One of the world's biggest pests measures at a mere 1.5 to 3.2 milliliters in length: the adult flea. Fleas come with a life-cycle that has staying power: The average female can lay 40 to 50 eggs daily, so it's going to take a lot more than a pill or bath to keep a flea infestation at bay. If you’re wondering how to get rid of fleas on dogs without using harsh chemicals, we’ve got you covered with natural flea treatments that you probably have lying around your house.
When to Look Out for Fleas
These pesky bugs love to settle on your dog during the summer months and year-round in geographic areas like the southern United States. According to PetMD, fleas prefer temperatures of 65 to 80 degrees and humidity levels of 75 to 85 percent. If you live in an area that has this kind of climate throughout the year, flea control and prevention is key to your dog's comfort.
How to Tell If Your Dog Has Fleas
Spotting fleas on your dog is fairly simple. Though they are very small, fleas can be seen with the naked eye as long as you know where to look.
Fleas dislike light and will tend to gather within the furrier areas of your dog's belly and inner thighs. Gently part your dog's fur to inspect their skin underneath. The fleas are those tiny dark copper-colored creepy-crawlies scurrying along the surface of the skin.
Another way to tell if your dog has fleas is to look out for what's called "flea dirt." Flea dirt is not actually dirt, but feces composed of digested blood. Your dog acts as their bed and breakfast, after all.
Flea dirt looks like specks of pepper scattered on the skin's surface. Pick off a couple of specks and put them on a wet paper towel. If the spots start to spread out like a bloodstain after a few minutes, it's flea dirt. And if your dog has flea dirt, they definitely have fleas.
Start With the Basics: Prevention
The best offense is a good defense. The first step toward getting rid of fleas on dogs is prevention. It is always going to be easier and safer for you and your pet to keep fleas away before they wreak havoc. If you do not give your dog a flea preventative, the consequences are messy, inconvenient, and overall cringe-worthy.
Before we get into the natural methods for getting rid of fleas, there are a number of flea prevention products on the market for you to consider from oral flea medication to flea collars. Talk to your veterinarian about your options regarding flea prevention.
Topical Flea Control
Topical flea preventatives (also called spot-on treatments) are applied on the skin of your pet's back. The majority of topical flea repellents need to be re-applied to your dog's skin on a monthly basis.
Topical treatments both prevent fleas and kill fleas. They contain an ingredient called imidacloprid, a topical insecticide that works by blocking nervous system conduction in insects. Most adult fleas are killed within 24 hours of application, reducing the chance for them to lay eggs.
Oral Flea Control
Like topical flea medicine, there are both prescription and over-the-counter oral flea treatments. Oral flea medications work in different ways, but they are some of the most effective flea killers. Choose one that will work for your dog's specific situation. Some oral flea products kill fleas within two hours and last for a few months. Others do not kill adult fleas but instead stop the flea life cycle in its tracks by preventing flea eggs from hatching.
There are also chewable tablets available for dogs that prevent flea infestation. Comfortis, for example, is a monthly preventative flea tablet that contains an active ingredient called spinosad. Spinosad causes paralysis and death in adult fleas. If your dog has spinosad in their bloodstream before a flea tries to take a bite out of them, it will kill the fleas before they can lay eggs.
Natural Flea Treatments for Dogs
There are several effective natural flea treatments from dog shampoos to coconut oil that will help with your flea problem.
If you choose to use flea shampoo, make sure your pup can stand to be wet with bath water and lathered for up to 10 minutes, which is how long the shampoo takes to sink in and do its job to kill the fleas. Dig in to your high-value treat arsenal if necessary. If you don't have flea shampoo you can wash your dog with Dawn dish soap. Following a warm-water bath, use a flea comb to remove the dead fleas from your dog.
Be Wary of Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) for Fleas
You may have heard that apple cider vinegar is an effective natural remedy for fleas, but this needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Dr. Hanie Elfenbein warns pet parents that this home remedy will not rid you of your flea problem at its core.
"Flea prevention is about sterilizing or killing the flea eggs and larvae. Without that step, fleas will continue to multiply. Since apple cider vinegar does nothing to address those life stages, it is an ineffective homemade flea spray," writes Dr. Elfenbein.
In short: using vinegar solution or white vinegar on your pet's fur or in their drinking water will not kill fleas. There is a chance ACV could repel fleas because they don't like the taste, but it is only a mild deterrent and is not the best flea remedy. ACV should not be your first choice for natural flea treatment. Seek alternative natural ways to get your dog flea-free.
Coconut oil is a natural and nontoxic alternative to chemical repellents. The fat in the oil coats the exoskeleton of any existing parasites and essentially limits their mobility and suffocates them.
To apply, rub the oil between your hands to make the consistency less dense and apply it throughout their coat, working it down to the skin. Any pests living in their fur will jump right out because of the repellent nature of lauric acid in coconut oil, so it’s best to apply outside so the bugs don’t fall out in your home.
Natural Flea Repellant
You can concoct a natural flea spray at home with lemon juice, a bunch each of fresh rosemary and sage (or 10 drops each of rosemary and sage essential oils), and a quart of hot water. Put the ingredients into a bowl and let it steep overnight. Pour the solution into a spray bottle. Spray your dog when they go outside, playing special attention to the belly, tail, legs, and ears.
Essential oils like cedar oil and lemongrass oil repel fleas as well. Use them in a diffuser in your home. If applying topically to your dog, be very conservative and only use a few drops diluted in water or coconut oil.
How to Get Rid of Fleas in Your Home
In order to protect your dog from fleas you must protect your home from fleas. If you have a yard, there are many plants that help repel fleas. The oils they secrete are natural flea repellents. Plants like sage, rosemary, catnip, lemongrass, basil, and mint do the trick.
There is also a natural, nontoxic powder called diatomaceous earth (DE) that does wonders for killing fleas outdoors. This food-grade powder is the microscopic remains of fossilized algae, diatoms. DE breaks apart flea eggs and dries them out before they can grow into adult fleas.
Other methods to getting rid of fleas at home include:
- Vacuum carpets, couches, and floors regularly (empty the vacuum bag immediately so the fleas can't get out and re-infest).
- Wash linens and pet bedding in hot, soapy water that kills fleas.
- Use foggers.
- Spread nematodes (small nontoxic worms) in moist, warm areas of the yard that pets and fleas frequent. The nematodes get rid of fleas naturally by feeding on flea larvae.
- Hire a professional exterminator.
Don't Delay Protecting Your Dog and Home From Fleas
Fleas and flea bites are a nuisance. What starts out as a small flea problem with just a few fleas can turn into a huge one as they spread and multiply. Whether you go with all-natural flea repellant or conventional medicine, it’s important that you take appropriate steps toward getting rid of fleas on your dog and in your home.
If you are unsure of which method to use in order to eliminate fleas, talk to your veterinarian about your specific situation. They know your dog best and can recommend safe and effective flea control.