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dog parent basics
Small dog with a flea problem sitting with its owner.

Fleas explained

If you notice your dog can’t stop itching, they may have fleas. Fleas are small parasites that feast off your dog’s blood. Approximately an eighth of an inch in size, this reddish-brown pest can jump up to 12 inches with its large back legs. Simply put, fleas can jump from host to host, making your pet into their new home and breeding ground. One adult female flea lays 27 flea eggs a day minimum, though many can lay up to 50 flea eggs.

The AKC notes that there are over 2,200 species of these tiny parasites in the world. The most common in the U.S. are the Ctenocephalides felis, popularly known as the cat flea. Yes, ironically your dog can be infested by cats. The cat flea’s taste palette ranges from dogs to cats to foxes and wolves, leaving your pet with itchy bites all over.

How to identify fleas on your dog

A flea bite is very small, making it hard to see. Often, bites appear as red, raised dots on your pet. Since they’re tinier than most bug bites, these spots can get lost in your dog’s fur unless they’re inflamed from itching. Luckily, there are easier ways to inspect your dog for an infestation.

To start, check your pet for fleas or flea dirt, also known as flea droppings. Fleas are most commonly found on your dog’s abdomen, neck, ears, tail base, or lower back. Comb back their fur (easiest on light-colored fur) and look for movement.

If you’re unable to catch the fleas in action, it’s time to look for flea dirt. Resembling pepper, these black specks composed of dried blood are the flea’s droppings. Our vets recommend using a flea comb through your dog’s coat to collect the flea dirt. Rehydrate the black specks with a wet paper towel to confirm that they’re droppings. The specks should change color from black to brown to red.

🚨 Here are some flea bite symptoms to look out for:

  • Itching and scratching
  • Skin irritations
  • Hair loss
  • Scabs
  • Pale gums (rare cases for large infestations)

When to go to the vet

👉 Always make sure to check with your vet and discuss treatment options before applying natural flea remedies to your dog.

If you notice your dog is scratching or chewing themselves to the point that they are bloody, creating extreme hair loss, or are severely inflamed, then take your dog to the vet. These behaviors could be a sign of a flea bite allergy, which could last up to three weeks, or a more severe condition.

How to get rid of fleas naturally

Before you treat your dog to natural flea remedies that don’t contain pesticides, you need to treat your home as well. Plan on washing and vacuuming everything — including washing your dog.

Clean your dog’s bed. Clean your sheets. Clean your towels, sofas, and your surfaces. Anything vacuumed up in the cleaning process, make sure to dispose of immediately and put in a garbage bag outside your home. Now, you’re ready to give your dog a natural flea treatment.

1. Coconut oil

Coconut oil is a safe and simple solution to treat your dog. Made up of the fatty acid lauric acid, the fat covers the flea’s exoskeleton in an oil-coating. Upon contact with the coconut oil, the flea is mobilized and in turn, suffocates.

How to treat: Before administering coconut oil to your dog, make sure you’re in an outdoor setting. The lauric acid is a natural flea repellent and may cause bugs to leap out of the fur. To properly apply, work a light consistency through your dog’s coat, making sure to work the oil all the way to your pet’s skin.

2. Lavender essential oil

Lavender acts as both a flea treatment and a flea killer. Its aroma keeps fleas away by killing them upon contact. For fleas left standing, the smell alone repels them.

How to treat: Control fleas with the essential oil by placing a single drop on your dog’s neck. For larger dogs over 50 pounds, you can apply a drop at their tail base as well. Also, consider peppermint as another essential flea spray to use.

3. Apple cider vinegar

Even fleas are picky eaters. Apple cider vinegar is a flea treatment for dogs that makes fleas stay away. When your dog drinks some of the treatment, it’ll take them right off the flea’s menu as they’ll taste bad to the fleas.

How to treat: Ask your vet before administering apple cider vinegar. Add a tablespoon of the vinegar to your dog’s water to repel fleas.

4. Flea spray

Nothing beats a natural flea spray. The solution is chemical-free and is perfect for treating adult fleas. Keep in mind this is only a temporary solution, you’ll still have to treat the larger infestation and fleas can easily jump back on your pet after some time. The spray will safely kill the fleas on your dog and can be sprayed around the home to address the infestation.

How to treat: What you’ll need is a natural flea spray designated it’s safe for dogs and for your pet’s age and a pair of gloves to keep your hands clean. Our top pick for an all-natural flea spray is Vet’s Best Flea and Tick Spray, which is cat-safe and also protects against ticks and mosquitos.

5. Brewer’s yeast

👉 Always consult with your vet for the correct dosage before incorporating a new supplement into your dog’s diet.

Repel fleas away with this non-toxic treatment. Brewer’s yeast is easy to add into your dog’s diet, with vet approval of course, and is a natural way for pest control. It works by making your dog taste bad to fleas and repulses them away.

How to treat: Available as a tablet or powder, incorporate brewer’s yeast into your dog’s dog food. Before administering to your pet, consult with your vet for proper dosage information.

6. Diatomaceous earth

Diatomaceous earth is a non-toxic treatment best to control adult fleas at home. Made of silica, diatoms, and natural minerals, the natural remedy resembles a powder-like substance. It works to kill fleas by damaging their exoskeletons and infiltrating their bodies to draw moisture out. Essentially drying the fleas out until they die.

How to use: Sprinkle food-grade diatomaceous earth in your home on bedding, furniture upholstery, baseboards, and carpets. Wait a few hours to let it work its magic and then vacuum up the diatomaceous earth with the dead fleas

7. Citrus

It’s not as easy as leaving out zesty lemons around your house to kill fleas, but citrus is a proven natural remedy to get rid of fleas inside your home. Citrus extracts including linalool and D-limonene are excellent natural flea repellents that target both adults and eggs alike. Similar to diatomaceous earth, citrus products like lemon juice have drying-out effects on fleas. Upon contact, citrus dissolves their protective coating and makes it impossible for fleas to keep moisture in. This dehydrates and dries out the flea to death.

How to use: Buy or make your own citrus repellent to use in your home. If you’re buying one make sure to read the label carefully to make sure it says it’s safe for pets. Use the spray bottle in areas of your house as needed.

8. Light trap

A light trap uses light and heat to draw out fleas. The flea trap is set up with a yellow-green light bulb dangling above a sticky mat to trap them until they die or are disposed of. Light traps follow an on and off lighting pattern. Bulbs that are on for a set time such as 10 minutes and off for 5 seconds trick fleas into believing the light is a host-source and jump into the trap.

How to use: Set up the light trap in your home to fool fleas into the trap.

9. Sulfur

 ⚠️ If you suspect that your dog ingested a toxic amount of sulfur, contact Animal Poison Control immediately: (888) 426-4435

Treat your backyard with sulfur to get rid of fleas. Upon contact or ingestion, sulfur interferes with the fleas’ energy production to put an end to their infestation.

How to use: Sulfur is for outdoor flea treatment only. Use the powder form on your lawn, shrubs, and other outdoor spots. To protect your favorite plants, only apply liquid sulfur. A good rule of thumb is to apply the powder with a sifter and make sure you can see the color of your plants through the powder to prevent killing them.

Dangers posed by fleas

It may begin as your dog scratching, but it’s much more than that. Not recognizing the signs that your dog has fleas poses serious problems for your pet. Fleas are parasites that carry all sorts of diseases that can put your pup in danger.

Here’s what you’re preventing when you catch fleas early:

  • Tapeworms. If your pet ingests an infected flea with tapeworm larvae, it can transmit the parasite to your pet.
  • Anemia. An abundance of fleas on puppies can create extreme blood loss with serious consequences, including tissue damage and even death.
  • Flea Allergic Dermatitis (FAD). Some dogs are allergic to flea saliva. This can create extreme immune reactions in your pet.
  • Hemobartonellosis. This is an extremely rare disease, so most dog owners shouldn’t worry. But, if your dog has had their spleen removed, this flea-transmitted disease could be life-threatening.

How to prevent a flea infestation with flea control

👉Read our guide on flea treatments for dogs

The key is preventing a flea problem before it happens. Prevention methods will save you time and trouble in the long run. Plus, your dog will thank you for keeping the fleas away.

  • Spot treatments and flea collars. Ask your vet before applying flea prevention treatments to find out the best products for your dog.
  • Give your dog a bath. Regular flea checks with a flea comb and bathing will keep your dog clean and keep you in the know if an infestation is beginning.
  • Yard maintenance. Pet owners, keep a well manicured yard. Mow the lawn and trim back shrubs. This gives fleas fewer spots to hide in your yard.
  • Keep up with house cleaning. The saying here goes that a clean house is a flea-free house. Vacuum inside your house weekly on rugs and carpets to prevent any unwanted flea eggs from hatching that got into the house from living in your house. As an added measure, our vets recommend using moth balls inside your vacuum cleaner bag to kill fleas picked up in the cleaning process.