Best Flea Treatments for Dogs
One of our most important jobs as dog owners is protecting our furry friends from parasites. When we bring a dog into our home and make them a part of our family, we know that it is a lifelong agreement: we give them the best care we are able to provide, and in exchange, they give us love and devotion as only a dog can. Part of giving them the best care we can is making sure that they do not get infected with common parasites like fleas.
Fleas pose a threat to our pets year-round, but they are more active in the warmer months. Our pets may be at higher risk to get fleas, both because they are more active and because we may be eager to spend more time with our pets outdoors when the winter is finally over. We will discuss some flea prevention methods, so that as we head into flea season, you can feel at ease that you know how to prevent your pup from getting fleas as you resume your outdoor adventures together. If you do find a flea on your pet anyway, don’t panic! We will also be talking about dog flea treatment methods so that you can get rid of fleas before they become a serious issue.
What types of flea treatment are available?
Although there are many products from many brands that all help prevent or remove a flea infestation, there are few broad categories that these products fall into.
- Oral - Oral flea medication is something your pet has to ingest. This may be available in the form of a pill or a chewable tablet.
- Collar - Some flea preventatives are meant to be worn by your pet. Typically they are made into a collar that can be trimmed to your pet’s size for convenience.
- Topical - Most flea medicine falls into this category. Topical treatments are applied to your dog’s hair and skin, and include everything from powders to ointments to shampoo.
Oral Flea Prevention for Dogs
There are many types of flea pills available for dogs, which all work in unique ways and are useful in different situations. Most types of oral flea prevention come as a chewable tablet, and your dog may even view it as a treat! They contain chemicals that are toxic in some way to the parasites while still being safe for your dog to ingest.
Flea pills may prevent flea infestation by killing adult fleas, killing flea larvae, killing flea eggs, or making adult fleas unable to lay new eggs. Some work quickly and only remain in your dog’s system for a few days, which makes them best for treating an infestation that you already are aware of. Others work slower and over a longer period of time, making them best for long-term prevention.
Although you can find flea pills available over-the-counter, it’s common for a vet’s prescription to be required. Depending on the region you live in, your vet may recommend flea prevention at certain times of year, or they may recommend monthly flea prevention at your dog’s annual checkup. They can help you decide what would be best for your dog’s needs based on breed, age, lifestyle, and prior health conditions.
Flea Collars for Dogs
Flea collars are a convenient, typically inexpensive option for preventing flea infestations. The most common flea collars are plastic collars, intended to be worn alongside your dog’s normal collar or harness, which release flea-killing chemicals over time to keep your dog from getting infested. Some of these collars work by releasing the chemicals into the air around it, so that any fleas in the area around the collar are killed, and others work by releasing chemicals into your dog’s skin, so that the fleas are killed as soon as they try to eat.
Keep in mind that these flea collars must be worn constantly, and all other manufacturer instructions must be followed, in order for it to be effective. Their effectiveness is also reduced if the collar gets wet, so if your dog likes to go swimming or play near the water, this may not be the best flea prevention for them. Because the collars work by emitting toxic chemicals, it is important to make sure that they are not ingested. If you have more than one pet, make sure they do not bite or chew one another’s flea collars, and consider discussing a different option with your vet if you see this behavior happening. The chemicals in the collar may also be irritating to your skin, so try to avoid excessive contact with the collar when petting or cuddling with your pup.
There are also electronic flea collars available, which claim to work by emitting a very high frequency noise (inaudible to humans) to scare fleas away, but these are a relatively new, less-studied flea prevention method.
Flea Shampoo for Dogs
Although flea shampoo will not necessarily help with preventing an infestation, it can be very useful to deal with an infestation that already exists. These shampoos work by killing fleas on contact, so if you have noticed fleas on your pet, a simple bath with flea shampoo could be all you need to get rid of them.
Unlike collars and pills that affect your pet’s entire body, shampoo only kills the fleas it touches, so it’s important to wash every part of your pet with this treatment. Work the shampoo into a foamy lather and be sure it coats your pet’s entire body, including their legs, belly, tail, and head (but be careful to avoid getting shampoo in their eyes or ears!) so that no flea escapes. Similar to lice shampoo treatment for humans, you may also want to give a second bath with flea shampoo within the week, just in case.
If you’re the DIY type, you may be interested in taking a look at some homemade flea shampoo recipes, although most pet owners opt for commercially available shampoos. If you do want to use shampoo as your primary form of flea prevention, most flea shampoos can be used on a weekly or bi-weekly basis without damaging your pet’s hair or skin. However, if the initial infestation continues after the second bath, you may want to discuss another option with your vet to get rid of the pests.
Flea Powder for Dogs
Like oral flea medication, flea powders all contain different chemical ingredients and are designed to kill fleas in different ways at different points in their life cycle. However, the end goal is always to end the flea infestation on your pet. To use a flea powder, you simply dust it on your dog. Depending on their type of coat, you may want to massage it in to ensure that it isn’t limited to the outer layer.
Unlike other types of flea prevention and treatment, flea powder’s use is not limited to your dog! You can dust it on carpets, furniture, your pet’s bed, and even your doors and windows if you are concerned about the infestation spreading throughout your home or if you think pests may be coming in from outside.
Although most flea powders are not toxic to you or your pets, it is important to verify this prior to use, especially if you have more than one pet. It is very likely that they will ingest some of the powder in grooming themselves, grooming each other, or playing, so you want to be sure that this won’t be harmful. Take extra care with this if you have cats as well, since dog flea powder is not usually safe for cats and vice versa; you will not want them getting coated with or ingesting the other pet’s flea powder.
Make sure that you apply the flea powder to your dog indoors, without open windows or fans, to prevent the powder from being blown around the room and to make it easier to control the application. You may want to cover your mouth and nose during the application to avoid inhaling the powder.
Flea Spray for Dogs
Flea spray is similar to flea powder in that it is a topical flea treatment that you simply apply to your pet’s coat and then leave alone. It kills fleas, normally at any stage in the life cycle, on contact, so it is important to spray the entire body. You can avoid spraying the head, though, as that is likely to get spray in your pet’s eyes or ears. Instead, start from the neck and work down all the way to the paws and back all the way to the tail.
It is often safe to use the same flea spray on cats and dogs, so this could be a good option if you have pets of both types. However, it is important to check and to use this spray only on animals. Flea spray that is intended to treat your home is also available, and this is not the same product. If you have a serious flea infestation, you should consider getting home flea spray as well, since pet flea spray will not be effective on your carpets and furniture. Home flea spray is typically not safe for direct application on your pets, so be sure to keep them separate and use each for its intended purpose!
Flea Dip for Dogs
Dip is one of the oldest methods of flea treatment for animals and was used to treat farm animals for pests prior to the invention of flea dips for pets. It is a concentrated liquid solution that kills fleas, and often most other pests, on contact. Typically dips are applied using a sponge, by pouring it over the pet and massaging it in, or by submerging the pet’s body in it. Because of the concentrated amounts of potentially dangerous chemicals, dips are no longer the favored method of pest control, as the wrong dosage could harm your pet as well as the pests you are targeting. This makes flea dip a method best used by or under the supervision of your vet.
Flea Drops for Dogs
A popular option for flea treatment is flea drops, also called spot-ons. Drops are a liquid medication which is applied to the pet’s skin. Typically they are applied to only one spot (hence the name), normally the back of the neck, because that makes it impossible for your dog to lick it off. Bigger dogs might need multiple spots, and these are typically also done along the spine, again to prevent it being licked off.
Drops can rub off onto your skin or furniture, so be careful about petting that area of your dog for a couple of days after application. It is also not waterproof until it has finished drying and absorbing into your pup’s skin, so avoid bathing them for a couple of days, and if you have multiple pets, make sure they don’t lick the flea treatment off of each other.
This type of flea medication is strong, so be sure to use the correct amount for your dog’s size, and consult with your vet about using it to treat an infestation. Many types of flea drops are effective for 30 days after application, so they can be used as flea prevention as well. This also means that they are not intended for a second use within 30 days, so do not apply drops a second time if you still see fleas; give the product time to work, and consult your vet if you have concerns.
Natural Flea Treatment for Dogs
Many pet parents are wary of treating their dogs with insecticide and other harsh chemicals. Although these flea treatments are designed to be safe when used according to their manufacturer instructions, there are some gentler, more natural options that can be used as your primary method of flea treatment or used to supplement another method.
- Natural brands - There are many brands which offer natural versions of some of the products listed above. For example, you can buy flea shampoo or flea spray made with natural ingredients rather than harsh chemicals.
- Homemade treatment - You can also make your own natural version of some of these products. A natural flea spray can be made at home by mixing apple cider vinegar, water, and salt, which can then be applied just like a normal flea spray, avoiding the eyes and ears. Natural flea shampoo can be made by adding lemon juice and water to your current dog shampoo.
- Combs - Flea combs are another easy way to remove fleas without any chemicals. The teeth of flea combs are very close together to remove both live adult fleas and eggs as you comb your dog. While they may not completely solve the problem, they can be a great first step in treating a flea infestation, and they may reduce the amount of other flea treatment products needed to kill the remaining fleas.
- Essential oils - Essential oils can be very effective at keeping fleas away, although you need to be careful which ones you use, as some essential oils are harmful to dogs. Oils like peppermint and rosemary can be used in a variety of ways, such as by being diluted in water and used as a spray or by being added to your normal dog shampoo. Be sure to consult your vet and test your dog’s reaction to an essential oil before covering their body with it.
There are many products available to help you protect your dog from fleas. You can easily choose the method that works best for your pup, your home, and your wallet. Remember to follow the manufacturer's instructions to keep your pet safe, and consult with your vet when deciding to use a flea prevention or treatment, especially for the stronger methods.
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