I'll never forget when Mum brought me home from the shelter where she adopted me at 12 weeks old and immediately discovered that I had fleas. But she didn't panic. She gave me a little bath and voila, fleas were gone!
Sometimes it's that easy to get rid of fleas on your dog, especially if you catch them early. Sometimes it's not so easy, as we found about 8 years later, when Gracie and I picked up some fleas at an agility trial. Mum didn't immediately notice we brought them home and they quickly migrated to the kitties and throughout our home.
We spent the next week treating the cabin, treating the kitties, treating me and Gracie, and treating our yard to get rid of the nasties, and within just a few days everything was back to normal. Whew!
Getting to know fleas
There are well over 2,000 different types of fleas in the world, but it's the cat flea and the dog flea that are the most problematic to us dogs.
Fleas go through four life stages - egg, larva, pupa, and imago (adult). Eggs are laid in bunches of 20, usually on the host itself. A female may lay up to 5000 or more eggs over their lifetime. Flea larvae emerge from the eggs to feed on things like dead insects, feces, and vegetable matter. At the larvae stage fleas can't see, avoid sunny areas and hide in cracks, corners and crevices. If they are allowed to feed well they weave a little cocoon in about 1-2 weeks and in another week or so they emerge as a full fledged adult.
As an adult, the flea's primary goal in life is to feed (on blood) and then reproduce. Fleas live in ideal conditions including the right temperature, humidity and food supply for up to 1.5 years. In less than ideal conditions they may live only 2-3 months, and without a host they may only live a few days.
According to the West Virginia University Extension Services, "adult fleas thrive at temperatures between 66 degrees and 84 degrees F and at relative humidities between 70 and 90 percent. Flea eggs don’t hatch if the temperature is below 40 degrees F. A temperature below 46 degrees F for 10 days or 37 degrees F for five days will kill flea eggs. A relative humidity of less than 50 percent will reduce egg hatch by 20 to 60 percent." So, in many parts of the country it's important to keep fleas from your pets year around.
Fleas attack a wide variety of warm-blooded animals including dogs, cats, humans, chickens, rabbits, squirrels, rats, ferrets, and mice.
Diseases fleas give dogs
Some dogs are allergic to flea bites and may get Flea Allergy Dermatitis. When a dog is bitten by a flea for its blood meal, some of the flea’s saliva is injected into the dog’s skin layer. Flea saliva is what causes the skin allergy in susceptible dogs and may form a small bump, or areas of redness and be very itchy for dogs, creating lots of scratching and patches of hair loss and redness.
In addition, when a dog ingests a flea, from licking their fur when infested, they can get tapeworms. Once inside your pet, the tapeworm hatches and attaches itself to your dog’s intestines. The parasite can then cause weight loss, vomiting, and irritation. Signs of tapeworms include little moving white (rice size) objects on your dog's skin, rump or in their stool.
Anemia may also result from flea bites in extreme circumstances.
Signs of fleas
In many cases you may not even see a flea on your dog, however in more prolific infestations you may see a flea jump off your dog when your cuddling on the couch in the evening.
Scratching is one of the first signs of fleas, and lots of scratching may also cause rashes, loss of fur and even hot spots.
You may see signs of flea dirt on your dog. These are little specs of dirt that are usually black in color and when water is added to the flea dirt it will show signs of blood, as flea dirt is actually feces of fleas that have fed (sucked blood) from your dog. You may find flea dirt on your dog, or on places where they lay, like their beds or your bed.
flea comb can help determine if your dog has fleas. This is our favorite flea and tick comb, as it's white and makes it easier to see the fleas. It is very strong, and has a handy little groove on the opposite side that is handy for removing ticks on the body of your dogs. This comb is also great for combing out dead undercoat on your dog during 'blow coat' season.
Fleas like to congregate on the belly and butt area of dogs, as well as the ears and neck. Sometimes it's just as simple as giving a good belly rub or ear scratch to determine if your dog has fleas, checking quickly as fleas like to hide!
How does your dog get fleas?
Fleas are actually everywhere, and your dog can get fleas from other dogs, dog facilities, other animals like squirrels, mice, birds and more, or by just taking a nice walk in the park. Fleas jump from animal to animal and in the right weather conditions can lie in wait and jump on your dog as it walks by. They can also be found on materials such as bedding, carpets, rugs, clothing and more. If you acquire these items used, it's best to wash them before bringing them into your home.
What if my dog has fleas?
If you suspect your dog has fleas quick action is warranted to prevent the spread to other animals in the house, and an infestation of your home, carpets, cracks and crevices.
When we got fleas a year or so ago, from picking up a few from an agility trial, here's what we did:
- The first thing we did was get out the vacuum. We swept the entire home, the carpets, the hardwood floors, underneath all the furniture, upholstered furniture, in the corners, cracks and crevices of the baseboard and cleaned the hardwood with a mixture of water and white vinegar.
- Then we spread some diatomaceous earth (food grade only) all along the baseboards, in the trash bag that we emptied the dirt from the vacuum, under the furniture, and rubbed into the carpets. Once that was done, we headed outside to treat the yard with d-earth, spreading it all over the yard, under the deck and outside of the fenced in area.
- Once we treated inside and outside, we gave Johann and Gracie a nice bath, first utilizing a flea comb to get any stray fleas off, dumping them into white vinegar (or you could use soapy water) to kill them. And we threw all their bedding, area rugs and my bedding into the wash.
- Then we checked Johann and Gracie frequently with a flea comb, picking up any strays and killing them along the way. Within about three days our home and the dogs were free of fleas.
How to naturally treat your yard, home and dog for fleas
Believe it or not there is one very simple way to keep fleas out of your yard for years. Flea nematodes are tiny, microscopic parasites (of the good kind) that can control flea larvae, as well as the larvae of other damaging bugs like japanese beetles and more. About 10 million nematodes can cover about 2,000-3,000 square feet of your lawn, yard, or property and they last for years.
If nematodes aren't for you, you can actually spread diatomaceous earth (food grade only) around your yard to control fleas and ticks, chiggers and no-see-ums. Just remember that d-earth will kill any bug, even the good, beneficial ones.
To treat the inside of your home, you may want to also use d-earth (food grade only). You can sprinkle it around the baseboards of your home, in closets, rub into the carpet, onto the bedding for your dog and more. It's very effective.
Preventing fleas from getting on your dog in the first place is the best course of action in preventing a total flea infestation.
You can use several products from our Raise A Green Dog Partners that will work very, very well including: Flea Repellant Collars and Herbal Flea Repellent Sachets from Garden Delights, and DERMagic's Flea Combo which includes a great flea shampoo bar and the popular DERMagic Flea Dust (with food grade d-earth), with its handy sprinkle-top. It safely kills fleas in the pet’s bedding, carpet, furniture, and wherever your pet hangs out. You can even put it directly on your pet! Sometimes something as simple as these products will work for you.
If you need something a little stronger or your going to be out and about with your dog in areas where you think fleas may be, you can turn to Earth Heart's Buzz Guard and Wondercide's Evolv. With both of these products, I only need to spray one or two sprays on my palm and rub on ears, legs, belly and neck of YoYo (Johann) and Gracie for the products to be effective. That way I don't have to spray on them directly. I also spray their harnesses on long hikes for both fleas and ticks.
If you have a massive infestation, or you live in an area where fleas are year around, you may want to turn to something a bit stronger. When seeking out all options, we always turn first to Green Paws for evaluating flea medication and natural alternative flea product ingredients.
If after you've tried the natural alternatives and they just aren't working for you and your dog, you can utilize the Green Paws site to help you determine other alternatives, like Sentinel (prescription required), which is primarily a heartworm (and other types of worms) monthly medication, but also includes Lufenuron which can prevent most flea eggs from hatching or maturing into adults and thus prevents and controls flea populations by breaking the life cycle. With this product you can prevent heartworm and fleas.
And if your dog has a very bad infestation you could look at Capstar Flea Treatment Tablets which will kill more than 90% of adult fleas within 4 hours on dogs and 6 hours on cats. Both of these products are rated with a very low risk level and may be helpful when natural methods aren't working for you and your dog.
We hope this information is helpful to you in making more informed decisions for your dog relating to fleas. Remember, we are not veterinarians, and the information we share is information we've discovered, learned and found that has worked for us over the years. It's always best to consult your own holistic veterinarian whenever making decisions for your dog.
If you'd like, feel free to share your all natural success stories in combating fleas, so that you may help others get more ideas that they can discuss with their holistic veterinarian.
And if you are looking for information in battling ticks, healthily and safely, be sure and check out our 'Ultimate Tick Guide for the Green Dog.'
Now go out there and enjoy the great outdoors!
Images courtesy of kat m research
Sources: Library of Congress PetMD