Slobber & Chops Guide: Fleas, Life Cycle, Treatments and Prevention

| Bone Idol, Dog Grooming, Guides & Resources, Health & Wellbeing

How to Get Rid of Fleas, Treatments for Fleas & More

All about fleas and the signs, symptoms and suggested treatments for fleas on dogs. With advice and information on how to get rid of fleas, how to look for fleas and the flea life cycle and choosing the right treatments for your dog and home.

Ask any dog owner, kennel proprietor, dog groomer or vet, and ‘fleas on dogs’ are one of the most commonly-quoted problems associated with living or working with dogs. Makes you want to scratch, right, talking about fleas?

Finding fleas on your dog is just the tip of the iceberg, so getting to grips with the problem and understanding some basic facts about these itchy little blighters is really important in implementing an integrated prevention and control strategy.

Bone Idol Guide Dog Fleas

What Are Fleas

Fleas are ectoparasitic insects, tiny parasites that live on the outside of a primary host animal while feeding on its blood. They are an extremely common pest with around 2,500 differing species in the world. Two types of flea live and dine on your dog in the UK. The most common type is the cat flea Ctenocephalides felis.

Can cat fleas live on dogs you ask yourself? The cat flea’s primary host is, drum roll … domestic cats, but don’t be fooled … just because it’s a cat flea doesn’t mean that it won’t infest and bite your dog (and you!) as well. Ctenocephalides canis, the scientific name for the dog flea, uses a variety of animal hosts but primarily lives on dogs and cats.

Dogs usually become infested with fleas either through contact with other mammals or through contact with fleas in their environment. The flea is well adapted with strong back legs which enable it to jump very high from host to host or from the environment onto a passing host.

What do Dog Fleas Look Like? Bone Idol

‘Find a flea and you’ve found a hundred’ … It’s the stuff of nightmares, but for every flea you see on your dog, there are probably more elsewhere. Fleas are holometabolic insects meaning that they transition through distinct life cycle phases, four in the case of the flea. Adult female fleas can lay up to fifty eggs in one day. These little tiny eggs then drop off your dog onto carpets, bedding, soft furnishings and even soil where they then hatch into larvae. The larvae feed on the faeces of adult fleas and other organic debris in preparation for spinning a cocoon where the pupa will remain before emerging as an adult flea.

The flea life cycle can take anything from 14 days to 180 days to complete, however under typical household conditions, ideal for the flea, a complete life cycle usually takes between three and six weeks.

So, you might think that you’ve exterminated all the fleas on your dog only to find a whole new generation of itchy little critters emerging weeks after. Understanding the flea life cycle is just the first step in successful flea control. To prevent repeat infestations and to ensure your dog won’t be re-infected is an integrated, multi-step process; you must address each stage of the life cycle and treat it accordingly to break the cycle. Effective flea control means not only killing the fleas on your dog but also ensuring that the environment in which they live is free from these parasites.


The Life Cycle of Fleas, Dogs Pets, Cats

Firstly, you may be able to see them. Adult fleas are reddish-brown in colour and measure about 3mm in length. They are much easier to see in lighter-coloured furs and you may notice them jumping – they have large back legs enabling them to jump up to 200 times their own body length in a single leap.

Even if you don’t catch these pesky little freeloaders in the act, there are several signs and symptoms to watch out for indicating that your dog might be harbouring fleas. As fleas can hop on to your dog at any time it's worth in on the lookout for these indicators that your dog may have some unpleasant hitchhikers!

If your dog is scratching or biting at its fur, it could be fleas. Not only do fleas cause pain when they bite their saliva can also cause skin irritation. Many dogs are hypersensitive to flea saliva and can suffer allergic reactions. Spots, scabs, redness, irritation and scaly or thickened skin may all be caused by fleabite sensitivity, (or flea allergy dermatitis), which can lead to secondary skin infections. The base of the tail, along the back and the base of the neck are the flea’s favourite haunts along with the underside, particularly the groin.

Constant itching and biting may also cause your dog to have sore patches or bald spots. If so, areas of hair loss and patchy thinning or spiky fur are further potential signs that your dog has fleas.

If your dog is unlucky enough to suffer from a nasty infestation of fleas, there is a danger of him or her becoming anaemic. Fleas exclusively consume host blood for sustenance and too much blood loss can lead to flea-bite anaemia.

Small dogs and puppies as well as elderly and sick dogs are more susceptible. Pale gums can be a tell-tale sign. In rare and extreme instances, a flea infestation can prove fatal due to blood loss in severe cases.

How to Spot Fleas on Your Dog

What do Flea Bites Look Like on Dogs?

Flea bites on dogs look like tiny red dots, often appearing in clusters with a red area around them. The big problem with identifying if your dog has fleas by the bug bites themselves is that often you can’t see them and this is why it’s imperative to be able to spot the other signs of fleas on dogs.

If you have unaccounted insect bites, and if they look like small red dots, it’s worth a thorough check for fleas. Flea bites are much more obvious in humans due to our general lack of fur! Typically, fleas bite humans around the feet, ankles and lower legs and they will be intensely itchy.

Although the majority of dogs are itchy, unsettled and uncomfortable when they have fleas, some dogs may show no signs at all. Regular grooming is an excellent way of helping to identify a flea problem and will also strengthen the bond between you and your dog. Other than the flea itself, the first visible sign of fleas is often flea dirt (faeces, made up of dried digested blood) in the fur, appearing as little dark brown or black specks that resemble flakes of pepper. You may never see the actual critters themselves, but flea dirt on dogs could also be the reason behind your pup’s skin allergies.

If you suspect fleas, groom your dog with a fine-tooth flea comb over a white surface. Pop any droppings visible on the white surface onto some wet paper towel. If the droppings turn from black or brown to red when you rehydrate them, then it’s highly likely to be fleas. You may also see flea dirt on the dog’s bedding and your carpets, chairs etc. It will make your toes curl but wherever the dog has been, so too have any fleas living on them.

What do Flea Eggs Look Like on a Dog?

Flea eggs look like tiny white ovals about the size of a grain of salt. It is quite common for flea eggs to be mistaken for dry skin or sand and since they are so tiny, it’s not usually the first thing dog owners will notice if their beloved baby has fleas. Finding flea dirt or fleas themselves are much more obvious signs than finding flea eggs on dogs.

Also, flea eggs are much more likely to fall off around your home – onto your dog’s bedding, the carpets, soft furnishings etc – than remain on the dog. A few days later, the eggs will hatch into flea larvae (which look like little tiny worms with brown heads squiggling about) but you’re unlikely to see them as they quickly burrow into cracks and soft furnishings.

Dog Flea Eggs are tiny and hard to spot! What do dog flea eggs look like?

Fleas can also carry tapeworm larvae which can be ingested by your dog when he is licking himself. If you see what looks like tiny pieces of rice or cucumber seeds on the hairs around your dog’s anus or on the surface of freshly passed faeces, this could be tapeworm proglottids, another indication that your dog may have fleas.

Dogs cannot become infected with tapeworms by eating tapeworm eggs. Instead, the tapeworms must pass through an intermediate host (the flea). Whilst tapeworms do not usually cause serious health problems in adult dogs, flea control is critical in their prevention and your vet is the best person to advise on the most effective measures to take. Conversely, if your dog has fleas, it should also be treated for worms.

A Word About Dog Fleas on Humans

Fleas do not live on humans. Fact. They will bite humans, but they cannot live on you. This is because while they are not ‘host specific,’ most fleas have a preferred host species. The flea that dogs typically accommodate will jump from the dog to humans and have its lunch, but the dog flea cannot survive on humans. Our relatively ‘hairless’ bodies are difficult for fleas to attach to and because of the overall lack of hair (or fur!) on the human body, there isn’t enough heat, nor hiding places, for fleas to thrive.

If your dog has fleas, you may see itchy bite marks on yourself – typically on your arms or around your ankles and up your legs. Fleas may hide out inside clothes short-term but will most likely jump off onto a more suitable host like a dog or cat. Be aware that fleas can transmit disease to both you and your four-legged friend, so if you do see signs of fleas, or if you have a persistent rash or skin irritation, contact your doctor, pharmacist or the NHS professional advice.

My Dog Has Fleas! What to do? How to Treat Fleas on Dogs

So, it’s confirmed. Your four-legged friend has fleas. YIKES. What do you do? How to get rid of fleas on dogs is a much-Googled question!

First of all, if possible, start with a bath. A nice, lukewarm bath and a good wash with any mild pet-friendly shampoo will naturally kill existing fleas. Once you have worked up a good lather with the shampoo, leave it on for a couple of minutes to let it do its work, Always seek professional veterinary advice about using flea shampoo products. If there are sores on your dog’s skin, or if he has flea allergy dermatitis, the chemicals in specific flea products may worsen the condition. Please be aware that scrubbing in the tub will only kill the fleas on your dog at the time of bathing and will not prevent the flea life cycle from continuing so a flea prevention treatment will also be required. A bath with a regular pet-friendly shampoo will help to kill off the fleas on your dog because it deprives them of oxygen. Medicated flea shampoos have a flea treatment in them, so don’t use a medicated shampoo if you have recently used a flea treatment on your dog.

Comb your dog using a fine-tooth flea comb. The closely spaced teeth on a flea comb are designed to trap fleas and help remove flea dirt. Have some hot, soapy water to hand, and if you find a flea on the comb, pop the comb into the water to kill the flea. They are hard to kill by hand and are likely to just jump out of the way if you try and crush them.

Oh, and you’d better check Felix the cat and Roger the rabbit too!

The Best Treatment for Fleas on Your Dog is Prevention

Most importantly do not combine flea treatments could lead to an overdose. This includes using different treatments at the same time such as a ‘sport on’ and ‘flea shampoo’ in a short time. This also includes home sprays and ‘flea bombs’. Keep reading for advice on using these at home. Always advise your dog groomer of the most recent flea treatment. Follow the instructions and set reminders for the next treatment. If you are ever unsure how to proceed consult your vet.

It can be confusing to know which flea treatment is the best option for your best friend as there are so many on the market. If you and your dog are scratching your heads about which methods are available to prevent and treat dog fleas, we’ve done some leg work for you to explain some of the options available. This is not an opinion, just some suggestions to point your nose in the right direction as well as mentioning some of the most glaring advantages and disadvantages.

Always speak to your vet about the most suitable treatment for each of your pets. Within these styles of treatment, there is also a variety of medications. Some target the fleas to kill them while others prohibit the growth and development of eggs breaking the life cycle.

Spot-on flea: This style of treatment for dogs involves periodically applying a liquid to the skin at the back of your dog’s neck and is an extremely simple, fast-acting, long-lasting and effective way of treating and preventing dog fleas. Some spot-on treatments kill adult fleas while others prevent the development of eggs – and there are some available that do both, thus eliminating new generations entirely. Many spot-on applications are for both flea and tick prevention. Beware of washing off the treatment with swimming or bathing. We recommend doing these treatments before bedtime to prevent you and others in the home from touching the medication when petting your dog or allowing the dog to ‘rub off’ on surfaces.

Flea collars: Each collar contains active ingredients to stop fleas from growing. Lower-quality collars only treat the area directly around the neck and so because of their limited range, can be ineffective. They can also cause hair loss and irritation to the neck. Newer, more expensive flea collars that disperse the growth-inhibiting substances throughout the body rather than just locally are more effective and much kinder to your pooch’s skin and coat. If you are considering purchasing a flea collar, make sure it’s a high-quality and safe product recommended by your vet and ensure it has a quick-release mechanism to prevent your dog from getting caught. Like topical applications, some collars are for both flea and tick prevention which is another thing to talk to your vet about.

Dog flea treatment powders: These are applied to the coat and are quite an outdated way of treating fleas on your dog. To be effective, the powder needs to remain in the dog’s fur. Aside from only offering short-term protection, powders only kill adult fleas, not the larvae and can be dangerous if inhaled or swallowed.

Prescription Oral treatments: These include edible ‘treats’, tablets and liquids, administered orally, and get absorbed into the dog’s body. Those that contain insecticides kill adult fleas when they have a meal on Mutley, and those containing a hormone growth regulator target eggs and larvae thus breaking the flea life cycle.

Injections: These are available from a vet and are designed to thwart the development of eggs into fleas (thus eradicating new generations) but a topical treatment may be needed at the same time.

As always, have a chat with your vet about suitable flea treatments for your beloved canine and only use a vet-approved product and that has been tested for safety. If you have dogs and cats, treat your pets separately as some dog flea treatments contain permethrin which is toxic to cats. After treatment, keep them apart for a suitable period of time to negate the risk of transferring treatments by contact.

Edible Flea Treatment 

Edible Flea Treatment


'Spot On' or topical Flea Treatment

'Spot On' or topical Flea Treatment


Home Remedies for Fleas on Dogs

There are a whole host of home remedies and dog flea treatment products that claim to contain natural ingredients. Whilst this might sound like an attractive option, it is imperative to remember that non-veterinary products haven’t undergone strict safety checks and testing and therefore there are no guarantees that they are either safe for your dog or that they even work. As with any new treatment, always check with your dog’s vet before you use such products.

Online some of the most widely discussed home remedies are :

Essential oils: Some essential oils, for example, tea tree oil, can be toxic to pets when used incorrectly, so whilst oils such as citronella, eucalyptus, peppermint, tea tree and rosemary may be reputed to naturally repel fleas, do not apply a homemade essential oil solution to your dog unless you have first consulted with your vet and are sure you have diluted it correctly.

Apple cider vinegar: While this does not kill fleas during any stage of the life cycle, it is reputed to repel them. The scientific effectiveness of this preventative measure is not proven and care should be taken not to allow dogs to ingest apple cider vinegar since it may be harmful.

Additional home remedies for treating fleas in dogs include a lemon bath (adding dilute freshly squeezed lemon juice to your dog’s usual dog-friendly shampoo), rosemary dips, neem oil application and coconut oil rubs.

There are a host of websites suggesting crafting homemade flea collars by scenting a collar or bandana in carefully diluted essential oils or even vodka. Whilst the thought of making your own natural remedy to get rid of fleas on dogs may be appealing, we have to say again, that there are risks to your dog and little scientific research backing up any of these claims.

Since there are so many proven effective treatments on the market, we would recommend one of these tried and tested medicated treatments, talk to your vet about flea prevention and treatment if you have any concerns.

Fleas in the House & How to Get Rid of Fleas

So, you’ve got fleas on your dog. They live in the house with you and spend their spare time lying on the sofa and rolling around on the carpet. What do you have? FLEAS IN THE HOUSE!

Fleas don’t spend all their time on the host animal. If you’ve got a flea problem on your hands, as well as getting rid of the fleas on dogs, you’ll also need to treat the house and other household pets such as cats and rabbits. Their eggs also end up in all sorts of nooks and crannies (such as down the sides of the sofa) and can survive for anything up to a year.

The better news is, there are lots of ways of eradicating fleas at home. It’s a bit of a mission to undertake, so we’ve compiled a checklist to help you get underway with the extermination.

If using a commercial flea-killing spray be sure it also targets the eggs and larvae as you need to break the dreaded flea life cycle, or they will just come back again. Check with your vet about using a home spray and treating your dog at the same time as this could lead to a double dose for your animals. Be sure to treat dark corners under radiators, move furniture & beds and don’t forget an area where your dog likes to nap, under your beds and behind the TV stand!

Collect up all the soft furnishings your dog has had access to and put them all in the washing machine. Blankets, towels, dog beds, pillows, mats, cushions, and sofa covers all need a good wash at a high temperature. If you have a tumble dryer, a fifteen-minute blast after the wash is finished will not only kill adult fleas but eggs and larvae as well.

Your trusty vacuum is a really good ally when it comes to waging war on fleas. When you have finished vacuuming, spray the vacuum cleaner with flea spray and empty the vacuum bag immediately outside of the home as the fleas that you have hoovered up will try to make a getaway when you open up the bag. If you can, spray the bag with water as soon as you open it up to make sure that it’s a one-way journey and to prevent the pesky little devils from escaping. If you have one, a steam-based vacuum cleaning system is the ultimate defence, as the fleas will be killed in addition to your home smelling fresh and clean.

Vacuuming will bring dog fleas and eggs to the surface. Once you have hoovered the carpets, it’s a good idea to use a combination of treatments – a topical aerosol product to kill the adult fleas and then a treatment to prevent eggs from developing. We cannot stress this enough, it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and to keep animals away from the rooms that you have treated until you’re confident they have been well ventilated. Such treatments are dangerous to aquatic life so don’t spray near fish tanks. A severe flea problem may require you to call in a pest controller.

Don’t forget to clean the vacuum! The gathered dust and dust bags, if you have them should be removed and disposed of immediately to prevent any re-infestation.

Home Remedies for Treating Fleas in Your House

Like home treatments for your dog, there are a whole host of home treatments for fleas in your home, here are some of the most discussed.

Scattering baking soda or salt over your carpets and soft furnishings and then working it in with a broom will dehydrate both fleas and eggs. Leave either substance overnight to do its magic then vacuum up the residue and the dead fleas the following day. (If using salt, ensure you clean out the vacuum cleaner after hoovering to prevent the internal parts from rusting). This may not be practical with a dog or children in the house or for those living in flats.

For a wonderfully refreshing smell, making a homemade lemon spray is another way of treating a flea problem. Try thinly slicing a lemon and then boiling the slices in a pan. Once the mixture has cooled down, pop it into a spray bottle and lightly dampen carpets and soft furnishings, ensuring you test an inconspicuous area first and allowing the articles to dry before your dog comes into contact with them. To be clear lemons are acidic and this solution while watered down may cause damage to your surfaces and fabrics.

Diatomaceous earth is a natural way of treating fleas and is simple to use. So, what is it? Diatomaceous earth is a very fine powder created from the remains of algae and is a way of dehydrating and killing flea eggs thereby breaking the life cycle. Once sprinkled with diatomaceous earth, carpets should be cordoned off for 48 hours before vacuuming. Again with any dry or wet leave-on-home treatments the time required to leave the product on a surface may be the biggest deciding factor.

Any Google search for naturally getting rid of fleas inside the home will include making a flea trap. Additionally, your search may bring up the recommendation of sprinkling powders such as rosemary, peppermint, fennel and wormwood throughout the home. However, always do your homework and check out both the effectiveness and toxicity of suggested natural remedies since even natural remedies may be highly toxic to dogs.

Fleas in Your Garden

If your dog has fleas, it’s a delightful thought (not) but it’s likely that the little monsters are all over the back garden too.

A few top tips for minimising the chance of a flea-ridden garden.

Fleas love a place to hide, so the less that’s in your garden, the less attractive it will be to the flea. Trimming bushes and hedges and keeping the garden weed-free will help. Fleas thrive in damp, dark conditions and dislike the sunlight, so remove as much excess mulch from flower beds as you can, limit watering and allow as much sunlight into the garden as possible.

Some plants such as chrysanthemums, lavender and spearmint repel fleas. Local garden centres can advise you on which plants naturally repel fleas and which are safe to use in the garden with dogs mooching about. In addition, certain types of nematodes eat fleas while being completely safe for your dog and your garden.

The End of This 'Tail'

So you can see, it is much, much easier to prevent fleas than having to treat them and the problems (such as skin conditions) associated with a flea infestation. More than 95% of flea eggs, larvae and pupae potentially live in the environment and not on the animal host and due to the fact that fleas may keep on emerging for many weeks after the initial application of a recommended flea treatment, it is essential that measures are taken to minimise the risk of fleas returning on both the pet and in the home.

Regular hoovering around the house and under furniture as well as washing of bedding and soft furnishings is recommended. Even if he’s not biting and scratching at himself, regularly check your dog for signs of fleas (bald spots, pale gums, flea bites, skin conditions) and flea dirt. All pets in the same household (dogs, cats and rabbits) should be treated with an effective flea product on the advice of your vet and only allow flea-free pets to visit your home.

Frequently Asked Questions

What kills fleas on dogs instantly?

Any flea treatment which gets into the bloodstream quickly will be the best way of killing fleas almost instantly. Topical treatments or tablets can be recommended by your vet.

How do I know if my dog has fleas?

Any unusual scratching, biting or shaking of the head could be an indication of a flea problem. If your dog has fleas, you may notice the fleas themselves, or excrement from the fleas (known as flea dirt) in the skin. Your dog’s skin may be irritated and there may be visible bald spots in the fur especially if she has been scratching. In addition, you may see flea bites, larvae or pupae.

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