Swatting at a gnat is annoying, but if you pet your dog, sleep with your dog, and snuggle with your dog on the couch, there's something creepy about fleas that makes them all the more invasive. Yuck!
The good news is a case of fleas doesn't always constitute a trip to the vet. Sure, in some dire scenarios, you might want to seek the help of a heavy-duty flea treatment or a veterinarian. But in the event that the fleas are minimal, pet owners can usually ward off these unwanted parasites with a few natural, at-home remedies.
Got fleas in the family? (Dogs are our children, after all!) Here's how to get rid of fleas on dogs fast—including a home remedy for getting rid of fleas on dogs and how to get rid of fleas on dogs naturally. See the best DIY dog flea treatments!
How to Get Rid of Fleas on Dogs
What Are Fleas?
Fleas are a type of bloodsucking insect known as parasites. These parasites live on the exterior of their host (in this case, the dog is the host and the exterior is their coat). According to Britannica, a flea (order Siphonaptera) is "any of a group of bloodsucking insects that are important carriers of disease and can be serious pests."
Though fleas are popularly thought to be relatively harmless, they can transmit harmful parasites, such as tapeworms and typhus. The main concern with a flea infestation on a pet is loss of blood.
Get ready to get grossed out because here's how fleas work: The female flea, also known as the chigoe, burrows into a host skin, then lives inside a cyst that forms around it. If your dog has fleas, you might notice symptoms such as intense itching and a visibly enlarged cyst. Fleas are relatively tiny—about an eighth of an inch long when they are adults—and the size of a pea when swelled up inside a cyst.
In fact, Britannica adds that fleas were the "chief agent transmitting the Black Death (bubonic plague) in the Middle Ages," acting as "an essential link in the chain of events that resulted in the death of a quarter of the population of Europe."
But don't panic. If your dog has a case of fleas, he's not going to start another bubonic plague. In fact, most cases of fleas can be taken care of relatively easily, especially if they are caught quickly.
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Are Fleas Visible?
If you suspect your dog might have fleas, symptoms like extreme itching and the visible presence of a cyst (particularly on the paw area, as that's where fleas tend to target) are strong indicators. But are fleas visible? And if they are, what should you be looking out for?
Are fleas black? In cartoons, fleas are often depicted as teeny-tiny, black specks, but in reality, they are reddish-brown in color. Though fleas are technically visible to the naked eye, it's difficult to ascertain a flea's color or to see what they really look like without a magnifying glass or microscope. But if you do look closely at a flea, you'll notice they're not only reddish-brown and wingless, but they also feature long back legs.
These long back legs enable fleas to jump. Britannica reveals that a flea can jump as far as 12 inches in one leap. In fact, that's how they get to their hosts in the first place: by jumping. Fleas generally enjoy hiding—they'll live in rugs, cracks in the floor, and even the bedding. When given the opportunity to find a living host, they'll spring onto a dog or cat (or even a human).
Luckily, like most things, fleas have a kryptonite. At least, the larvae do. According to Common Pests, "Flea larvae will die when exposed directly to sunlight." However, that's only the larvae. While many people believe fleas are repelled by light, light actually just makes them hide better.
"This is false, as fleas are repelled by light and prefer to burrow deep in carpet and fur," Common Pests continues. "They are attracted to body warmth, carbon dioxide, and vibrations."
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Why Do Fleas Wind Up on Dogs?
Dogs get fleas simply by being around fleas. Maybe there are fleas outdoors or hiding in the nooks and crannies of your home. Your dog can even get fleas from a visitor whose own pet might have fleas.
According to Academy Animal, dogs can get fleas from the dog park, kennel, groomer, visitors, or even you if you've unknowingly been exposed to fleas. Alternatively, dogs can simply get fleas from the grass in your backyard. Fleas tend to latch onto other animals, too—not just dogs. So, if a deer, squirrel, rabbit, or even mouse takes a walk through your grass, dropping off a flea as it goes, your dog is susceptible to that flea then jumping on.
If a flea is lurking nearby, whenever a dog (or even a cat) walks by, the flea may leap onto the pet, sensing the opportunity for a new host.
Natural Home Remedies to Get Rid of Fleas on Dogs
Luckily, most cases of fleas are generally easy to get rid of. In fact, it might not even require a trip to the vet. According to Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM, as told to The Farmer's Dog, a bath with lukewarm water and mild soap might be your best bet if the flea infestation is minor.
Dr. Ochoa says, "The most common signs that your pet has fleas is actually seeing fleas."
If a bath doesn't get rid of your dog's fleas, remember that fleas can also live in the environment, which means you'll have to wash/clean/bathe your dog's environment, too. Definitely run your dog's bed through the wash, as well as clean anything your pet lies on or any areas the dog spends a lot of time in.
When doing the laundry post-fleas, you may want to add a few droplets of eucalyptus essential oil on a dryer ball. Eucalyptus essential oil is super effective in deterring fleas and mites, as well as other small critters you don't want in the home.
You can also invest in a flea comb, which will trap your dog's fleas as the teeth comb through the fur. Flea combs are also good for removing all traces of fleas, even their (yuck!) feces. You'll specifically want to focus on combing your dog's neck and tail, as those are the most commonly frequented areas for fleas, according to WebMD.
Whenever you remove fleas from your dog—whether by flea comb or by bath—make sure to kill the fleas. Otherwise, they'll just end up on you or your dog again. To kill fleas, submerge them in hot, soapy water.
Apple Cider Vinegar as a Home Remedy for Fleas on Dogs
Another way to naturally get rid of fleas on dogs is to try a mixture of water and apple cider vinegar. According to The Spruce, a DIY spray of equal parts vinegar (of your choice, but most people choose ACV) can help deter fleas away.
However, a spray of 1:1 might be too concentrated for your pet; to start, you may want to do a 1:3 spray.
Can Garlic Get Rid of Fleas on Dogs?
Similar to the way fleas loathe the smell of vinegar, they also can't stand the way garlic smells. Garlic also contains anti-fungal and anti-parasitic properties that keep fleas away—making this an easy and natural home remedy for fleas on dogs.
To use garlic to get rid of your dog's fleas, Whole Dog Journal recommends mixing a little less than one crushed garlic clove a day (work your way up to one garlic clove, so your pup gets used to it) into your pup's food. However, it's best to consult a veterinarian before doing this.
Can Dawn Get Rid of Fleas on Dogs?
According to Pest Policy, Dawn dish soap can also get rid of fleas on dogs. In fact, it only takes a few minutes for Dawn to kill off fleas from your dog's coat. To use Dawn to get rid of fleas on dogs, wet down your pet with warm water and lather on some Dawn dish soap. Rinse it off, and the fleas should be dead within minutes. After the bath, go through your dog's coat with a flea comb; you should notice dead fleas falling off into the comb.
How to Prevent Fleas
Now that you've gotten rid of fleas on your dog, there's no doubt you'll want to make sure a flea infestation never happens again. There are a few things you can do to prevent fleas.
First, perform frequent checks of your dog's coat. You can do this visibly and by running your fingers throughout your dog's coat after a walk or time spent outside. Make sure to check their feet, belly, tail, and neck area. While you're there, check for ticks, too! You can also do a flea check with a flea comb. If no fleas turn up in the comb, your pup is good.
Another important prevention method is medication. You can put your dog on a preventative pill that will get rid of and prevent fleas from feeding off your dog. Some tick treatments—like the Seresto Collar—also prevent fleas and other mites. Another alternative includes all-natural flea treatments like the kin+kind Protectant Spray on Grove Collaborative.
What else can you do to prevent fleas? Keep your home, and the immediate outdoor area surrounding your home, as clean as possible. Don't keep dog food outdoors. Vacuum the floors and carpeted furniture frequently, and keep the grass outside cut short.
Frequent grooming and care for your dog is also an important prevention tactic. Bathe your dog regularly (at least once a month) and make sure to regularly get their hair cut.
Next up, 20 things to never feed your pet.