How to Spot and Get Rid of Fleas on Dogs—For Good

By: BeChewy EditorsUpdated:

How to Spot and Get Rid of Fleas on Dogs—For Good
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How to Spot and Get Rid of Fleas on Dogs—For Good

Do you think you might be dealing with fleas on dogs? Here’s the good news: You’re not alone. Flea infestation is a common issue for pet parents—after all, dogs’ skin and fur are prime breeding ground for these tiny, jumping parasites.

We spoke to vets for their tips on stopping fleas in their tracks, including the signs of flea infestations, how to get rid of these pesky pests, and flea prevention treatments that’ll help keep them away once you’ve sent them packing.

Does My Dog Have Fleas?

Common early signs of fleas on dogs include:

  • Frequent itching and scratching, especially around the head, neck and base of your dog’s tail. Because dogs can be very allergic to the protein in flea saliva, even one or two flea bites can cause some dogs to itch for several days.
  • Flea dirt, aka flea poop, on your dog’s skin. Flea feces look like ground pepper or specks of sand, and will turn reddish-brown if you wet it on a paper towel. You can spot this more easily by combing their hair with a flea comb.
  • Spotting live fleas, which are tiny dark brown insects that hop around quickly and weave through your dog’s fur. A flea comb can make it easier to spot these, too. Find out more about what fleas look like.

As time goes on and the flea problem worsens, symptoms may also include:

  • Increased agitation, restlessness, and discomfort
  • Hair loss
  • Skin redness or hot spots
  • Skin infections
  • Scabs

The Flea Life Cycle

We know, we know—you’re interested in killing fleas, so why should you care about their life cycle? Well, here’s why: There are four flea life stages, and most flea treatments don’t kill fleas in all of them. The entire life cycle takes about three weeks on average—but for some fleas, it can take months or even years. That means it’s important to use a combination of flea-killing methods when you have an infestation—and equally important to keep your guard up year-round by using flea and tick preventative treatments on your dog.

Here’s how the flea life cycle works:

  • Stage 1—Egg: Once laid from a female flea, the eggs will fall off your pet as they move through the environment. Flea eggs take anywhere from two days to two weeks to develop, depending on environmental conditions, and represent almost 50% of the total flea population in a home.
  • Stage 2—Larva: Flea larvae are up to ¼-inch long, are legless, and are almost see-through. They live in your house and yard and eat “flea dirt” (AKA flea poop) and debris to survive. After about five to 20 days after hatching, they’ll spin cocoons, which leads to the next life stage.
  • Stage 3—Pupa: The pupa stage is considered the most hardy, and they can survive in their thick cocoon for months. In rare cases, they may even survive for years. On average, this stage lasts several days or weeks, and once environmental conditions are favorable (warm and humid!) they’ll hatch into an adult flea.
  • Stage 4—Adult flea: This is the life stage that pet parents physically see on their dog. Adult flea bites cause itching, discomfort and allergies, and female fleas lay up to 50 eggs per day. This part of the cycle accounts for less than 5% of the total flea population in the home but is responsible for the bulk of your infestation thanks to all that egg laying.

Did You Know...

...that adult fleas can consume nearly 15 times their own body weight in blood per day? That’s impressive! (And also super gross.)

How to Get Rid of Fleas on Dogs

Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to treat mild or even severe infestations of fleas on dogs and in your home. Once you’ve got solved your flea problem, you can then shift into flea prevention measures to prevent future cases.

1Gather Supplies

an array of flea and tick killing and preventing products including a flea comb, rubbing alcohol, flea and tick preventative treatment for dogs, and sprays for the home and yardan array of flea killing products including flea comb, rubbing alcohol, flea and tick preventative treatment for dogs, and sprays for the home and yard

Here’s what you need to treat fleas on dogs.

2Comb your dog with a flea comb.

a woman combing her dog with a flea comba woman combing her dog with a flea comb

Standing in the bathtub, a sink or outside, use a flea comb to physically remove any visible fleas. Start at your dog’s head and work towards their tail, combing in the direction of your dog’s fur. Put the fleas in a cup or bowl filled with isopropyl alcohol to kill them.

Continue this process until you don’t see any more fleas. This may take some time depending on the severity of the infestation.

Hartz Groomer's Best Flea Comb for Dogs
$5.78
Frisco Single-Row Flea Comb for Dogs
$2.50
Safari Double-Sided Dog Flea Comb
$1.99

3Use a gentle shampoo.

a woman bathing a doga woman bathing a dog

After using a flea comb, shampoo your dog. The type of shampoo to use will vary according to the severity of your dog’s reaction to the fleas:

  • For mild cases, use a shampoo especially formulated to kill fleas.
  • For more severe cases in which a dog’s skin is irritated, has developed hot spots or open wounds, consult your veterinarian. Many flea shampoos contain ingredients that could further irritate their skin if applied directly, so your vet may suggest a gentler shampoo with soothing ingredients like oatmeal instead.

Massage the shampoo all over your dog’s fur and skin, making sure to get into all the crevices where fleas may reside, and rinse well. Follow the directions on your shampoo bottle, and brush up on our directions for how to give a dog a bath.

PetArmor Flea & Tick Oatmeal Dog Shampoo
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Adams Plus Flea & Tick Shampoo
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Vet's Best Advanced Strength Flea & Tick Dog Shampoo
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4Use a flea/tick prevention treatment.

a woman giving her dog a chewable flea and tick tableta woman giving her dog a chewable flea and tick tablet

If you’ve fallen behind on your dog’s regular flea and tick prevention treatment, it’s definitely time to get back on track. And if you’ve never used a flea and tick preventative before—well, this is your sign to start. These treatments can kill remaining fleas on your dog and prevent future flea infestations, too. They come in a variety of forms, including:

  • Topical flea and tick treatments: These flea control serums are applied directly to your dog’s skin. If you’re using a topical treatment, remember to do so after bathing your dog, not before, to avoid accidentally washing away the treatment.
  • Oral flea and tick treatments: These preventatives are taken orally, often in chewable form (so your dog might just mistake it for a treat).
  • Flea collars: These are medicated collars that your dog wears to repel fleas.
    Consult with your veterinarian to determine which method is right for your dog.

Whatever flea prevention you choose, it should be given at a regular cadence all year round, without missing treatments, according to product instructions and your veterinarian’s recommendations. This is key in preventing future infestations.

Read our guide to the best flea and tick treatment for dogs.

What’s in My Dog’s Flea Medicine?

Ever wonder how flea and tick treatments work? We’re breaking down the ingredients in your pup’s preventative.

Frontline Plus Flea & Tick Spot Treatment
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FREE 1-3 day shipping
K9 Advantix II Flea & Tick Spot Treatment for Dogs
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NexGard Chew for Dogs
$79.79
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5Treat your home.

a woman using flea spray on a dog beda woman using flea spray on a dog bed

If there were fleas living on your dog, it’s likely fleas are also living in your home. Removing those fleas is just as crucial as treating your dog—otherwise, they’re likely to hop back onto your dog and cause another infestation.

Take these steps to eliminate fleas in your home:

  • Vacuum all carpeting and upholstery. Be sure to dispose of the vacuum bag outside of your home immediately. If your vacuum uses a canister, empty it and dispose of its contents immediately, then clean the vacuum canister very well according to the vacuum manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Wash all your bedding and blankets with hot, soapy water.

In severe cases, insecticide foggers or flea spray may be required indoors. If this is the case, always remove your pets from the environment beforehand, and read the product’s instructions to find out how long to wait before reintroducing them to areas that have been treated.

Get more tips on killing fleas in your home and yard.

Pro Tip: Not all dog-safe flea treatments are safe for cats and other pet species. If you live with more than one pet, always consult your veterinarian before using a flea-killing product on your home.
Vet's Best Indoor Flea & Tick Home Spray for Dogs
$14.97
PetArmor Home & Carpet Spray Fresh Scent for Pets
$7.91
Advantage Household Fogger
$21.98

6Treat your yard.

a woman walking out the door of her home holding flea treatment spray for the yarda woman walking out the door of her home holding flea treatment spray for the yard

If you live in a warm or humid climate, you may need to also treat your yard with insecticides or flea sprays. Just as with home treatments, remove your pets from your yard before treating it, and keep your pets out of the area for the product instructions’ recommended amount of time. (Usually, this is until the spray has dried.) Once your dog is allowed outside, make sure they don’t eat any of the sprayed grass or plants.

For stubborn infestations, or if you just don’t like the DIY approach, a reliable pest-control company can also eliminate flea infestations in both your home and yard. Remember to make them aware that you have a dog and to follow their safety recommendations to protect both the humans and pets in your household from the chemicals they use.

Vet's Best Flea + Tick Yard & Kennel Spray for Dogs
$17.99
Sentry Home Yard & Premise Flea & Tick Spray Concentrate
$21.99
Skout's Honor Flea & Tick Yard Spray
$34.99

7Repeat all of the above

a recently bathed dog wearing a towela recently bathed dog wearing a towel

Continue to treat your home and yard every two to three weeks, for the next four to six months. That might seem like a lot, but fleas are notoriously persistent. Remember the flea life cycle? Flea larvae laid by the adult fleas in your home can hatch over the next three weeks—and when fleas are in the pupa life stage(cocoons) they can actually remain dormant for months and are resistant to freezing and insecticides.

In addition, you should continue to inspect your dog’s fur for fleas every two to three weeks, and ask your vet how often to bathe them using a flea shampoo. Remember to keep your pup’s flea and tick preventative current, too!

The Dangers of Fleas on Dogs

Aside from being a grody parasite that feasts on you and your pet's blood—yes, fleas can infest humans, too—fleas are incredibly uncomfortable for your dog. Plus, they can transmit diseases, including:

  • Tapeworms
  • Plague
  • Typhus
  • Mycoplasma
  • Cat scratch disease

An infestation can also cause an intense allergic reaction called flea allergy dermatitis in your pet, with typically comes with severe scratching that leads to skin infections and hair loss. Some dogs can have an extreme reaction to just a single flea bite. That’s why it’s important to treat flea infestations as soon as you notice the issue.
Another reason? Fleas can quickly get out of hand. Because of the length of the flea life cycle, they can take months to control and, in severe cases, may require removal of furniture, carpet, tapestries and bedding.

Dealing with fleas on dogs can feel like a nasty nightmare, but with patience and careful treatment you can tackle even the most severe infestations. Need more guidance on the best flea medicine for your pup? Check out these recommendations by pet parents like you.
Expert input for this story provided by: Antje Joslin, DVM, a veterinarian with Dogtopia; and Dr. Megan McCarthy, DVM, a veterinarian at Best Friends Animal Society in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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By: BeChewy EditorsUpdated:

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