas?
It’s a fact of doggy life that they scratch. After all, humans scratch from time to time, too. That means that not every scratching dog has fleas, and not every perfectly contented dog is completely free from fleas either.
However, because fleas survive by biting dogs and feeding off their blood, there are some key signs to look out for, including:
- Scratching or itching excessively
- Flea dirt
How to identify and spot a flea bite
Flea bites can be spotted quite easily on a human’s skin since we don’t have as much hair covering us as our four-legged friends.
You’ll be able to identify the bites if you can see tiny red dots, smaller than other insect bites since fleas are very small themselves. The bites will often appear in clusters of three; this will occur sometimes if a flea is disturbed during feeding it will later return to a similar area and continue.
Once a flea has bitten a dog, the bite can take from five to 30 minutes to wheal (when the skin elevates). Usually, you won’t be able to see a puncture mark in the skin, since fleas are experts at causing minimal damage. Sometimes the bites will cause a rash and can cause secondary skin issues such as dermatitis.
If you suspect your dog has fleas there are a number of ways you can find out for sure. Your dog may not be happy about you carrying out some of these checks, but persevere; it’s for their own good!
What’s more, fleas are well adapted at scurrying away from prying eyes, fingers and combs – in fact, it’s what they’re best at! A more thorough inspection of your dog’s hair and skin will reveal whether or not fleas have been living on your dog.
Check your dog’s belly, armpits and ears
Make sure your dog is comfortable being handled, gently encourage them to roll on to their back (bonus points if you can get them to do this on command!). Now you should be able to carefully check their belly, and armpits for any sign of fleas. These are the warmest, shadiest and most protected areas of their bodies, these are the most likely spots that fleas may be hiding.
Use a flea comb
The best type of flea comb to use is one with fine teeth – check out a list of the ten best flea combs as reviewed by other dog owners which will help to remove small signs of fleas living in your dog’s hair. This will include fecal matter (sometimes known as flea dirt) which is actually dried, digested blood that fleas have passed – yes, it’s a disgusting thought.
Use the damp paper & flea comb technique to identify the presence of fleas
Useful for finding flea dirt, eggs and fleas themselves.
Flea dirt is the excrement and dried fecal matter that fleas leave behind. It will have a dark brown colour when dry but will turn red when it comes into contact with water.
Here’s how to use the wet paper method to find fleas on your dog:
- Ensure your dog is dry. If your dog has long or thick hair, you may find it helpful to brush their hair with a regular brush first to help remove any tangles. Dog breeds like Afghan Hounds, Springer Spaniels, Cocker Spaniels, Retrievers and Irish Setters in particular will benefit from this pre-comb brush.
- Place some white paper or newspaper on the floor – if you have a tiled or laminate floor that is easy to clean afterwards this would be ideal.
- Encourage your dog to stand or sit on the paper.
- Use a flea comb to brush your dog’s hair, starting at their neck and shoulders and work your way down towards the tail and back. Brush any dirt dead hair onto the paper. You may discover fleas during this process, but they are evasive!
- Sprinkle a little water onto the paper. If the dirt turns red that means that it’s very likely it contains blood and your dog has fleas.
What you need to know about flea dermatitis
Dermatitis can be a result of several underlying health problems, including food allergies, ear infections, mites and mange. Dermatitis is often referred to as a secondary condition, and so it’s important to consult your vet to find the root cause.
When a flea bites your dog, they excrete saliva to help them to locate a suitable site on the host’s skin for feeding. It’s actually the saliva, rather than the bite itself, that causes a dog to itch.
Dermatitis on dogs can be identified by the following symptoms:
- Intense itchiness
- Licking, biting or even chewing at their skin
- Secondary infections resulting from the aggravation of the skin
- Hair loss
- Hot spots or sores
- Bad smelling skin or ears
Itchiness is actually useful to fleas as it helps continue the flea life cycle; when a dog scratches they will dislodge flea dirt and eggs into the same spot in their environment. When the eggs hatch, the emerged larvae will have an immediate source of food – fleas are clever little devils!
If you suspect the cause to be fleas, you can check your dog using the methods we’ve listed above.
How do I get rid of fleas on my dog?
When it comes to getting rid of fleas, it’s understandable you’ll want to kill the little nasties as quickly as possible. We’ve explored all the options below so you can choose the best one to suit your dog.
Use veterinary approved dog flea treatments to kill fleas quickly:
- Spot-on treatments
- Flea tablets
- Use flea removal shampoos
- Natural remedies to get rid of fleas
- Check other places your dog has been
- Clean your house (remember that only 5% of fleas actually live on your dog)
If you’ve discovered fleas on your dog or in your house, it’s important to treat your dog first to remove the infestation as quickly as possible. Remember, fleas are skilled at crawling very quickly away through a dog’s hair and don’t drown easily. Studies have shown that grooming alone does not kill all the fleas living on a host – so the best way to get rid of fleas is by using a veterinary-approved medication.
Here are Dr Will Woodley’s top tips for what to do after discovering fleas on your dog:
“You should treat the dog first and then immediately treat and clean the house. The correct veterinary-strength medications continue to kill fleas until the next treatment, so your dog won’t immediately become re-infested after treating the house. This is exactly why vets recommend keeping to the regular preventative treatment schedule.
The treatments kill the adult fleas so there is no need to clean them off, but a bath with flea shampoo can’t hurt! Totally removing a flea infestation from your house is a big job and you should follow the instructions provided by the flea spray manufacturer.” – Will, Veterinary Surgeon and founder of VetBox
Don’t let the scale of the job overwhelm you, though! It may be hard work but it’s worth it to keep your pooch healthy and flea-free.
Use veterinary approved dog flea treatments to kill fleas fast
We surveyed more than 1,440 UK dog owners to discover what approach they take to prevent their pooches from getting these pesky parasites. Here’s what we learned:
- The majority of dog owners (96%) use veterinary approved preventative measures such as spot-on treatments or tablets.
- Of those, 20% of dog owners are extra vigilant – they use products such as flea combs, sprays and shampoos to stop fleas in their tracks.
How to use spot-on treatment
Spot-on flea treatments are available from vets, online pet stores and other retailers. They’re a good, popular option because they work as both a treatment and prevention. On application of the spot-on solution, any fleas living on your dog will be killed and any new fleas jumping onto your dog will also be killed. Here’s how the application of a spot-on treatment works. Remember to always follow your vet’s advice!
- Ensure you have the right size pipette or spot-on treatment for the size of your dog. If you have a Great Dane, the quantity of the solution you will need will differ greatly than if you have a Chihuahua. Check with your vet and manufacturer’s product information if you don’t already know which size you require.
- Remove your dog’s collar so that you can easily access the neck area.
- Holding the pipette or tube (depending on the brand) upright so the narrowest part is at the top, remove the cap. In some cases you can actually snap off the end.
- Position your dog so they’re standing up; if your dog is fidgety, you may need to enroll the help of your partner, family member or friend – and some treats if necessary.
- Parting your dog’s hair at the shoulder blades, apply the correct amount directly to your dog’s skin. Makes sure you follow the directions on the product for your dog’s weight and size. For example, for a smaller dog you may only need to apply in between the shoulder blades, but for a larger dog you may need to apply in the middle of their back and above their hips, too.
How to use flea tablets
Here are our top tips for treating your dog for fleas using tablets:
- Pick the right type of tablet – some will last only 24 hours whilst others will continue working for up to a month.
- Make sure you give your dog the correct dosage; this will depend on your dog’s weight and you can find the information inside the packet of tablets. If in doubt, check with your vet.
- If your dog doesn’t enjoy taking medicine orally, perhaps try and hide the tablet in their food.
How to use flea removal shampoos
Here are a few top tips before you begin using a shampoo:
- Ensure you use a vet-approved flea shampoo, specially formulated for dogs and ensure you read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to find the correct quantity to use.
- For flea shampoos that actually kill the fleas, you need to look for a product that contains pyrethrins (naturally occurring and extracted from chrysanthemum flowers) or pyrethroids (a synthetic, lab-produced chemical compound).
- Important: some Pyrethroids, such as Permethrin, are safe to use with dogs but are toxic to cats.
Here’s our recommended process for using a flea killing shampoo on your dog:
- Pick your location; if you have an outside hose and a garden this could work, but a bathroom may be better! It depends on how you would usually bathe your dog.
- Use lukewarm or room temperature water; remember dogs cool down primarily by panting, so be careful not to overheat them. The shampoo is doing the work to kill the fleas; the water is primarily to lather and rinse.
- Begin at your dog’s neck, wetting your dog’s hair right down to the skin. Apply shampoo and work into a thick lather. Avoid direct contact with eyes and ears; the thick lather at the neck should kill any fleas further up your dog’s head.
- Leave the lather in place for about 2-3 minutes, while you wet the rest of your dog’s body, then add shampoo and work into a thick lather.
- Rinse thoroughly. Flea shampoos can dry out your dog’s skin so you may find it useful to also wash using a conditioner following the shampoo wash.
You should never bathe your dog immediately after applying a spot-on treatment because the product takes around 24 hours to absorb into your dog’s skin. If you would like to bathe your dog to remove flea dirt and any dead fleas, we would recommend that you wait at least 24 hours after applying spot-on.
Alternatively, you could also bathe your dog immediately after discovering signs of fleas. But since most spot-on treatments need to be applied to dry dogs, your priority should be to kill the fleas and protect your dog as quickly as possible, we’d always recommend using spot-on as a first step.
Remember, only a veterinary approved medical solution has the active ingredients required to completely remove fleas from your dog – any other shampoo should primarily be used to remove any dead fleas and flea dirt from your dog’s hair and to ease your dog’s itchy skin.
It’s important to remember that water on its own won’t kill fleas. Even though fleas don’t tend to thrive in overly damp areas, they can survive even if submerged in water for hours at a time. So, when selecting a flea shampoo for your dog it’s important to find a product that is specifically designed for killing adult fleas.
Dogs with sensitive skin and allergic reactions
There may be reasons that you don’t want to use a dog flea shampoo containing chemicals. For example, if your dog has had an allergic reaction to flea bites, known as flea dermatitis, you may want to consider using a particular type of shampoo.
What’s more, if your dog has experience of sensitive skin and has had reactions to some shampoos in the past, you may want to consider using an alternative, easy-on-the-skin shampoo. You can find homemade recipes on our blog. Please note that natural shampoos aren’t as effective at instantly killing and removing fleas as vet-approved products.
However, please bear in mind that natural shampoos aren’t specially designed to kill fleas upon contact – only
Natural remedies to rid your dog of fleas
There are several natural, homemade remedies you can try. However, remember that simply washing your dog isn’t enough; fleas can hide and survive even when submerged in water. Also, remember that 95% of fleas are in the environment (your home) – only 5% are actually on your dog. So unless you use a treatment (such as spot-on) which kills any new fleas jumping on your dog, and also follow the necessary steps to kill larvae and remove eggs from your carpets, floors and other soft furnishings, you run the risk of your dog becoming reinfested.
In the majority of cases, it’s better to use a chemical solution to get rid of the fleas and kill any new fleas coming into contact with your dog immediately. These are veterinary approved medicines which kill fleas and are not usually harmful to your dog. You should always check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s health.
However, if you don’t want to use chemical solutions, there are other ways to get rid of fleas that you might like to know about.
Here are the homemade and natural remedies for getting rid of fleas:
- Flea comb and homemade shampoo
This method is painstaking and certainly not straightforward if your dog is one of those pooches who doesn’t enjoy bathtime. It can take a bit more time to thoroughly check your dog’s entire coat, plus fleas can survive even if submerged in water.Mix equal quantities of lemon juice, your dog’s shampoo, and water – keep this in a bottle use this for regular bathing of your dog.
- Diatomaceous earth
Diatomaceous earth is a fine powdery substance that some people swear by! It’s a naturally occurring type of sedimentary rock that’s formed from the fossilised remains of algae.You can use this natural substance to rub into your dog’s coat and sprinkle on furnishings. Be sure to purchase a food grade product which will be safe for your dog to lick and ingest. Diatomaceous earth kills fleas by cutting apart their exoskeletons and dries them out.
- Apple cider vinegar added to your dog’s drinking water
Cider vinegar isn’t poisonous, but the smell and taste of it is off-putting to fleas and it means they’ll be less likely to make themselves at home in your dog’s coat or continue feeding on their blood.Simply add a teaspoon of cider vinegar to your dog’s drinking water (prepare the quantities before pouring it into your dog’s water bowl – about one teaspoon to a quarter litre of water).
You may find that your dog dislikes the taste, so gradually introducing your dog to this flavour might be helpful.
- Make a natural flea collar
Use eucalyptus oil, tea tree, citronella, lavender or geranium and apply to your dog’s neck or collar. Repeat weekly. Be careful to only use products with 1% or less of essential oil and keep out of reach of your dog – if ingested they can cause vomiting and lethargy. More is not necessarily better in this case.
As we’ve said, however, these solutions are either limited in their longevity, or any only effective at repelling fleas. If you can kill them using vet-approved medicines – why not simply kill and remove the threat altogether?
Check and alert other places your dog has been recently
After you’ve taken care of the fleas living on your dog, you may find it useful to mentally retrace your steps. Make a list of anywhere your dog might’ve been since the last time you checked your dog. This is one reason why we would advise regular checks of your dog’s hair and skin; it’ll make it easier to remember all the places your dog has been in the last four weeks than the last eight weeks!
This might seem like common sense, but if your dog has been for a drive in your car recently, you’ll want to follow steps to ensure your car is a flea-free zone, too. Follow the same steps for any cushions, chair covers and blankets in the car, ensuring to wash on high temperatures. Vacuum the floors and use a flea spray containing IGR (Insect Growth Regulator).
If your dog has recently been to a day care or boarding service such as with a dog sitter or at a boarding kennel, you may need to let them know you’ve discovered fleas on your dog. There’s a good chance your dog’s flea burden may have deposited flea eggs whilst they were there.
Similarly, if your dog has been to a friend’s or relative’s house, even just for a few minutes, there’s a chance that house now has fleas living there, too. Help stop fleas in their tracks everywhere!
If your friends or family need advice on how to kill any potential fleas living in their house, why not share this guide with them?
How do I get rid of fleas in my house fast?
Adult fleas, the kind you’d usually find living on your dog, only make up around 1-5% of an infestation, which means that for every adult flea you find, there’s at least another 95 fleas in other stages of development in your home. It’s time to address that other 95% and examine the best methods to rid your house of fleas.
When tackling a flea infestation it’s best to have a plan for how you’re going to rid the fleas from all areas you suspect those little pests may have hidden themselves; it takes a little preparation work so you can clean all of these areas in one go. That might mean making sure your dog and children are being cared for while you concentrate on the task or clearing your house of fleas.
If you’ve discovered fleas in your dog’s hair, this will mean you’ll need to clean any soft furnishings that your dog may have come into contact with, including bedding, carpets and rugs, since it’s likely that eggs have fallen from your dog and into areas your dog has recently been in your home.
1. Wash your bed sheets and other soft furnishings
Start by cleaning each room in your house top to bottom. For example, if you are planning to wash curtains, cushions and sofa coverings, it’s a good idea to start with those, then tackle the carpets and floors last. If you approach your cleaning in reverse (carpets then cushions and sheets) you risk dislodging eggs, larvae and pupae all over your newly cleaned floor.
Even if you’re not the type of dog owner that lets your dog sleep in your bed with you, it’s entirely possible that your bed may have become a breeding ground for fleas, too.
Here are our tips on washing sheets, cushions and your dog’s bed:
- Wash cushion covers, bed sheets and your dog’s bed on a hot cycle in the washing machine – it’s important to use a high temperature as water alone won’t kill the fleas.
- In extreme flea infestations, you may need to wash upholstery such as sofa cushions and pillows, too. If they can’t be washed at home, seal them in a plastic bag and get them cleaned at a dry cleaner or another professional cleaning service.
- In extreme cases, it might be best to throw away your dog’s bed and replace it – we hope it doesn’t come to that, though!
2. Vacuum and spray your carpets
Flea sprays contain a growth regulation chemicals known as Pyriproxyfen or Methoprene. Applying this to your carpets and other soft furnishings will drastically reduce the chances of eggs from hatching and larvae developing into pupae.
Vacuuming will reduce flea population in the pupate phase by around 64%.
Here’s the best vacuuming process to follow:
- Remove your dog, other pets and children from each room as you methodically clean around your house.
- Before applying spray to your carpet, begin with a preliminary vacuum. Where possible, move furniture – including sofas – to get access to all areas. The movement and vibrations, plus the hoovering itself, should help to open the fibres of your carpets and alert any pre-emerged flea pupae that a potential host is nearby. During this initial clean a significant proportion of the early-stage flea population will be killed and removed.
- Opinion is divided over whether you should immediately throw away the vacuum bag; if in doubt, you might as well remove the contents of your vacuum cleaner to an external bin. Most vacuums will kill or cause fatal damage to a large percentage of pupae and adult fleas, but in case any eggs survived the ordeal, you might as well remove the resulting dirt from your house!
- Next, apply the spray. It’s best to apply in short, 4 second-bursts in a cross shape to adequately cover roughly a one-square metre area of carpet.
- Leave windows open to ventilate and don’t allow children or dogs to re-enter the treated room for at least an hour.
3. Clean your hardwood and laminate floors
Even if you don’t have any carpets or rugs in your home, or even in every room of your home, it’s important to remember that cracks between floorboards and skirting boards provide the perfect shelter for flea eggs and larvae to hide.
To properly clean any hard or laminate floor surfaces in your house, you’ll need to follow a similar set of steps to cleaning a carpet:
- Ensure your dog has been treated (see our above guide on removing fleas from your dog) and is in another room of the house for the duration of your clean.
- Don’t start with spray or a mop – vacuum first! This has the same effect as with a carpet – hopefully you’ll rouse any dormant fleas and suck up any eggs before applying a spray.
- Use a vet recommended flea-killing flea spray in short, 4 second bursts in cross shapes at a distance of about 30 cm from the floor. Pay particular attention to the edges of the room. Alternatively, or additionally, if your home has had a particularly bad infestation of fleas, you could use a flea fogger. See below for a step by step guide for how to use one of these.
- After applying the flea spray, be sure to wait at least an hour before letting children and pets back into the room and keep the room well ventilated.
How to use a flea fogger
Flea foggers, sometimes called flea bombs, are an aerosol canister containing insecticide that can be set off in your home. The preparation for using one of these is a rather lengthy process and general advice states that your family and pets shouldn’t return to the room for several hours after using.
What’s more, they aren’t designed to be a catch-all solution to getting rid of fleas; for example, even though flea foggers disperse throughout the room, they won’t treat those harder to reach areas like underneath sofas and in the fibres of carpets – which, as we know, is where the majority of fleas will be hidden. All things considered you may be better off using a flea spray directly on your floors and carpets, since these are the areas fleas are likely to be hiding; this will also be less disruptive to your family!
However, if your household flea infestation is particularly bad; you’ve used other methods and have still found fleas in your home, you may want to use this method.
Here’s the step by step guide to using a flea fogger:
Preparing your home for a flea fogger is a detailed process and it’s important to follow the steps.
- Remove your children and dog from the room that you wish to treat. If you’re treating the entire house at once, you may need to find somewhere else to stay for a day – which makes this a less than ideal and more labour intensive option than spraying and vacuuming.
- Unplug any electrical appliances – foggers can be flammable and shouldn’t be left completely unattended.
- Cover or put away any food in airtight containers.
- Ensure you have a face mask handy if you’re going to be in the immediate vicinity while the fogger is going off.
- Vacuum the carpets in the room which will encourage some pupae to emerge – you will then kill these.
- Place a sheet of newspaper in the middle of the room and place the flea fogger on to the sheet of newspaper. Set off the bomb or fogger.
- Afterwards, open windows to ventilate and don’t allow children or pets back in the room for at least an hour.
Remember, always follow manufacturer’s instructions when using flea foggers or flea bombs.
4. Treat your garden to kill fleas
As we’ve already mentioned, the main entry point for fleas into your house is often through your garden – if you have one! Wild animals, and cats or other dogs, act as carriers and can spread a flea infestation.
What’s more, if you’ve discovered fleas on your dog, there’s a good chance that eggs will have fallen from your dog’s resident flea burden and into protected, shady area in your garden. That means there’s a good chance of your garden having a dormant flea population ready to strike again. They could even make their way indoors, so it’s best to make sure your entire home, including your garden, is flea-free.
How to prepare your garden for flea treatment
- Ensure your dog can be kept out of the garden during the treatment.
- Begin the preparation process with a thorough clean. It’s a good idea to remove any debris such as fallen leaves, grass clippings. Give it a good rake!
- If your lawn has become overgrown, give it a cut and be sure to dispose of the cuttings properly – don’t simply add them to a compost heap in your garden as this would provide an idea breeding ground for any fleas your grass mowing will have collected. Mowing may also help to encourage any pupae to emerge – since neither insecticide nor IGR (Insect Growth Regulator) can penetrate pupae cocoons.
- Check around cracks and crevices such as any brickwork or stones you might have lying around – for example, if you have a raised flower bed with brick or wooden beams this would be an ideal location for fleas larvae to hide out. Make sure you strim around the edges of your lawn, any paths and flowerbeds.
- Now that your garden is nice and tidy, you’re ready to apply the insecticide to kill or hamper the development of any early stage fleas.
Choosing the right product to remove fleas in your garden
Broadly speaking, there are two main types of flea-killing products out there; insecticides and Insect Growth Regulators. As the names suggest, they are effective at targeting different stages of the flea life cycle.
Insecticides: usually containing a chemical called Permethrin, these are effective at killing any adult fleas.
Insect Growth Regulators: contain Pyriproxyfen, Methoprene, Hydroprene or similar chemicals, which prevent fleas from successfully molting. They are effective at killing larvae, can reduce the fertility of eggs and be effective in disrupting diapause – which is when adults enter a dormant state in cocoons.
It may be necessary to use both types of product; we’d recommend tackling any adult fleas with insecticide first as these are the stage which presents an immediate threat to your dog. If the infestation is severe, you may need to use an IGR, too. In some cases, you can mix the two together and treat your garden in one go. It’s worth checking with your vet or local garden centre on the best method and product combinations.
Pupae are largely immune to chemical treatments because their cocoons are watertight, we’d recommend that you repeat treatments in your garden every one to two weeks. What’s more, not all fleas in your garden or home develop simultaneously. This means you can expect an infestation to hatch, molt and emerge from cocoons at different times. It’s important to manage your expectations and to schedule a second, and even third, treatment in week intervals to properly deal with all fleas.
The best product for you will depend greatly on the size of your garden; if you have a large garden there are professional spray tools you can use to distribute your insecticide across your garden evenly. Remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure you use the right amounts.
How to use an insecticide or IGR to get rid of fleas in your garden
- Purchase, hire or borrow a hose end sprayer. You can pick one up online for less than £10. This will be helpful in distributing an even application of the insecticide or IGR solution. You could also use a watering can, but a hose end sprayer will give you more even coverage.
- Ensure you are using an IGR that’s suitable for outdoor use; some products are not photostable (in direct sunlight will cease to work).
- Fill the sprayer with the correct ratio of water and your chosen product – check the manufacturer’s instructions as the amount you will need to use may vary.
- Spray across your garden, including the lawn and around any cracks in patios, paths and flowerbeds.
- Ensure your dog keeps away from the garden for at least an hour, or until the surfaces are dry.
- Repeat within 10-14 days as needed.
Natural ways to get rid of fleas in your house
We’d always recommend using vet-approved products, but there are other options out there. Please note that while these methods have seen some success, the best, fastest and most effective way to remove fleas from your house and garden is by using insecticides and IGRs.
However, if you prefer to use alternative methods, we’ve listed some of them here.
Sprinkle salt on carpets
Similar to using a flea powder or diatomaceous earth, this method relies on sprinkling salt into your carpet and other furnishings and then vacuuming it up again at least 24 hours later.
The theory is that a fine salt will dry out any flea life stages but the main problem with this method is that you have to wait a very long time before vacuuming the salt back up again, and you should prevent your dog from getting near the salt as it’s not good for dogs!
How to use a homemade vinegar spray
Using one part vinegar and one part water solution into an empty, clean spray bottle. Mix the solution and spray onto carpets.
This solution is very limited since fleas reportedly don’t like the smell of vinegar, but carpets are where immature fleas are most likely to be hiding, so you’re probably better off skipping this method and using an Insect Growth Regulator and regular vacuuming to eliminate early life cycle stage fleas from your home.
Use food grade diatomaceous earth
Diatomaceous earth is a natural substance that many people claim can be used as an all-round household wonder-product. It’s made from the soft sedimentary rock which are the fossilised remains of algae. Purchase a food grade version so as not to harm any pets or people in your home.
It can be used by sprinkling on pre-vacuumed carpets; when fleas come into contact with the dust, they’ll dehydrate and die. For best results, leave the diatomaceous earth on your carpet for three days so that it continues to kill fleas. Then simply vacuum it up!
However, since the flea stage present in your carpets and other furnishings are mostly eggs, larvae and pupae, you may be better off using an Insect Growth Regulator and a simple vacuum cleaner and repeating the process regularly.
Flea Prevention Guide
Prevention is better than a cure, so the old saying goes. And in the case of preventing those teeny blood sucking nasties, it certainly pays to ensure your home and your dog are an inhospitable environment as possible for fleas at all stages of their life cycle.
As with any treatments you’d use after discovering fleas on your dog, it’s also far more effective to take an integrated approach to preventing fleas in the first place.
- 1 in 5 dog owners don’t regularly check their dog for fleas and 1 in 6 dog owners don’t use preventative medicines or treatments. That’s quite shocking considering there are more than 8 million dogs in the UK.
- Most vets, including Dr Will Woodley, recommend an integrated approach – which includes treatment, checking and additional care such as shampoos.
- Treatment and prevention isn’t too expensive, most dog owners spend no more than £10 per month.
Here’s the best advice on flea prevention practices to make your pooch a flea-free doggy.
How to prevent your dog from getting fleas
How often should you check your dog for signs of fleas?
Here’s what Dr. Will Woodley, veterinary professional and founder of VetBox, says about regular checks:
“I would recommend checking for fleas on a monthly basis. To inspect your dog, turn them onto their back and check the areas where fleas like to hide. The armpits and groin are two areas that tend to be warm and protected, making them preferred spots for large flea populations. Check the ears carefully for signs of scratching, redness, blood, or flea dirt.”
What to do if you have more than one dog or cat?
Here’s what Dr. Will, founder of VetBox, says:
“If you have several pets (cats and dogs) you need to treat them all regularly. This is something we come up against a lot as some owners think that by treating one dog the others will be protected, but they won’t!” – Dr. Will
So, if you have more than one pet living with you, it’s important to remember to check and treat them both for fleas; if one of them has fleas there’s a good chance the others will, too. Treating one pet for fleas doesn’t eliminate the risk for any other pets living in your home.
Products for flea prevention
There are various products that you can use on your dog to prevent fleas. One of the most popular are pipettes, also known as spot-on. You can also get hold of tablets, sprays and shampoos all suitable for use on your dogs.
To help you decide which product is best for your dog, we surveyed more than 1,400 dog owners to discover which product type and which brands they use most often. Keep reading this guide to discover the results of our research.
How much do flea treatments cost?
Most UK dog owners (75%) spend no more than £10 per month on flea prevention and treatments. It’s relatively inexpensive to ensure your dog’s hair stays free of fleas, and let’s face it, this is well worth the small financial investment, particularly considering that a total home and dog flea removal requires more effort than regular preventative treatments.
As a worst-case scenario, you may need to call the professionals in to deal with an advanced, out-of-control infestation. This can be very expensive so habitual treatment is definitely worth the money.
Here are veterinary surgeon Dr. Will’s comments on the cost of flea prevention from the results of our flea treatment and prevention survey:
“The monthly spending on parasite control varied quite a bit, which is understandable as it costs a lot more to treat a breed such as a St. Bernard, compared to say, a Chihuahua. I would say that you get what you pay for and if a flea product is costing less than £5 per treatment off the shelf, then it probably doesn’t contain very effective medicine.” – Dr. Will Woodley
The most popular types and brands of flea treatments can be purchased for as little as £10 for a pack of flea killing tablets. Popular spot-on treatments can be purchased in packs of 6 pipettes for around £25 for a medium-sized dog, these can last you up to around 4-6 months, depending on the size of your dog and the required dosage and coverage – which you should always double check with your dog.
Which flea prevention treatment is best for my dog?
Since it’s best to take an integrated approach, you should consider using a flea treatment product that you can apply to your dog’s skin (or administer to them orally) at regular intervals.
In our 2018 survey of more than 1,400 UK dog owners, we discovered the most popular types of flea treatments. Here are the results:
- The majority (56%) of dog owners use spot-on treatments, followed by tablets (18%), which means that almost three-quarters of dog owners are using these top-recommended flea killing products.
- Tablets came out slightly strong when we asked dog owners to tell us how effective these different product types were at preventing fleas.
We also asked UK dog owners about which flea prevention brands they’ve used most often to treat their dogs, here’s what we discovered:
- Advocate and Frontline came out as the most popular brands, with over two-thirds (67%) of dog owners using these two.
- However, Advocate scores the highest on the effectiveness front – with 87% of dog owners saying they found this brand effective at treating and preventing fleas.
Here’s Dr. Will’s comments on which kind of treatments he would recommend:
“It’s no surprise that spot-on treatments were the most popular choice. They are convenient, easy to administer and with Advocate (a spot-on pipette product) being by far the most popular treatment in the UK amongst vets, this result was expected. At VetBox we use spot-on pipettes as we believe that they are easier to use and better value for money than tablets.” – Dr. Will
Is using ‘alternative treatments’ enough to prevent fleas on my dog?
Can using shampoos, sprays, powders and other such products be used on their own? The short answer to this is no, it’s not recommended to use these types of preventative treatments as your sole method for preventing fleas on your dog. Here’s Dr. Will’s top tip:
“All of the other products should be seen in addition to preventative treatments (spot-on pipettes or tablets), rather than alternatives.” – Dr. Will
Spot-on (pipettes) and tablets are the best options for dog flea prevention best because they contain chemicals such as imidacloprid, moxidectin, fipronil and methoprene that will kill adult flea population on contact with your dog and continue to kill any new fleas for around a month.
Oral or external?
Many of the leading flea treatment brands now supply flavoured tablets that your dog will enjoy as a treat or addition to their meals.
However, these tablets can take up to 15 minutes to start working, which is a little longer than the spot-on option. Tablets work quickly, but many of the popular brands only last 24 hours – meaning that your dog would be vulnerable to fleas again after this one-off treatment. Monthly tablets do exist, though and some of these types of treatment also stop the eggs and larvae from developing.
Some spot-on treatments are also effective at killing ticks, which are a risk to dogs in the summer months – these are another nasty little parasite which can cause and carry a whole host of diseases, so it’s worth picking a solution that can tackle more than one type of parasite.
Sadly, there’s no such thing as a catch-all product for fleas, ticks and worms. Ensure you follow your vet’s advice about the best course of medicines to keep your pooch healthy and happy all year round.
Regular checks of your dog’s hair and skin
It’s important to keep up regular grooming, this will help to normalise checking your dog’s hair and skin and can help your dog behave better if you need to check them in an emergency.
Since most flea products are most effective at dealing with one stage of the flea life cycle, it’s important to continue checking your dog for signs of fleas even when you’ve been administering regular flea treatments to your dog. For example, spot-on treatments, used alone, are very effective at killing adult fleas but may not always remove or kill larvae or eggs, which are usually found in the environment, such as in carpets and furniture.
What’s more, some tablets only continue to kill adult fleas for up to 24 hours, meaning that after this period has ended, your dog is at risk from being bitten and being a host to fleas once more. Regular checks of your dog are important to ensure they’re not getting reinfested.
If you continuously spot fleas on your dog even after treatments, it’s possible you have a flea problem in your house that needs addressing.
How often should I treat my dog for fleas?
Regular flea treatments are best
Pro-tip: why not schedule reminders in your phone’s calendar to remind yourself to treat your dog? That way you’re less likely to forget.
Here’s VetBox founder Dr. Will’s advice on why regular treatments are the best approach:
“I would always advise using a preventative treatment on a regular basis, as getting rid of an infestation can be much harder than preventing one in the first place. Assuming you use a vet recommended product at the correct dosing interval, the risk of your pet getting fleas should be minimal and grooming is not essential. However, I would recommend checking your dog on a monthly basis, just to be sure, particularly if your dog is regularly in a rural area.” – Dr. Will
Our survey of more than 1,400 UK dog owners revealed that rural dog owners were 10% more likely to check their dogs more often than dog owners living in urban areas. Here’s what Dr. Will the vet had to say about this revelation:
“Rural dogs are probably more likely to encounter wild animals infested with fleas and as such owners are probably more aware of them. It’s still vital that urban pets receive the same preventative treatments as contact with other dogs or cats is the main way that fleas are spread.” – Dr. Will
No matter where you live, whether it’s a city centre apartment or a rural farmhouse, fleas pose a danger to your dog’s health and since prevention is better than a cure, it’s always a good idea to take steps to
Should I treat my dog during winter months?
Yes, vets will usually advise you to keep up your regular flea prevention treatments all year round. Whilst British winters are usually cold and wet, (conditions that aren’t ideal for a thriving flea population) most homes will remain warm and dry due to central heating. These cosier indoor conditions mean that dormant or early life cycle fleas (the hidden 95%!) are still a risk to your dog.
Most spot-on treatments are intended to be a monthly treatment and to keep fleas at bay all year round it’s certainly worth keeping up the monthly application of spot-on. Always follow manufacturer’s advice on the regularity of treatments and always follow instructions given by your vet.
How to prevent fleas in your home
Since it’s entirely possible to have fleas living in your house without the presence of a dog or cat, and an estimated 95% of home flea populations aren’t on your pets, it stands to reason that simple vigilance to keep your dog clean is not enough on its own. We recommend regular vacuuming and washing of bed sheets at medium to high temperatures (60 degrees where appropriate).
It’s also a good idea to stay super vigilant when it comes to preventing a flea infestation in your home; here are some more top tips to keeping your garden flea-free.
How to prevent fleas in your garden
Keep up regular maintenance of your lawn, garden plants and flower beds. This will remove those little hiding spots that fleas can use to breed and lay in wait for a dog to jump onto.
Try to keep your fences and hedges in good condition and be careful to keep any bins sealed and rubbish or food away from your garden – this includes bird feeders! This will dissuade wild animals from paying visits to your garden, and as we know they can be one of the main carriers of fleas.
Of course, pesky foxes can squeeze through the narrowest of gaps, so there’s no fail-safe way to keep wild critters from entering your garden – but you can make it a less attractive place for them to come sniffing around.
The advice contained in this article is not intended to be a replacement for professional veterinary advice.
Over to you! What flea prevention and treatment methods have you found most effective? Do you have any tips or advice you’d like to share with the DogBuddy community? Let us know in the comments below, or post your tips on Facebook or Twitter – remember to tag us @DogBuddyCo.