Fleas on Dogs: Symptoms, Causes & Natural Treatments
You know the signs. Your fur baby is constantly scratching, shaking her head, and chewing her skin to try to find relief for intense itching. If you notice these behavioral indications and suspect your pup has picked up fleas, you’ll want to get a handle on the situation quickly; it doesn’t take long for a flea infestation to cause your dog severe discomfort. From your dog’s hair and skin, fleas can easily make the short journey to your carpets, furniture, clothes, and even your hair and skin.
Identifying Fleas on Dogs
Several conditions can lead dogs to scratch, from allergies to mites. Before you address your dog’s symptoms with flea products, you need to confirm the presence of fleas - or you may further irritate the skin.
Fleas tend to hang out on the warmer sections of your dog’s body so some tell-tale places to check first are around their ears, armpits and groin region.
Fleas are tiny, wingless insects not much bigger than the tip of a pen, ranging from black to dark brown in color. They have thin, flat bodies and three pairs of legs that enable them to spring as high as 38 to 100 times their body length, or up to two feet. The hind legs are designed for jumping, while the other two pairs help the flea scuttle easily through the host’s hair.
Mites, on the other hand, are microscopic and transparent. “Mange” is another way to describe a mite infestation. If you don’t see any of the little buggers after close inspection, your dog may have mites rather than fleas, and may need a natural-ear-mite-treatmentdifferent type of treatment. If you’re not sure what’s plaguing your pup, check in with a holistic veterinarian, as mange can severely compromise your dog’s health if left untreated.
Other Symptoms of Fleas
Besides spotting the actual fleas, there are other signs that can confirm their presence. Look for tiny black specks on your pup’s fur. These are called flea “dirt”, flea feces composed of digested blood. If your dog has a dark coat, it can be tough to spot fleas or flea dirt that is left behind from flea bites. To help identify fleas and the flea “dirt,” have your pup stand, sit or lay on a white towel and use a comb to gently brush and see if any little critters jump off.
When a flea bites, their saliva creates a strong itching sensation in your dog, most often manifested in your pup’s hindquarters and tail. Your dog’s first instinct will be to chew on their coat, but you should discourage that as much as possible as their chewing can lead to secondary bacterial infections. You can try using a cone or recovery collar to keep your dog’s chewing at bay until you can get a handle on the situation.
Additional signs that your dog may have fleas include:
- Hair loss
- Licking or biting at skin
- Pale gums which is a common sign of anemia and an indication of a very serious flea infestation. In this case, the amount of new red blood cells produced by your pet are not sufficient enough to combat the loss of blood caused by fleas
- Hot spots which are red, moist, irritated legions on your dog’s skin caused by excessive scratching, licking, and chewing
Seek out the advice of a holistic veterinarian if you see any sores or what may look like an infection on your dog’s body.
How Do Dogs Get Fleas and How Do They Spread?
Now that you have these pesky critters identified, you may be wondering how fleas find a home in your pup’s coat in the first place. Knowing this will help you prevent future infestations.
One of the most common ways for dogs to get fleas is from other dogs. If your dog has recently visited a boarding facility, doggy daycare, or dog park, she has probably come into contact with fleas. Thanks to their startling athleticism, fleas can jump from one dog to another, which means your dog doesn’t have to spend hours playing with or snuggling with other dogs to offer their friends’ fleas a ride.
Your pup can also come into contact with fleas from interacting with cats, other household animals, or even you. If you have personally been exposed to fleas, by being in close contact with another animal or by visiting an infested place, you have the potential to bring fleas into your home on your shoes and clothing.
You should also beware of bringing second-hand dog toys and bedding into your home, as they may be carrying flea eggs. The same goes for second-hand human products. You can reduce the odds of bringing fleas into your home by regularly washing your linens in hot water and vacuuming frequently.
If your dog spends time outdoors, whether it’s just a romp in the backyard or a hike in the mountains, chances are they will be exposed to fleas. A variety of outdoor animals carry fleas, including squirrels, birds, mice, and raccoons. Fleas can also survive for much longer outdoors, especially in a warm and humid climate where they tend to find shady places to lay eggs.
Female fleas will lay small, white eggs loosely in the host’s hair and in damp, dark places. If they lay any eggs on your dog’s coat, your pup will unknowingly give them a free ride around the house or yard, where they will then fall off onto your lawn, furniture or carpet.
Once the eggs drop off, they begin to hatch into tiny, worm-like larvae. It usually takes about a week for the eggs to hatch, a process that may be delayed until conditions are ideal. From this stage, the larvae spin cocoons and crawl inside in order to develop into pupae. Development generally occurs within one week, however flea pupae can survive in their cocoons for up to six months if necessary. After the pupae fully develop, the new adults emerge and will immediately seek a host in order to obtain blood and produce more eggs.
Fleas reproduce rapidly, laying as many as 50 eggs per day. That’s why it’s crucial to get rid of the fleas as soon as you notice them. Delaying action can cause the problem to quickly escalate, requiring professional abatement services for your pup and home that could bust your budget.
It’s certainly easier to prevent flea infestations than to get rid of them, so let’s tackle the best ways to make sure neither you nor your dog face the inconvenience and discomfort of allowing this pest into your home.
Natural, Eco-Friendly Ways to Avoid and Address Fleas
Preventing fleas is really as simple as 1-2-3: treating your lawn, your home and your dog. It may be tempting to look for the harshest chemicals and strongest pills available to kill fleas quickly, but in addition to exposing your dog (and anyone else living in your home) to dangerous toxins, studies have shown that fleas have developed a resistance to these chemicals over the years, so they’ve become less effective while remaining costly. Also, be careful with advice you see online when it comes to treating fleas; not every natural product suggested is going to be helpful for your dog, so only rely on resources and products recommended by holistic vets.
One of the first ways to prevent fleas or tackle an active infestation is by treating your yard and outdoor areas with Wondercide's Flea & Tick for Yard + Garden products. Because most flea infestations start in the yard, regular outdoor treatments help ensure both your pets and the inside of your home stay flea-free.
Treating your yard regularly (every 30-45 days) will help create a protective barrier around your house, and stop fleas from making themselves at home in your yard. If you have an active flea problem, two treatments within a 7-10 day period, and monthly maintenance thereafter, will eliminate the current fleas and keep new ones from coming back. Best of all, this product is completely safe for yourself, your pets, and the environment. It can safely be sprayed on all types of plants (even edibles like fruit trees and herbs!), and will not harm beneficial insects like bees and butterflies, or other outdoor critters like birds, reptiles and amphibians.
Another flea prevention tactic for your yard is to make sure grass and shrubs are neatly trimmed. This prevents enticing hiding spots for fleas - remember, they like warm, dark places. Also, be wary of wildlife coming into your yard. Raccoons and feral cats, for example, are known to be the worst flea offenders and can easily bring an army of fleas into your backyard and home. Don’t forget about tree branches and tall shrubs that could offer these wild animals an easy entrance into your yard.
The second step in preventing fleas is addressing the interior of your home. If you suspect fleas may already be in your home, treating with a safe, natural solution like Wondercide's Flea & Tick for Pets + Home can help you regain control. Adult fleas make up only about 5% of the total population present, so being thorough while treating is vital to ensure complete elimination of the life cycle. The Pets + Home spray can be safely applied throughout your home, and will kill adult fleas, eggs, and larvae.
When treating, be sure to spray the entire home thoroughly. Treating areas where your pets live is important, but even rooms or areas where pets don't frequent can harbor flea eggs and larvae. Be sure to spray on and under all furniture (remember to lift up and spray under couch cushions!), flooring and rugs, and to thoroughly spray and clean bedding. Vacuuming thoroughly before treatment helps pull loose eggs and larvae to the surface of carpeted areas, making it easier for the product to reach them. Once fleas are completely eliminated in the home, regular maintenance treatments of your pets and yard can help keep your home-flea free.
In climates that get cold in the winter, flea prevention should be concentrated in spring and summer. When temperatures start to drop, fleas aren’t really a problem. But if you live in a climate that’s humid and warm almost year-round, you’ll need to always be on your guard.
With flea prevention in place for your yard and the interior of your home, it’s now time to treat your loving furry friend. If you’re positive your dog already has fleas, there are gentle yet powerful products that can help you get rid of them, such as Wondercide’s natural flea spray. The ingredients are all-natural and the products can be used for cats or dogs of all sizes - no more buying different sets of expensive flea control for each one of your pets. The active ingredient in the flea & tick spray is cedar oil and works by blocking octopamine, which is necessary to regulate heart rate, movement, and metabolism in fleas. When you directly spray fleas, the solution will kill them on contact. Apply every 2-3 days (or as needed, depending on the pest pressure in your area) to keep the repellent qualities strong and to keep your pets happy and flea-free.
Here are some other helpful tips for addressing fleas on your dog:
- You may still see some itching and scratching while you wait for whatever products you’ve chosen to work their magic. Try to distract your dog from biting, licking, scratching, and damaging their skin by offering another source of stimulation, such as a tantalizing chew toy or a treat ball stuffed with all-natural goodies.
- Use an all-natural spray with neem oil. Neem oil is naturally antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal and has been used for hundreds of years as a medicinal solution to treat dry skin, burns and sores. As a strong antiseptic, the spray can address multiple skin irritation issues caused by insects and is gentle enough to use numerous times throughout the day. You can even use it on your own bug bites!
- You have to bathe your dog anyway, so why not choose a soap that will provide them with extra protection from fleas and ticks? Wondercide’s Flea and Tick Natural Shampoo Bar, cuts down on the mess and hassle of bathing - just one hand needed - and lasts much longer than liquid shampoos. To use, thoroughly wet your dog’s coat and massage the bar directly into their skin. With ingredients like coconut oil, aloe vera, and honey your dog will smell great and their skin will be super healthy, too!
- When washing your pup in the tub or backyard, lather and carefully massage their fur while the suds work to suffocate any present fleas. Once finished, thoroughly rinse and dry them with a towel, then use a brush or comb to sift through their fur and remove any remaining dead fleas.
As always, prevention is the key. Keeping a close eye on your yard and house, routinely cleaning, and using all-natural sprays on your home and on your pup will ensure your home is safeguarded from any pesky fleas.