How To Get Rid Of Fleas On Dogs

Here's how to stop the itchiness 🔥

does my dog or cat have fleas

Fleas are the worst. They’ll drive your dog crazy with itching, and they can even cause serious health issues — which means it’s important to get rid of them as soon as they pop up.

Aside from the intense itching and scratching that comes along with a flea infestation, your pet can also suffer from infections due to all that itching. Fleas can even cause allergies, a tapeworm infection — which happens if your pet eats an infected flea — or flea-bite anemia, which can be deadly if not treated.

We spoke to Dr. Corinne Wigfall, a veterinarian working with SpiritDog Training, and Dr. John Sangiorgio, a veterinarian from CompeteCare Veterinary Center in New York City, to find out how to get rid of fleas on dogs.

JUMP TO: Signs of fleas | Flea life cycle | Best flea treatments | Treating home for fleas | Preventing fleas

What are fleas?

Fleas are small (like, very tiny), brown wingless insects that live on cats and dogs. They survive by feeding on their host’s blood.

“There are over 2,000 species of fleas in the world, but the most common [ones] to infect dogs are Ctenocephalides felis,” Dr. Wigfall told The Dodo. (These are also known as cat fleas.)

How to tell if your dog has fleas

There are a few different ways you can tell your dog has fleas. Some of the most common ones include:

Your dog’s very itchy

One of the more obvious signs that your dog has fleas is excessive biting and scratching, particularly around the back end at the base of the tail.

“You can often see your dog nibbling at the skin because the flea bites are itchy,” Dr. Wigfall said.

You find flea dirt

Small red spots on the skin and flea dirt are also signs that your dog has fleas. Flea dirt looks like black grains of sand.

“The way to identify if it's flea dirt rather than just dirt is to brush your dog's coat with a comb and lay the material on a damp kitchen paper towel,” Dr. Wigfall said. “If it's flea dirt, the black dots will leave a red stain on the kitchen towel (as the flea dirt contains digested blood).”

Try a flea comb like this Hertzko one from Chewy for $10

You can see fleas on your dog

Other signs include seeing live fleas on your dog. “These are small, red-brown moving creatures on your dog’s skin,” Dr. Wigfall said. “Part the hair around the base of the tail and you can often see them scurrying away from the light. If you don’t see any fleas, your pet can still have fleas — they are very good at hiding when they need to!”

Also keep in mind that once you see a flea, there are likely many more bouncing around out of sight.

“A wise man once said that for every flea you see, there are 10 more!” Dr. Sangiorgio told The Dodo.


Your dog gets tapeworms

Believe it or not, a tapeworm infection is also a sign that your dog has fleas. “If your pet poops tapeworms, they also have a flea burden as the flea is needed to complete the tapeworm lifecycle,” Dr. Wigfall said.

Understanding the flea life cycle

One important thing you can do in the battle against fleas is to understand them a little better so you have a shot at getting rid of them. This is because there are different flea treatments that affect different life cycle stages of fleas.

Fleas go through four life cycle stages:

  1. Egg
  2. Larva
  3. Pupa
  4. Adult

Adult fleas can survive for up to two weeks in the environment without food. “As soon as they find a host, they jump on and feed,” Dr Wigfall said. “After finding a host, fleas will mate and, within two days, produce eggs. A female flea can produce around 50 eggs per day!”

Egg life cycle stage

When fleas lay eggs, they hatch within 1–10 days depending on the conditions (warm but not too hot or humid is perfect for these little pests).

This means that any eggs an adult female flea lays on your dog can potentially get ALL over your house and yard every time your pup moves, lies down, shakes or plays. (This is why it’s so important to prevent fleas before they start living on your dog.)

Larva life cycle stage

The next life cycle is the flea larva. “They emerge or hatch within two to six days and immediately start to consume flea dirt to survive,” Dr. Wigfall said. “They hate light, so they’ll crawl into carpets and dark areas. They cannot cope with high heat, and this can kill the larva stage. They are able to ‘hold’ onto items, such as the carpet, making them difficult to vacuum up to eliminate them.”

Pupa life cycle stage

The larvae will spin a cocoon and develop into a fully formed pre-adult phase (pupa). They wait to hatch until they can tell a host is near — detecting warmth, carbon dioxide levels and vibrations on the ground (pretty impressive, honestly).

“[Pupae] can develop into adults in as little as five days in ideal conditions and up to 140 days if not, and can survive in low temperatures,” Dr. Wigfall said. “This makes the pupa the hardest stage of the life cycle to kill, and even flea bombs and carpet treatments can struggle to penetrate the carpet to the level where the pupae are hiding.”

Adult life cycle stage

After all of this, your flea will become an adult with a lifespan of about 120 days, and the cycle will repeat itself over and over and over again (but with wayyyy more fleas this time — which is why getting rid of them is so important).

How to get rid of fleas on dogs fast

If your dog is suffering from fleas, you need to work fast.

According to Dr. Wigfall, determining the best flea treatment will really depend on your situation.

If you need to treat a severe infestation on your dog, you might want to consider products that kill fleas ASAP, like a flea shampoo or Capstar, in addition to a preventative medication. Otherwise, prescription flea preventatives can kill live fleas on your dog in about a day or two and can effectively prevent new fleas from infesting your pet.

“It's important when using a product to understand if the products treat just the adult lifestage (such as Capstar and Frontline) or all stages of the flea life cycle,” Dr. Wigfall said.

It’s a good rule of thumb to avoid any natural flea products or over-the-counter preventative flea products when treating your dog. “I would not recommend flea treatments from supermarkets and pet stores, such as Dr. Bobs and Frontline — these products have often been around a long time, only treat adult fleas and resistance to this type of product is high,” Dr. Wigfall said.

Best dog flea chewables

Since oral flea medications usually come in the form of a tasty chewable treat, most dogs have no problem scarfing them down. “If your dog likes a chewable tablet, products I would recommend include Nexgard, Bravecto [and] Simparica,” Dr. Wigfall said.


Product type: Prescription
Medication type: Treats and prevents fleas
How long it takes to work: Within eight hours
How long it lasts: Up to 30 days

Get Nexgard Chewables for Dogs from Chewy for $69


Product type: Prescription
Medication type: Treats and prevents fleas
How long it takes to work: Within 12 hours
How long it lasts: Up to 12 weeks

Get Bravecto Chews for Dogs at Chewy for $62


Product type: Prescription
Medication type: Treats and prevents fleas
How long it takes to work: Within three hours
How long it lasts: Up to 30 days

Get Simparica from Chewy for $164

Best dog flea shampoo

“A good shampoo is also necessary to rid the pet of 'flea dirt' — which is the eggs and bowel movement of the fleas,” Dr. Sangiorgio said. “I don’t recommend any particular brand — they’re all basically the same — but at my office, we use Bio-Groom.”


Product type: Over the counter
Medication type: Treats fleas
How long it takes to work: Immediately
How long it lasts: Not applicable

Try Bio-Groom Flea & Tick Conditioning Dog Shampoo on Amazon for $15

Best dog flea topical solutions

“If a topical solution is easier for you to apply, good products include Bravecto topical and Advantage,” Dr. Wigfall said.


Product type: Prescription
Medication type: Treats and prevents fleas
How long it takes to work: Within eight hours
How long it lasts: Up to 12 weeks

Try Bravecto Topical from Chewy for $55


Product type: Over the counter
Medication type: Treats and prevents fleas
How long it takes to work: Within 12 hours
How long it lasts: Up to 30 days

Try Advantage from Amazon for $31

Note: If using topical flea treatment, remember to not bathe or allow swimming for 72 hours after application to make sure the flea treatment has time to absorb into the skin.

Also, when applying a topical flea treatment, remember to part the hair and apply the solution to the skin itself rather than on the coat (it won't be absorbed if it sits on the hair instead of the skin).

Can you get rid of fleas naturally?

While some people are able to keep the flea burden down by regularly combing their pets, it’s not possible to completely eliminate fleas using natural products.

“Common natural remedies, such as diatomaceous earth, turmeric, citronella, etc., are not 100 percent effective at keeping away fleas,” Dr. Wigfall said. “Remember, fleas can bite you as well as cause serious illness, such as anemia, in your pets, so treatment with licensed flea treatment is recommended.”

Tips for treating your home and yard for fleas

Fleas are notoriously hard to get rid of, so you’ll also need to clean and treat every area of your house and yard where they could be hiding — or they could reinfect your pet.

Treat all of your pets

Even if only one of your pets has fleas, it’s important that you treat all your cats and dogs with a flea preventative treatment on the same day. This will help ensure no eggs attached themselves to another pet without your knowledge.

“Use a product that treats all stages of the life cycle, not just adult fleas,” Dr. Wigfall said.

Vacuum everything

Vacuum all carpets, flooring and vacuum-friendly furniture — and then make sure you throw out the vacuum bag so the fleas don’t find their way back!

Clean your pet’s bedding (and any soft surfaces)

Once you’ve treated your pet, wash your pet’s bedding in super hot, soapy water — this will help to kill those pesky fleas and all their eggs.

While you’re at it, you should also wash any soft surfaces your pet might love to lie on, like your couch cushions, blankets and your bed.

Talk to a professional

It’s best to consult a professional exterminator who can advise you on the best plan for your individual home and family. According to Dr. Sangiorgio, one option to consider is getting your house fogged so that your pet doesn’t get reinfested.

It’s important to note that flea bombs and foggers are toxic to humans and pets as well as fleas, so you need to plan accordingly and make arrangements to have everyone out of the house during treatment.

Preventing fleas

The best way to treat fleas, of course, is to prevent them in the first place. Make sure your pet’s on a consistent preventative medication to ensure you never have to worry about them.

Preventative medications come in the form of topical medications — like drops or something else that gets put directly on your pet’s skin — or systemic medications — like oral chews that you give your pet to ingest.

“Systemic means an oral dose that, depending on the product, can last from one to three months. I recommend this for clients with young children,” Dr. Sangiorgio said, so you don’t have to worry about your kids accidentally touching a topical product.

Luckily, many of the products that can be used to kill adult fleas can also be used as preventative medication. Here’s what the vets recommend:

Bravecto Chews for Dogs at Chewy for $62
Try Bravecto Topical from Chewy for $56

Flea home infestations can be a nightmare to treat, and recurrence is common — but don’t let that get you down. Be aggressive in your strategy and don’t be afraid to reach out for help from professionals if needed.

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