Updated June 7, 2018
There's a lot to like about the summer. From barbeques to pool parties to summer concerts, this time of year can certainly be a blast.
But there’s at least one drawback to the summer: The temperatures allow fleas (and other biting bugs, like ticks) to proliferate.
And, if you don’t take the proper flea prevention steps to protect your dog, your pet may soon become quite itchy and miserable. In fact, fleas occasionally bite people too, so they may even put a damper on your summer.
Of course, fleas can also cause problems in the other months of the year.
In the southern U.S., fleas are often a year-round issue. But, in most places, their populations begin to grow in late spring, and they only begin to decline once the first frosts of fall arrive.
Fortunately, there are a few different things you can do to help keep the fleas away for the summer. We’ll explain the basic flea prevention process below, and then we’ll explain the different types of flea products you’ll need. We’ll even recommend some of the best flea treatments for dogs on the market.
We’ll conclude by explaining some of the things to think about when selecting flea treatment products and answer some of the most common questions owners have about flea control.
It is fairly easy to prevent fleas from feasting on your dog, but you can’t just spritz your dog with some flea spray and expect your dog to be completely protected. In practice, you’ll need to follow a four-step process to achieve total flea eradication and prevent future infestations from manifesting.
Essentially, this means embracing the four steps outlined below.
The first thing you’ll want to do to rid your dog of fleas is to eliminate as many as possible, as quickly as possible. This will help provide your dog with some immediate relief and stop him from suffering any more bites.
You can accomplish this in one of three basic ways:
It isn’t necessary to kill every single flea living on your dog at this point in the process. Your primary goal is to reduce the number of fleas quickly and to start letting your dog’s skin heal.
Now that you’ve reduced the number of fleas on your dog, it is time to use a preventative flea treatment to kill the ones that remain, as well as any new fleas that may hop on his body in the future. And because many of the flea shampoos, sprays and oral medications that you used in the first step won’t kill eggs, you’ll also need to kill hatching fleas too.
There are a few different types of flea treatments available, but flea collars and one-spot topical treatments are usually the preferred choices for most owners. Both types are convenient to use and will provide extended protection against fleas.
Some preventative flea treatments kill fleas on contact, but others only kill fleas once they bite your dog. Either type can be helpful, but the former is clearly preferable to the latter.
If your dog has had fleas for any length of time, your home is surely covered in flea eggs and larvae. Accordingly, you’ll want to perform a good top-to-bottom house cleaning to get rid of them.
Start by dusting or wiping down all of the furniture in your home, and then vacuum or mop your floors as appropriate. Once you’ve completed this step, you’ll want to wash all of your dog’s belongings. This includes his bed (or the bed cover, if it is removable), and any other fabric items he uses, such as towels or blankets. It’s not a bad idea to wash all of the linens in your house too – especially if you allow your dog to sleep on your bed or couch.
You’ll also want to wipe down your dog’s crate, while paying special attention to the corners and any tiny nooks and crevices present. Then, having physically removed as many fleas and eggs as possible, you’ll want to use a flea spray to kill any that you miss, hatch or invade your home in the coming days.
It is also important to treat your yard with an environmentally friendly flea spray to help prevent your dog from getting fleas in the first place. There are several plant-based products on the market (more on this below), which will help eliminate the fleas lurking in the grass and bushes around your house.
Always be sure to follow the application instructions carefully when applying the flea spray, as some can contain chemicals that are toxic to cats.
At this point in the process, your pet and home should be flea free or nearly so (it is probably impossible to kill every single flea in your home without resorting to drastic measures). Meanwhile, the preventative medication you used should help to keep your dog from contracting new fleas (just be sure to reapply the medication as indicated).
However, you’ll want to inspect your dog about once a week or so to ensure the fleas don’t reappear.
A good flea comb will help you accomplish this, and it will even help pull any fleas present from your dog’s fur. Be sure to pay special attention to your dog’s abdomen and the creases under his legs, as fleas often frequent these areas. If possible, try to inspect your dog while he’s on a white floor or sheet. This will make any fleas present easier to see as they fall off. In most cases, a weekly flea inspection should suffice.
You’ll need to use one or more of the following products to protect your dog from fleas. Some are best suited for different steps in the flea-control process, but others can be used in multiple ways. For example, some flea sprays can be not only used to provide your pet with immediate relief, but for long-term flea prevention too.
We’ll discuss each of the primary types of flea prevention product below and recommend the best options for you and your pet.
Flea shampoos are typically comprised of a standard dog shampoo, into which flea-killing medications have been mixed. They will generally kill the vast majority of the adult fleas living on your dog on contact, but you must be sure to use the shampoo correctly and thoroughly work it into your dog’s coat (use care to avoid your dog’s eyes, nose and mouth). You’ll also need to allow some to sit on your dog’s coat for 5 or 10 minutes before rinsing to achieve maximum efficacy. This can be difficult with some dogs, so be sure to consider this carefully when choosing a shampoo.
Some flea shampoos use S-Methoprene or other growth regulators to kill fleas, while others use pyrethrins in conjunction with synergists, such as Piperonyl Butoxide, which help make pyrethrins more effective. Some even use more than one flea-killing chemical. Other flea shampoos use sulfurated lime to kill fleas.
Many flea shampoos also contain ingredients designed to help improve their smell, and some also feature skin-soothing ingredients, which will help your dog’s skin start to feel better.
Adams Plus Flea & Tick Shampoo with Precor is one of the best choices for owners who want a high-quality flea shampoo.
Most owners who’ve tried it report that it is easy to use and effective – it will even kill any ticks living on your dog.
And, unlike many other flea shampoos, this product contains a growth regulator (S-Methoprene, which goes by the brand name Precor) to kill any sub-adult fleas for four weeks after each bath.
Adams Plus Flea & Tick Shampoo is safe for dogs, puppies and kittens. It is also very reasonably priced, and most owners reported that it smells quite nice.
Vet Basics Lime Sulfur Dip is another great option that will kill the adult fleas living on your dog’s body.
It also features a number of skin-soothing additives, to help your dog enjoy some immediate relief.
Like most other sulfurated lime products, Vet Basics Dip is incredibly effective, however, it smells quite bad. Most owners likened the odor to that of rotten eggs.
Vet Basics Lime Sulfur Dip is a little more expensive than some other flea shampoos, but it comes in concentrated form. This means that it is not quite as expensive on a per-use basis as it may initially appear.
Because they are so convenient to use and effective at killing fleas, one-spot topical treatments are probably the most popular method of flea prevention used by modern dog owners.
They are typically applied to a small spot between your dog’s shoulder blades (thereby preventing him from licking the medication off), which allows the oils in your dog’s skin to absorb the medications and spread them around the entire body surface. Most one-spot treatments remain effective for about 1 month.
Different one-spot treatments use different active ingredients, but a few of the most common include:
The active ingredients used in one-spot treatments can have very important ramifications, as some of the chemicals used in these treatments are toxic to cats.
K9 Advantix II Flea, Tick and Mosquito Prevention is likely the best option for most owners. As the product name implies, it not only kills fleas (typically within 10 minutes of application), but it kills ticks and mosquitoes too.
Be sure to select the proper dosage for your dog when making your purchase. Also, it is imperative that you keep this medication away from cats.
Another good option is Frontline Plus for Dogs. Frontline not only kills fleas, but flea eggs, ticks and lice too.
Flea collars are some of the oldest flea prevention products around, and they were formerly one of the most common ways by which owners addressed flea-related problems. However, in the modern world, they’ve largely been replaced by one-spot topical treatments and, to a lesser extent, oral flea-killing medications. Nevertheless, they still represent the best treatment strategy for some owners and their dogs.
Most flea collars utilize pyrethroid insecticides (such as Flumethrin) and some also use neonicotinoids (such as Imidacloprid) to kill fleas (and often, ticks). The drugs are slowly released from the flea collar, where they are absorbed and spread by the oils in your dog’s skin.
Most flea collars work for an extended period of time. Historically, this meant about 30 days or so, but modern flea collars may work for 6 months or longer.
You have to be quite selective when purchasing flea collars, as the market is littered with poorly performing products, which won’t give your dog the kind of protection he deserves.
Fortunately, Regirock makes this pretty easy, as their flea and tick collar stands head-and-shoulders above the competition.
The collar (which can be used with your dog’s regular collar) is very simple to use – simply wrap it around your dog’s neck, thread the free end through the buckle, tighten it down and then cut off the excess.
Flea-killing sprays can also be used as part of a long-term flea-prevention strategy. Many flea sprays are designed to be used on your home or outside in your yard, but a few utilize safe chemicals, and can therefore be used directly on your dog too.
Vet's Best Flea & Tick Pet & Home Spray is a great example of such a product.
Vet's Best is made in the USA, and it won't stain your dog, carpets or furniture like some other products may. It isn't safe for cats or puppies under 12 weeks of age, but it provides great flea protection for mature dogs.
Other flea sprays use a combination of pyrethroids like Etofenprox and synergists (chemicals that make pyrethroids more effective) such as Piperonyl Butoxide. A few also use growth regulators, such as S-Methoprene.
Adams Plus makes another appearance among our recommended flea-prevention products with their Flea & Tick Spray. This spray is effective against adults – which it kills on contact – and eggs, via the inclusion of a powerful growth regulator.
It can be used around your house as well as directly on your pet (the manufacturer recommends administering the spray at a rate of 4 sprays per pound of body weight).
Adams Plus is not safe for young puppies or kittens, but it is safe for adult cats. One application will provide about two months’ worth of protection.
Frontline Flea and Tick Spray is also a good option for many dog owners.
Frontline Flea and Tick Spray is safe for adult dogs and cats.
While oral flea-killing medications are best used to provide your dog with immediate relief, they can also be used as a long-term flea-control strategy. These are relatively new products, which have only recently become available over the counter. Most oral flea medications utilize the neonicotinoid insecticide Nitenpyram.
Oral flea killing medications kill all of the fleas living on your dog’s body within a matter of hours, so their ability to provide instant relief is unparalleled. However, because fleas will likely be found in the environment, your dog can become re-infested relatively quickly. The chemicals used in these oral tablets do not kill eggs, so fleas that hatch after you administer the medication (and it works its way out of your dog’s system) won’t be killed.
Accordingly, it is usually necessary to administer these products periodically if you intend to use them for long-term flea prevention. Many can be administered as often as every day, but weekly administration would probably prove sufficient to keep infestations at bay.
Novartis Capstar Flea Tablets are likely the best oral flea-killing medication on the market. It kills fleas on dogs in as little as four hours. It won’t kill any eggs present, so you’ll have to re-administer it periodically as new fleas hatch.
However, if you are on a tight budget, you may want to consider Pet Armor Fast Caps instead. They don’t have as many positive reviews as the Novartis Capstar Flea Tablets do, but they are made with the same active ingredient, and they cost about half as much.
Flea combs are indispensable for monitoring your dog’s coat. They have very fine teeth which will allow you to carefully inspect the shafts of your dog’s hair close to the skin, where fleas hang out.
There are several flea combs on the market, but the For Your Dog Flea Brush is clearly one of the best options available.
This comb will make it easy to find fleas hiding in your dog's coat, and it has an ergonomic grip for your comfort.
Different owners must approach flea prevention for dogs in different ways, as there are no universally effective products that will work well for all owners and dogs. To ensure that you end up selecting the best products and strategies for your circumstances, think about the following considerations when devising your approach and selecting products:
Some flea prevention products for dogs are not suitable for very young or very old pets. So, you’ll want to consider your pet’s age when picking products.
Some flea medications can be toxic to cats, and some dogs may be sensitive to some flea-killing drugs. Therefore, you’ll need to consider the collection of animals living in your home before you make a choice.
Some flea-control products, such as one-spot topical treatments, must be reapplied every month or so to remain effective. However, other medications, such as oral tablets or shampoos, can simply be administered when you notice fleas are present (although they’ll work best when used on a consistent schedule). If you think you’re likely to forget to reapply the medication on the proper schedule, select a product that works on an as-needed basis.
While flea control is typically not one of the most expensive components of dog care, every dollar counts, and you’ll want to select a product that you can afford. You certainly don’t want price to be the most influential factor you consider, but it is wise to think about the costs associated with your preferred treatment strategy. Flea shampoos are usually the most affordable flea prevention products, while one-spot topical products and oral flea medications are usually the most expensive.
Some dogs may not be able to tolerate some flea medications. Additionally, some breeds are sensitive to ivermectin and other flea-killing medications. If you are not sure that your dog can safely use a given medication, check with your vet before applying it to your dog.
Scientists have described about 2,500 flea species worldwide, but only 15 or so feed on dogs. However, two species – the dog flea (Ctenocephalides canis) and the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis) – cause most of the problems.
Both species are relatively similar, especially from your pet’s point of view. However, it should be pointed out that the cat flea is far more common in the United States than the dog flea is. The cat flea has also been studied more extensively.
All fleas are parasites, who feed on the blood of their host animal. And unlike mosquitos and some other creatures, fleas of both sexes bite. In fact, they collect more blood than they need with each feeding (more on this in a minute). After consuming a blood meal, males and females will mate, allowing the females to begin depositing eggs.
The eggs are laid at a rate of up to one per minute, and they are simply scattered about in the habitat – the females don’t attach them to anything. The eggs usually hatch in about 15 to 60 days, depending on the temperature and other factors, but they can remain dormant for up to five months if the temperatures or humidity are too low.
Fleas hatch out of their eggs as tiny, eyeless, legless larvae. The larvae feed on a variety of organic materials, but their most important food source is – we advise you to put your fork down if you’re eating at the moment – the blood-rich feces of the adults.
As referenced above, the adults actually consume more blood than they need to survive, and they pass the remainder along with their waste to provide food for the young larvae. The larvae pass through several developmental stages before forming a cocoon-like pupa. They’ll stay in this pupal stage for about a week or so, before emerging as adults.
The adults immediately begin looking for a host (if they aren’t already living on one) and start feeding as soon as possible.
Scads of tiny arthropods live on people, pets and other animals, and most do so without ever causing any trouble.
Fleas, however, are quite different. They spend their lives biting their hosts, and their bites usually cause moderate to significant itching, redness and swelling.
Low-level flea infestations are generally only mildly irritating, but dogs who are plagued by hundreds or thousands of the little blood suckers may suffer quite a bit. They may develop rashes or lose fur, and they can even become anemic if they suffer enough bites to cause a significant amount of blood loss (this is most common among puppies).
However, different individuals (including both dogs and people) react differently to the proteins in flea saliva, so some suffer more from their bites than others. Some dogs may even develop an allergy to the proteins in flea saliva (called flea allergy dermatitis), which can make the problem even worse.
Fleas can also cause more serious health problems in some cases.
For example, even though fleas are parasites themselves, they can carry other parasites too. The most important parasite transmitted by fleas is probably the tapeworm Dipylidium caninum. These tapeworms don’t usually cause serious problems for dogs, but they can be transmitted to humans, so they are definitely a species of concern.
Fleas can also transmit several different types of pathogenic bacteria to you or your pet. Bartonella and Rickettsia typhi (which causes murine typhus) are two of the most commonly transmitted bacteria, but some fleas can also carry and transmit Yersinia pestis – the bacteria that causes plague.
Some fleas also carry Borrelia burgdorferi – the bacteria associated with Lyme disease. However, it isn’t clear if fleas can transmit the disease or not.
Owners often have a lot of questions regarding fleas and flea prevention for dogs. We’ve tried to address a few of the most common questions below. Note that we’ve answered a few of these questions already, but we’ve covered them again here for convenience’ sake.
It depends on your circumstances. In fact, the degree to which you follow the four-step flea prevention process explained above is actually the most important factor that will determine your relative success or failure.
Some of the topical sprays, shampoos and oral medications will kill the fleas on your dog’s body, but reinfestation will quickly occur if no other treatment is used. Accordingly, one-spot topical treatments are likely the most effective choice for most owners. However, if you are likely to forget to reapply the medication on an appropriate schedule, a flea collar may be the better option.
Some of them are, while others are not. It often depends on the exact version of the product you use. For example, some one-spot treatments cannot be used on young puppies, while others can. You’ll just have to check the instructions and precautions on the product packaging.
As with puppies, it depends upon the exact product you are using on your dog. Some flea-prevention products for dogs are extremely toxic (potentially lethally so) to cats. Generally speaking, it is wisest to purchase separate flea prevention products for your dogs and cats.
Indirectly. Fleas do not often hop from one dog’s body to the next. Instead, fleas on a dog lay eggs, which fall to the ground, where they hatch. Then, the resulting fleas climb up onto another dog’s body. However, direct transmission is possible in extremely crowded conditions.
If your dog is attacked by enough fleas, he could experience anemia or other illnesses. He could also become allergic to the proteins in their saliva, which can cause him to suffer from a very irritating rash. But although serious infestations may cause health problems for dogs, the real threat presented by fleas is the diseases and parasites they can carry.
Yes. Unlike fleas and some other insects in which only the females represent a threat, male fleas can and do bite the dogs on which they live.
Yes, although not deliberately. Fleas take a “shotgun” approach to egg deposition, as the eggs are simply allowed to fall onto your dog’s body – they don’t glue them in place like lice and some other parasites do. Eventually, most eggs will end up on the ground, and this will include your carpets. This is why it is important to clean your home when battling a flea infestation.
Most flea eggs hatch in about two weeks, although they can hatch more quickly than this in ideal environmental conditions. Conversely, cold temperatures may prevent eggs from hatching for more than a month.
A basic flea treatment program can help ensure you and your dog have an enjoyable summer. Just follow the suggestions recommended above and you should be able to keep the fleas at bay.