How to Get Rid of Fleas on Your Pets
October 31, 2023
Fleas are tiny, six-legged, bloodsucking parasites that commonly afflict pets and humans. They are drawn to sources of carbon dioxide, warmth and light because these often signal a suitable host they can jump on. Warm-blooded pets like dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, hamsters and rats are most susceptible to fleas, and humans are unfortunately no exception.
5 Signs Your Pet Has Fleas
Fleas reproduce very quickly, so early identification of their presence before it spirals into an infestation is vital. Besides causing you and your pet discomfort, fleas can transmit tapeworm and anemia to them.
If you see the following signs and symptoms on your pet, check them for fleas immediately:
- Persistent, excessive scratching and hot spots – Pets can be allergic to flea saliva, which causes skin irritation and inflammation. This can also look like hot spots, blisters, lesions, wounds and scabs. Closely examine your pet’s fur and skin if you notice they’re scratching themselves more than usual.
- Red, flaky skin and fur loss – Gently feel your pet’s skin for signs of raised, red bumps. If you notice they’re losing some of their fur, it may signal the presence of fleas.
- Flea dirt – Fleas excrete the blood they’ve consumed from their host in the form of dark specks that collect on your pet’s coat and around your home. If you are unsure whether something is flea waste, wipe a damp white paper towel across it. If it comes out reddish or brownish after getting wet, your pet may have a flea problem.
- You’re itchy – Fleas like to burrow and reproduce in fur and feathers, so they tend to prefer animals as their host. Still, your pets can easily pass fleas onto you, which may show up as extremely itchy, swollen clusters of bumps on your skin. Thankfully, fleas don’t stay or breed on human skin as they do on pets.
- Jumping fleas – You can also do a visual inspection on your pet. Fleas can jump 8–200 times their body length. Considering they measure about ⅛ of an inch, they are extremely adept at catching a ride on you or your pet. Gently part your pet’s fur, and look for jumping, moving insects while shining a light. Fleas often congregate at the base of the tail, but can be found all over your pet.
We recommend using a flea comb to check your pets, as it can be very effective in picking up fleas and flea dirt. Since fleas are dark-colored insects, they may be difficult to spot against your pet’s dark fur. Flea larvae and eggs are off-white, so they can be difficult to spot against lighter-colored fur. Even if you don’t see any fleas, the presence of the symptoms above should be something you note to your vet or groomer.
Flea Life Cycle
Female fleas can consume up to 15 times their body weight a day. Not only that, but each one can lay up to 2,000 eggs. Gross! It’s therefore important to recognize each stage of their life cycle, so you can begin treatment at the first signs.
The flea life cycle consists of the egg, larva, pupa and adult stages. Flea eggs are as small as a grain of salt, oval and an off-white color, so they can be difficult to see. Check your pet’s bedding, along with rugs or carpets around the house for eggs. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the flea dirt left by adult fleas. Flea larvae like to burrow in dark, warm spots so your pet’s fur/hair is prime real estate for them. After the larval stage, they cocoon themselves in the pupa stage, emerging as adult fleas that feed on blood right away. The entire flea life cycle, from egg to feeding adult, takes about three to four weeks in total.
The long and complex life cycle of the flea makes it very challenging to eradicate an infestation, as certain stages make them more resistant to insecticides and other treatments. To effectively get rid of fleas in all stages of their life cycle, it is crucial to follow up with additional treatments within five to 10 days after the initial application. This will help ensure that any newly-hatched eggs or juvenile fleas are also exterminated.
Where Did My Dog Get Fleas?
Dogs, cats and other mammals can get fleas from a variety of common sources.
Grass in the Backyard
Wildlife like squirrels, deer, raccoons, etc. can all carry fleas and leave them in the grass and dirt right outside your home. They lie in wait in the grass for their next meal: your dog. It’s also possible for fleas to hitchhike on your clothes, so do a visual check around your feet and ankles after coming in from the outside.
Dogs and cats can easily transmit fleas to one another, and it can happen anywhere. Contact with a flea-infected dog in the dog park, or during doggy daycare, or even during your regular walks — all of these are potential ways your dog can get fleas from other dogs.
Visiting New Places
Going to new places can be another way your dog gets fleas, like visiting campgrounds, staying at a friend’s house for pet-sitting or staying in a kennel. Dogs and cats can get fleas anywhere!
So what can you do to prevent fleas from coming into your lives? Do you just wrap your pet up in bubble wrap and never let them out? Luckily, there are several proven ways that you can defeat fleas.
Prevention and Treatment
The best way to prevent fleas from coming into your home through your pet is to keep up with their regular flea and tick medicine. In addition, the CDC recommends limiting the amount of time your pet spends outdoors, regularly bathing and brushing them, and checking them for fleas often.
If your dog already has fleas, you can get over-the-counter medicated flea shampoo, ointments, oral medication and flea collars. However, you may want to see your veterinarian for prescription-strength preventatives and treatments. Certain medications contain more potent chemicals that are more effective against fleas, but just like humans, our pets can react differently to treatments. Schedule your appointment here if you need top-notch vet care in Raleigh.
How Do I Get Rid of Fleas in My Home?
If you are dealing with fleas, here are some ways you can get rid of them:
- Get your pet treated – Call your veterinarian for the best way to get your pet treated for fleas. Over-the-counter solutions should be available at your local pharmacy, grocery, or specialty pet store.
- Apply Diatomaceous Earth – Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is a fascinating natural substance that kills fleas, as well as many other insects. The product comes in a white powder or concentrated liquid that contains minuscule fossils of ancient aquatic organisms. Food-grade DE is safe to use in the home around pets and children.
- Salt surfaces – Fine salt works similarly to DE to dry out flea exoskeletons. Sprinkle it on your carpets, rugs, and fabrics and avoid these areas for 12 hours to a few days. Then, vacuum up the residue. Note that salt can wear down your surfaces, and can be an irritant on your pet’s skin, so be careful if you are using this home remedy.
- Treat your yard – Fleas like shaded, warm, and humid environments, as well as tall grasses. You likely won’t find fleas in areas exposed to sunlight, as direct heat can kill them. Mow regularly, remove debris, and avoid overwatering your lawn. Doing this can create a hostile environment for fleas. Cedar chips can also be effective in repelling fleas, so consider spreading them over your lawn.
- Clean your environments thoroughly – Applying soap and heat can kill fleas at every stage of their life cycle. Make your pet and home inhospitable to these pests by:
- Washing and drying your linens and your pet’s bedding.
- Mixing water and dish soap and applying to your pet’s skin can be effective by drowning the fleas, but it won’t be as effective as special flea shampoos.
- Vacuuming and steaming fabrics, rugs and carpets frequently then immediately emptying the resulting waste in a bin outside. You may also want to throw away the vacuum bag or wash the waste canister.
For severe infestations, you may need to contact your local pest control service for help.
Veterinary Help for Your Flea Problem
Our team at Care First Animal Hospital is trained to provide excellent veterinary care. If your dog, cat or pet is dealing with fleas, we recommend scheduling an appointment first before coming in. We’ll walk you through your next steps and help get your pet the help they need!Back to Blog