- Fleas are small but powerful — Smaller than a grain of rice but capable of jumping up to a foot high, a single flea can lay between 40-50 eggs daily. These tiny white specks can easily fall into pet beds, couches, carpets, and cracks in hardwood floors, leading to a sudden infestation.
- Fleas can carry diseases and tapeworms — Unfortunately, fleas aren’t just itchy nuisances. Flea prevention is essential to protect your pet from secondary conditions, such as anemia, that can result from an infestation.
- Flea repellents are widely available — We’ll provide medical and natural examples, often found at home improvement stores or online, that can be used for fleas on dogs and getting rid of them.
Fleas are a nuisance to you and your dog. They can also pose serious health issues if left untreated. Many pet parents are very concerned with using harsh chemicals on their dogs, so they turn to natural remedies. Chemical treatments may be necessary in severe infestations, but always consult your vet first before giving your dog any medicines or natural remedies. Good news: our guide can help you identify fleas — and find the best way to get rid of them.
👉 Because dogs have sensitive skin and lick their fur, they need dog-friendly flea treatments. Pay attention to labels because most flea products are specifically formulated for cats or dogs, and might not be suitable for both species.
How to identify fleas on your dog
Flea bites often appear as red, raised dots on your pet that disappear after a few minutes. In homes with infestations, fleas may bite people, particularly around the ankles and exposed skin. For pets, these spots can get lost in your dog’s fur and are only visible if the skin is inflamed from itching.
- Check your dog’s coat for flea dirt — This looks like black pepper on your dog’s skin. Often, flea dirt is concentrated around the neck, ears, tail base, or lower back. One helpful hint to tell if it’s flea dirt or just dirt is to comb the specks onto a white napkin and then moisten it and look for red discoloration. Flea dirt is actually flea “poop” from the digested blood, so it will turn red when wet.
- Watch for movement — When grooming your dog, you may see fleas moving when disturbed by a comb. A flea comb works great for finding both fleas and dirt.
- Look out for symptoms — There are some telltale signs of fleas based on symptoms alone, like itching and scratching, hair loss, scabs, and with more severe infestations, pale gums. Pet parents may also notice hot spots or “pimples” if the fleas have caused an infection.
Dangers posed by fleas
It may begin as your dog scratching, but fleas can become far more serious than that. Not recognizing the signs that your dog has fleas poses serious problems for your pet. Fleas are parasites that carry diseases that can endanger your pup.
As the saying goes: An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. 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, anemia , and even death.
- Flea allergy 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.
10 ways to end a flea infestation
1. Coconut oil
Coconut oil is a safe, simple solution to treat your dog. Its fatty lauric acid covers the flea’s exoskeleton in an oil coating, immobilizing and suffocating it.
Treatment. Work a light consistency through your dog’s coat, down to the skin, in an outdoor setting. The Lauric acid contained in coconut oil is a natural flea repellent that may cause bugs to leave the fur.
2. Natural flea spray
Nothing beats a natural flea spray. These solutions are free from synthetic chemicals, perfect for treating adult fleas. The spray will safely kill the fleas on your dog and can be sprayed around the home to address the infestation. Always carefully read the labels first because some products work differently than others. For example, some only repel fleas, while others kill adult fleas but not eggs and larvae. Some natural flea sprays, like Tropiclean Flea & Tick Spray, repel and kill these parasites in all life stages.
Treatment. You’ll need a natural flea spray designated safe for your dog and gloves to keep your hands clean. Our top pick for an all-natural flea spray is Vet’s Best Flea and Tick Spray. Dampen your pet’s coat with the spray, then massage it into the skin.
👉 Always check with your vet and discuss treatment options before applying natural flea remedies to your dog.
3. Organic shampoo
All soaps and shampoos kill fleas when used in a bath. You don’t have to use flea shampoo to kill fleas. In fact, some of these products can be harmful to your dog and excessively dry out their skin. The surfactants in regular soaps actually suffocate fleas. Fleas can’t float on top of the water because of the way their exoskeleton is formed. When you add soap or shampoo to the warm water, they will drown in the water.
Treatment. Use any organic shampoo as you normally would in a bath. Make sure that there is some standing water in the tub so the fleas will fall or jump into it and then drown instead of jumping off your pet to safety. Make sure to read the directions on the bottle before using it.
4. Apple cider vinegar
Even fleas are picky eaters. Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a natural treatment for dogs that keeps fleas away. Dilute one part ACV with one part water in a spray bottle and give your dog a dowsing before heading outdoors.
Treatment. Some pet parents believe that an oral dose of ACV also keeps fleas at bay. The evidence is anecdotal, but if your vet gives the all-clear, add a tablespoon of vinegar to your dog’s drinking water to repel fleas. Keep a bowl of your dog’s fresh water handy in case they don’t like the taste of ACV.
👉 Always consult your vet for the correct dosage before incorporating any new supplement into your dog’s diet.
5. Flea prevention and treatment
Ask your vet about the best type of flea prevention for your dog. Some types target multiple parasites while others might only kill fleas. Nearly all flea control is intended for dogs 12 weeks and older, so you may have to resort to natural methods if you have a young puppy.
Treatment. Most flea prevention treatments require a vet prescription to purchase. Capstar is available over the counter, but it only kills adult fleas, so it won’t end an infestation alone.
6. Lavender essential oil
Lavender contains linalool, which is effective at treating fleas at every life stage. Because the science isn’t clear on how safe undiluted lavender oil is for pets, use it in your home rather than on pets directly.
Treatment. Mix up to 10 drops of food-grade lavender essential oil in an 8-ounce spray bottle and spray walls, floors, and places your pet doesn’t frequent. Some pets are sensitive to essential oils, while others aren’t. To be safe, avoid spraying it where your pets spend time.
7. Diatomaceous earth
Diatomaceous earth is a non-toxic treatment best used to control adult fleas at home. Made of silica, diatoms, and natural minerals, it resembles a powder-like substance. Diatomaceous earth kills fleas by damaging their exoskeletons and infiltrating their bodies to draw moisture out.
Treatment. Sprinkle food-grade diatomaceous earth in your home on bedding, furniture upholstery, baseboards, and carpets. Wait overnight to let it work its magic, then vacuum the diatomaceous earth with the dead fleas. Wear a mask while spreading diatomaceous earth and avoid spreading it with pets in the room, as the tiny particles can cause lung irritation.
Dwight Alleyne, DVM
Even though both diatomaceous earth and boric acid can kill fleas, mixing them together does not do much to increase efficacy. Boric acid often needs to be ingested by the flea to be effective, while diatomaceous earth just requires contact with the flea to be effective.
Citrus extracts, including linalool and D-limonene, are excellent natural flea repellents. Like diatomaceous earth, citrus products such as lemon juice, have dehydrating effects on fleas. Upon contact, citrus dissolves the flea’s protective coating, making it impossible for fleas to retain moisture.
Treatment. When buying a citrus flea spray, read the label carefully to ensure it’s safe for dogs — some may not be safe for cats, birds, or small mammal pets. Add up to 10 drops of any citrus, food-grade essential oil to an 8-ounce spray bottle to make your own homemade flea repellant. Use the product or blend in areas of your house as needed.
9. Light trap
A light trap uses light and heat to draw out fleas. The flea trap has a yellow-green bulb dangling above a sticky mat to trap them until they die or get disposed of. Light traps follow an on-and-off lighting pattern, which tricks fleas into believing the light is a host source to jump onto.
Treatment. Set up the light trap in your home to fool fleas into the trap.
Treat your backyard with sulfur to get rid of fleas. Upon contact or ingestion, sulfur interferes with the fleas’ energy production. Sulfur can be toxic to pets in large amounts, so make sure your dog doesn’t eat any.
Treatment. Sulfur is for outdoor flea treatment only. Use the powder on your lawn, shrubs, and other outdoor spots. A good rule of thumb is to use the powder with a sifter and ensure you can see your plants’ color through the powder to prevent killing the vegetation.
🚨 If you suspect your dog ingested a toxic amount of sulfur, contact Animal Poison Control immediately: (888) 426-4435.
How to prevent a flea infestation with flea control
The best thing is to prevent 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. Here are some things to try:
Spot treatments. Ask your vet before applying flea prevention treatments to find out the best products for your dog.
Oral or topical flea prevention. Some parasite prevention includes fleas, such as Nexguard SPECTRA. One monthly tablet keeps your pet safe from heartworms, fleas, ticks, and mites. Others may only target specific species, or adult fleas. For example, Capstar tablets only kill adult fleas, which won’t end an existing infestation because it doesn’t destroy flea eggs. Ask your veterinarian for their recommendation of what flea prevention is right for your pet.
A bath routine. Most dogs only need a bath once a month or less. Regular baths are important, but overbathing can dry out the natural oils on their coat and make their fur lackluster. In between spa sessions, regularly inspect your dog’s fur with a flea comb so that you can catch fleas before they turn into an infestation. 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. Mowing the lawn and trimming back shrubs. This gives fleas and ticks fewer spots to hide in the backyard.
Routine house cleaning. Vacuum rugs and carpets weekly to rid your home of fleas that may get inside. Consider adding diatomaceous earth to your vacuum cleaner or bin to help kill fleas and flea eggs that get sucked into the vacuum. If you see any fleas, you should vacuum daily until you’re certain they’re gone.
When to go to the vet
Fleas are usually more of a nuisance than a medical emergency. However, some dogs suffer from allergic reactions to flea bites. Known as flea atopic dermatitis, this condition can lead to hair loss, broken skin, and infections. In young puppies, or even in adult dogs in severe cases, excessive flea bites can cause life-threatening anemia. Fleas are also hosts to tapeworms, which can invade your dog’s intestines and make them sick. Take your dog to the vet for treatment if you notice signs like:
Getting rid of fleas is very important to your dog’s health. The rule of thumb is that for every 1 flea you see, there are 10 more hiding, so take action immediately if you spot any on your pet. Vet-approved flea prevention and diligent cleaning habits can make all the difference in avoiding future infestations.
Frequently asked questions
What kills fleas immediately on dogs?
Flea sprays with natural ingredients and conventional flea prevention can kill adult fleas on dogs. You can also give your dog a bath in the tub with standing water in order to suffocate and drown the little buggers. Before trying any home remedies, consult with your vet. Assuming your pet is healthy and your vet gives it the green light, apple cider vinegar is a great, effective way to eliminate fleas. Treating your home with certain food-grade essential oil blends can also help kill and repel parasites.
What is the best homemade flea killer?
You can blend 8-10 drops of lavender, rosemary, or citrus essential oils high in linalool with water in a spray bottle. Apply the spray around the home where fleas tend to dwell, like along baseboards, pet bedding, couches, etc.
Do I need to treat my house if my dog has fleas?
Before anything else, give your dog a bath or use a flea comb to remove the fleas. Next, treat your pet with topical flea medications or an all-natural blend that will repel fleas. Sprinkle the carpet and any couches with diatomaceous earth. Let the powder sit overnight before vacuuming. Then, regularly repeat the process until all signs of fleas are gone. You should also wash your sheets in hot water, and launder all of your pet’s bedding, blankets, and plush toys.
Can Dawn dish soap be used for fleas on dogs?
Yes, Dawn does kill fleas on dogs. However, veterinarians advise that it’s not a good long-term solution because it doesn’t have any repellent properties and can dry out your dog’s skin with continual use. Using an organic, sulfate-free dog shampoo will work just as well due to the surfactants in soaps, and won’t be so harsh on your pup’s skin.
What kills fleas naturally?
Mixing a vinegar base, such as white vinegar or apple cider vinegar, with essential oils such as lavender or citrus, can be a very effective mixture. Use a cloth or spray bottle to apply your homemade concoction to baseboards, bedding, or couches.