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How to Treat Fleas & Ticks for Dogs - Complete Guide

A dog that seems restless, scratches and chews its skin, or starts to develop bald patches on its coat could mean that it has fleas. Hence, to comfort and treat them, it is crucial to determine what do dog fleas and ticks look like, how your dog got them, and how massive the flea infestation is. Browse through this article to find the nitty-gritty of treating fleas and ticks on dogs and pick your ideal solution to deal with the situation.

Handling Fleas and Ticks on Dogs: Make Your Furry Friend Happy & Healthy Again

Your dog has dragged in ticks & fleas inside the home and is now itchy all the time! Without proper treatment, these tiny little nuisances will drive your dog and your family absolutely crazy! After all, dog fleas and ticks can multiply real soon and affect your dog’s health in several ways.

Hence, to ease your dog’s itch, it is important to determine how to spot and destroy fleas on their fur and in your house. And even if you don't see any symptoms yet but your dog spends a lot of time outdoors, it's critical to ensure that they're flea and tick-free.

Fortunately, several options such as pills & chews, over-the-counter sprays, powders, flea collars, ointments & shampoos are available for effective flea prevention and to keep your dog healthy. However, depending on several other factors and the severity of the infestation, not all options are suitable for all dogs.

Whether you want to know what do dog fleas and ticks look like, want more information on how to avoid them or are looking for authentic ways to eradicate a flea problem in your home, this article will take you through all you need to know about flea prevention.

What Are Fleas and Ticks on Dogs?

Fleas are teeny tiny brown external parasites, or ectoparasites, that burrow into your dog's fur and feed on their blood, causing mild to severe itching and discomfort. Scientifically named Siphonaptera, fleas are fast-moving parasites that are more than just itchy nuisances as they can cause anemia and weakness in your dog- and even transmit tapeworm infection if left untreated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fleas are not ‘picky’ about who their host is and hence, can easily target dogs and cats. With over 2000 different species worldwide, fleas are great at hiding in your dog’s fur. Furthermore, even one or two small fleas can quickly turn into a whole infestation.

If you’re thinking you have an indoor dog and they cannot pick up fleas and ticks, you’re wrong!  Although much lower, indoor-only dogs are still at risk of encountering fleas whenever they step out.

Moreover, fleas may hitchhike their way into your home through another pet, thing or even you. Even though they do not have wings, they can easily latch on to clothes and shoes and hence, can be inadvertently transmitted. Moreover, a female flea can lay up to 50 eggs every day and up to 1,500 eggs in her lifetime! Hence, they are super difficult to avoid and can live for between 14 days and a year.

How Did My Dog Get Fleas?

Whether you have an indoor-only dog or one that spends a significant amount of time outside, one of the first questions you’d have on your mind is how did your dog get fleas? Well, all dogs are prone to a flea infestation - regardless of how much they live inside the house throughout the day.

If you suspect that your dog has picked up fleas and you’re wondering where they could have come from, here are some of the ways they could have made their entry:

  • If your dog recently met some other furry friend, it’s highly possible the fleas were transferred from their backs to them.
  • If you think your dog didn't meet another dog recently, squirrels and rodents can also be the carriers. This could have happened if they went to a park or some similar place.
  • Furthermore, if you are still sure your dog didn’t go to any public place, recall if a mouse made their way into your home. It could have brought in fleas easily.
  • If none of this has happened but you have a backyard in your home, it is very likely the flea infestation started from there.

You could also be the reason…

  • Although human bodies are a challenging target for fleas, they can easily use our clothing and accessories as a (free) Uber ride to their preferred host – your dog in this case.
  • Recall if you found a few tiny bug bites on your arms or legs a few days ago and you’d be able to tell if you were the one who brought fleas inside.
  • You might have encountered fleas in a public park or while petting some homeless dog (or even cat).
  • To be able to recall more easily, here's a tip to remember - flea bites appear as small red dots that are commonly clustered in groups of two or three.
  • If you can remember getting flea bites on yourself, you should seek immediate attention from a veterinarian to get your dog checked for a flea infestation thoroughly!
  • Also, wondering why did the fleas choose to transfer to your dog from your body, clothes or other stuff? Well, they prefer settling down in a warm coat of fur than humans.

How to Do a Flea Check On Your Dog: Signs of Fleas on Dogs

Early detection of fleas in dogs is critical to avoid a terrifying catastrophe. Hence, if you are doubtful of your dog being stuck with them, here are a few symptoms that are common in dogs suffering from flea bites:

1. Scratching, Biting, and Licking

As mentioned above, fleas are great at hiding and will burrow in and around your dog’s neck, ears, under their belly and arms. Your dog’s warm, fuzzy coat and nourishing blood flow are a flea's dream home and they’ll start feasting away on your furry friend right away. If bugs crawling around the body aren't irritating enough for your dog, flea bites will cause intense itching and leave your dog scratching, biting and licking the affected areas profusely.

2. Hair Loss

One of the most visible signs of flea infestation in dogs is the loss of hair and other skin issues. If you notice these signs, don’t hesitate in taking your dog to the vet for a proper check-up and effective treatment. However, sometimes hair loss in dogs might also be caused if they have an allergic reaction to some food or environmental triggers such as pollens.

3. Skin Sores, Scabbing or Redness

If you notice sores, bumps, and/or scabs on your dog's skin - may and may not without scaly skin underneath, chances are high that your dog has picked up fleas.

4. Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)

Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD) is a common cause of itching in dogs and happens due to an allergic reaction to a flea’s saliva. Although normally harmless, this condition affects both pets and humans and causes an extremely itchy and painful rash.

5. Restless Behavior

One of the most obvious signs of fleas on dogs (besides intense itching and licking of the skin) is restlessness in your dog that may show up in form of excessive pacing or circling, repeatedly adjusting their position and changes in sleep patterns. Your dog's unsettled behavior should never be left unnoticed.

6. Flea Dirt

You might not want to do this but checking for “flea dirt” is a huge sign to be sure of what the real problem is. Carefully look for copper-colored specks (that appears to be dirt) on your dog’s fur or around your house. You can even notice it left behind wherever your dog sleeps.

These little specks are actually the fleas’ feces and because it is digested blood, you can test it by placing it on a wet paper towel. If it has a red tint to it, head straight to the vet as soon as possible.

7. Lethargy and Pale Gums

When a flea infestation is left unnoticed and hence, untreated for too long, it can lead to a more serious condition called anemia. The constant loss of blood will make your dog lethargic and have pale gums. A high flea infestation leads to a higher loss of red blood cells in your dog than the number of new ones being produced in their body.

8. Visible Scurrying of Fleas

If your dog exhibits some of the symptoms indicated above and you're almost certain they have encountered a flea infestation, look for visible evidence of fleas scurrying in and around warm areas such as between the legs and on the belly.

You can also spot moving fleas by parting the fur down to the skin level, mainly around the tail base regions and across the less furred areas. If you detect any signs of movement in their fur or spot tiny bugs bouncing off their coat, it’s time to find an effective solution to fight fleas.

9. Tapeworms

As your dog bites and licks its body to relieve the itch, it may swallow a flea that is harboring tapeworm (intestinal parasites) larvae. Once digested, the tapeworm larva eggs grow into adult tapeworms in your dog’s small intestine. Symptoms of all this happening inside your dog’s body include segments of the worm breaking off and ending in your dog’s stool.

However, the worries don’t end here as these segments contain tapeworm eggs and hence, the new life cycle will begin again until completely treated. Though it is an alarming sight to find little white worms appearing in your dog’s fecal matter, this is a common and relatively harmless side effect of fleas – and the treatment for tapeworms is very effective and simple by medication from the vet.

Effective Ways to Getaway from Fleas & Ticks on Dogs

As soon as you've identified the fleas, you should visit the vet for a thorough examination and get the right treatment possible. However, scheduling a visit to the vet isn’t always possible straight away – especially if it is late at night, or you can’t find the appointment or the hospital is located far away.

Hence, here are a few home remedies and effective ways to treat fleas and ticks on dogs until the next available appointment with your vet to offer your dog some instant relief and avoid multiplying the eggs around your home as much as possible.

There's no doubt that getting rid of fleas will be challenging. It is, nevertheless, possible with the right tools, a diligent mindset and adherence to all the instructions imparted by the veterinary care team.

1. Comb the Fur

Gently brushing your dog’s fur with a shedding comb will help remove some of the adult fleas and eggs. Also, make sure to wash the comb in hot water with dish detergent to kill any remaining fleas or eggs.

2. Bathe Your Dog

Secondly, it’s bath time! Use a dog-safe flea shampoo and let it sit on their fur for at least 5 minutes. Now, bathe your furry pet with it thoroughly. A good flea shampoo will reveal and kill all of the stubborn fleas and eggs that the shedding comb couldn’t reach! An effective flea shampoo will provide quick relief from itching while also addressing the root of the problem.

3. Treat Your Home

With your dog freshly bathed and de-flead, now it’s time to tackle the larger issue at hand – your home. Although everything should be deep cleaned, your target area should be wherever your dog sleeps, lounges or frequents around. After all, these places are more likely to be infested with fleas and eggs than others.

This includes anything you suspect that has been affected by fleas such as your dog’s as well as your own bedding, blankets, couch cushions, curtains etc. Wash everything in laundry detergent and hot water.

However, don’t expect everything to get cleared within a single day or cleaning session. It can take anywhere between a few days to a week to totally rid your home of fleas. So, deep clean your home and wash all your frequently used items regularly.

4. Use a Flea Spray or Powder

For items you cannot wash and areas that you cannot strip & launder, use a flea spray or powder regularly.

5. Vacuum Everything

From carpets to hardwood floors, upholstered furniture, tiles and all the nooks and corners of your house where flea larvae and eggs could be hiding out, vacuum everything every day for a few days until you can be confident that the infestation has fully cleared.

6. Examine Your Home Inside Out

Reaching the root cause of a flea infestation is highly critical to eradicate them and make your doggy healthy, comfortable and happy again. So, if you have a yard, here are a few effective steps to follow:

  • treat your backyard by trimming the lawn
  • regularly hose down the areas that your dog frequently goes to
  • use a flea yard spray to exterminate fleas around the perimeter of your home.

Don’t forget to read all the safety instructions for you and your family, including your dog (and other pets) when using any type of bug spray.

7. Use Flea Control Powders

Since you cannot bathe your dog every day or if they are very resistant about their bathe time, dog-safe flea control powders can come in very handy. You need to apply it all over your dog's body and it'll effectively help kill adult fleas. However, a flea control powder is effective as long as it is still on the dog. So, as it falls off, its effect reduces.

8. Look For Other Flea Control Methods

Dog-safe flea shampoos and flea control powders are not the only options you have to help your dog get rid of those tiny nuisances off their body. From flea control collars to topical spot-ons and oral medications, many flea control products are available out there in the market.

However, oral medication should be left for your vet and you should focus more on temporary, dog-safe options. In case of a high infestation, topical liquids should be your ideal choice as they are more effective than powders and shampoos. They start working in just a few hours and are usually very effective.

9. Use Flea Control Products in Combination

If you are trying to combat flea infestation in your dog yourself, flea shampoo or powder might not be effective alone. After all, the effect quickly wears off as the shampoo has been rinsed or the powder has fallen off. Therefore, it is best to use a different dog-safe flea control method in combination with another product.

10. Consult the Vet & Get Your Dog Medicated

While these solutions may rid your dog of fleas temporarily, it’s important to give your furry friend some preventative flea medicine to keep them from coming back – especially when they multiply so easily with just a few eggs. In case of serious infestation, your vet will also do a manual removal of the fleas and ticks without giving any pain to your dog.

Tell your vet about the treatments and methods you have already tried and do not miss regular check-ups. Furthermore, keep your veterinarian caregiver informed of the progress of the treatment and follow all their advice carefully.

Some Helpful Tips for Dog Flea and Tick Prevention

For almost all dog owners, fleas and ticks are a source of annoyance and potential health threat. Hence, it is completely worth taking the time to implement a few effective tips to keep your home and most importantly, your dog free of fleas:

  • Every time your dog goes outdoors, check them for ticks (and moving fleas, if possible).
  • Initially, comb the dog’s fur with a fine-toothed metal flea comb from head to tail several times a day. This helps to skim off adult fleas and their eggs while easing your dog’s itching and discomfort.
  • Once your dog is completely free of fleas, comb their fur twice to thrice each week.
  • Don’t forget to rinse the comb with hot water and detergent to get rid of flea eggs completely.
  • No matter which flea & tick prevention method you choose, make flea treatment a regular part of your dog care routine.
  • Take your dog for an annual exam at least once annually whereas senior dogs should undergo a medical checkup for fleas and ticks — at least twice each year.
  • If you suspect your dog is sick, call your vet immediately.
  • When required, try self-treatment with dog-safe products only but do not try self-medicating them.

Frequently Asked Questions About Treating Fleas & Ticks on Dogs

Here are our answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about dog fleas and ticks.

What kills fleas and ticks on dogs naturally?

Although there are many natural tips available for ticks and fleas on dogs treatment, they usually work late and until then, the infestation has multiplied even more. If you don’t want to opt for dog medication or ointments, you could rather opt for dog-safe natural flea shampoos or powders.  

What kills fleas on dogs instantly?

Although there is no ticks and fleas on dogs treatment that works magically and instantly, flea shampoos, powders, ointments, sprays and medication are highly effective in relieving their itch and reducing the flea infestation in one go. With consistency and regular care, your dog may get completely rid of fleas and ticks in around two to three weeks.

How long does it take to get rid of fleas on a dog?

Although proper treatment and care could relieve your dog in around a week and it may seem completely free of fleas and ticks in a week or two, it might take as long as two to three months to get rid of a flea infestation completely. This is because fleas multiply very quickly and their eggs and different life cycles might be present in different parts of your home.

What can I wash my dog with to get rid of fleas and ticks?

You can use a dog-safe flea shampoo to bathe your furry friend with it, relieve their itch and gradually get rid of their flea infestation. However, if the infestation is large, a flea shampoo is not enough. Moreover, the effect of a flea shampoo quickly wears off as it gets rinsed. Hence, it should be used alongside another effective flea control method.

The Bottom Line

Though inconvenient, a flea infestation – at least once is a natural part of life when living with dogs. Even if you keep close tabs on where your furry friend has been or how long for, take them for regular grooming sessions and make sure they undergo an annual exam at the hospital, there is always the possibility of fleas making their way into your household - often before you realize that they have moved in.

Fleas are not just harmful to your dog. Their flea eggs can easily drop on the floors of your home, infecting all members in some way or the other. So, it’s always best to be prepared, work hard for dog flea and tick prevention and eliminate all life cycles (eggs, larvae, pupae and fleas) from your home environment in addition to getting your dog treated or else, another batch of infestation could occur real soon.

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