How to Get Rid of Fleas on Dogs

Updated October 16, 2022
English bulldog puppy scratching fleas

If you have ever struggled with how to get rid of fleas on dogs, then you know how frustrating it can be. These tiny parasites are notoriously tough and difficult to remove from dogs. Instead of driving both you and your dog crazy, follow a few simple guidelines and you should soon be on your way to flea-free living.

How Do I Know If My Dog Has Fleas?

Despite the fact that fleas are tiny, there are several clear signs that your dog has fleas. Symptoms to look for are:

  • Your dog begins scratching themselves much more than usual, as well as chewing and licking themselves more.
  • They may pace and move around a lot as if they're uncomfortable settling.
  • You may notice them head shaking and scratching their ears with redness in the ear area.
  • Look for "flea dirt" on their skin, which looks like small dark specks.
  • Flea infestations tend to happen in specific areas such as inside the armpits, groin, behind the ears, along the back, and the base of the tail.
  • The skin may also show signs of irritation, including redness, scabs, bumps, and loss of hair.
  • You may see the fleas moving if you look quickly enough. With serious infestations, you are likely to see more of them.
  • You can also use a flea comb to find them. If you comb fleas out, immediately put the comb in a solution of water and soap or flea shampoo to kill them.
  • If you're not sure whether there are fleas or not, some dog owners put a white towel, bed sheet, or piece of paper under the dog while they are combing. Fleas may fall down and show up against the white background. If you wet the area, the flea dirt should turn a reddish color.

Do Fleas Live in a Dog's Ears?

No, fleas don't usually live in a dog's ears. Fleas tend to congregate in areas with hair, so it's not likely they'll make their way into the ear canal. Instead, you might find fleas around the base of the ears, which can cause scratching and lead to an ear infection or other ear complications. The symptoms to look for are:

  • The presence of "flea dirt" behind the ears.
  • Redness, irritation, swelling, and bumps on the ear flap.
  • Repeated head shaking and scratching at the ears.
  • An ear infection, which can be caused by bacteria or yeast and moisture in the ears or scratching from flea bites.

If you notice the above symptoms related to your dog's ear, consult with a veterinarian, as an ear infection caused by flea bites will require prescription medication.

Other Areas to Find Fleas

Unfortunately, fleas will live in areas of your house once they have infested your dog. They can fall off and live in your carpets, on your dog's bed (or your bed), and in floor cracks. If your dog has fleas, you'll need to treat your home as well to get rid of them, as they will spend their time off your dog laying eggs to create more fleas.

Getting Rid of Fleas on Dogs

While prevention is the best option for ensuring your dog is healthy and flea-free, infestations can happen.

Clean Infested Areas of Your Home

Remove all bedding or linens where your pet sleeps and run them through the washing machine using hot water to kill any fleas or eggs nesting inside. Vacuum all areas of your home that contain carpet, including rugs and drapes, and don't forget other floors such as hardwood, tile, and linoleum. Make sure you immediately throw out the vacuum bags each time you are done.

Hire a Pest Control Service

Even though "flea bombs" or foggers designed specifically to kill fleas in your house were the standard for many years, they're not safe or effective. If you have a severe flea infection, t's best to contact a professional to treat your house instead.

Wash Your Dog's Body

Wash your dog with a shampoo specifically designed for use on dogs. It is important to thoroughly scrub all areas of your pet, taking care not to use shampoo on their head or get shampoo in the eyes. For severe infestations, you may actually see the fleas crawling up the dog's body towards the face area where the water does not cover. Make sure to drown and kill all the obvious fleas. Dry your dog with an old towel and brush the coat to remove any dead fleas or eggs.

Apply Flea Prevention

After you have washed the bedding, decontaminated the house, and bathed the dog, use a topical flea medication such as Frontline, Advantix, Revolution, to prevent new fleas from hatching. These medications kill any existing fleas, though some work by interrupting the flea's reproductive cycle. Monthly applications are necessary to keep fleas from infesting your dog's coat. There are also oral flea medications available from your veterinarian that are taken monthly, such as Bravecto, Trifexis, Simparica, and Nexgard

Home Remedies for Fleas

If you prefer more natural solutions, garlic, lavender, rosemary, and neem are sometimes used as a home remedy for flea prevention. These natural insect repellants may repel the fleas from your home, but do not use them directly on your dog.

Some other home remedies which can be effective in killing fleas are:

  • Use a spray bottle filled with white or apple cider vinegar mixed with water (1 part vinegar to 4 parts water) on your dog and repeat every day for approximately a week. Do not spray it on any areas where your dog has open wounds, irritated skin, or around the eyes. You can also dab the solution on them with a cloth instead of a spray.
  • Kill fleas around the home with a solution of vinegar (4 liters), water (2 liters), lemon juice (500 ml), and witch hazel (250 ml) sprayed in areas where fleas congregate can kill them.
  • Make "flea traps" with a solution of regular dishwashing liquid soap and water. Pour the solution in a small bowl and put them around your house, being careful not to put them in places your dog could get to and drink. Fleas landing in the trap won't be able to get out of the water due to the soap and will drown.

Treat Your Yard for Fleas

In addition to your home, you should treat your yard to prevent any fleas living outside from attaching to your dog and coming in. A professional exterminator can help with this or you can try using methoprene (Precor, Petcor, Altosid) on your own. It comes in a spray, fogger, and pellet format. Another option is food-grade diatomaceous earth spread around your yard. You can also make your yard friendly to creatures that feed on fleas, such as indigenous reptiles and insects. You can even buy flea-eating insects and release them in your yard.

Can I Get Fleas From My Dog?

While you can catch fleas from your dog, they are unlikely to remain on you for long. Because humans lack body hair and fur like a dog, this creates a less hospitable environment for them. However, fleas that land on you through contact with your dog's body, their bedding, or during flea removal will bite you. If you notice bumps and redness on your skin, wash with some antiseptic soap and coat with something to soothe your skin, such as Calamine cream or aloe.

It's also wise when cleaning your dog to remove fleas to wear protective clothing and gloves on your hands. Wash thoroughly when you are done and put your clothes in the laundry and use a hot water setting.

Fleas Vs. Ear Mites

Ear mites are another parasite that dogs can get that are sometimes confused with fleas. Some differences are:

  • Ear mites are found only in the ears. Fleas will be found in multiple places.
  • Ear mites are usually accompanied by an unpleasant odor in the ears.
  • You will never see ear mites, as they are much smaller than fleas.
  • The evidence of the presence of ear mites is a brown deposit found in the ears, as well as redness, inflammation, and excessive scratching.

Additional Suggestions

Now that you know how to get rid of fleas on dogs, make sure you monitor your pet closely for signs of infestation. It might take some effort, but you should be able to tell if your dog has these nasty parasites after a close inspection. Take your time and check your dog thoroughly. By keeping your pet away from areas prone to fleas, limiting the exposure to infected animals, and keeping them on a flea preventive, the chance of re-infestation is low.

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How to Get Rid of Fleas on Dogs