The Complete Guide to Flea & Tick for Your Pets & Your Home

By: Chewy EditorialUpdated:

iStock/chendongshan

The Complete Guide to Flea & Tick for Your Pets & Your Home

We want our pets to always be happy and healthy, but hey, fleas happen and in many areas of the country, so to do ticks. It doesn't make you a "bad" parent if your pet gets a case of fleas or picks up a tick on walk. It's all about where you go from there.

Watching your pet scratching, biting and chewing their fur to relieve the itch and creepy-crawly sensation is distressing for us, totally miserable for them and getting rid of these pests for the long haul can be frustrating. Compounding the problem are other illnesses, some severe, that are associated with flea and tick bites on animals such as cats and dogs. 

To help you diagnose the problem and get a handle on the best solutions (Hint--likely to be a battle fought on four fronts: bathe with a flea shampoo; comb frequently and kill any fleas found; clean indoor and outdoor spaces; ask your vet about treatment options which can include flea collars, topical liquid applicants and pills), we've broken this guide into sections. Use the buttons below to jump to the most relevant topic, but do know that you will learn something from each individual section that might prove useful.

Let's start by dispelling some of the most common myths about fleas and ticks.

True or False? ( flip card for answer):

They're only a problem during "flea season."

False. Fleas can survive and reproduce all year long in many climates.

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Urban pets don’t need flea and tick prevention.

False. Fleas are equal-opportunity parasites found everywhere. 

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Fleas and ticks also bite humans.

True. You're not their meal of choice, but fleas and ticks do bite humans.

Learn More

Click on a button to jump to the section you want to read about:

Flea and Tick 101

Fleas

Fleas are small insects about 1-2 mm in length. Adult fleas live in the coat of dogs, cats and other animals and feed on their blood. Fleas are also at home in bedding, furniture, rugs and dark, hidden spots. Female fleas lay eggs that can remain in a dormant stage for up to two years, emerging as an adult flea once it senses that there is a delicious host nearby (using signals such as vibration and carbon dioxide levels). Once female fleas get a blood meal, they begin to lay eggs and so the cycle starts again. This lifecycle can take as little as 2 - 3 weeks but can last up to 6 months. To rid your pets and household from fleas, you must break this cycle using tools and strategies that range from mechanical to chemical. 

Ticks

Ticks are parasites that feed by latching on to an animal host, imbedding their mouthparts into the host’s skin and sucking its blood. This method of feeding makes ticks the perfect vectors (organisms that harbor and transmit disease) for a variety of pathogenic agents. Ticks are responsible for at least ten different known diseases in humans in the U.S. It can take up to 3 years to complete their full life cycle. Ticks find their hosts by detecting animals´ breath and body odors, or by sensing body heat, moisture, and vibrations. When a host brushes the spot where a tick is waiting, it quickly climbs aboard. Ticks transmit pathogens that cause disease through the process of feeding. 

So, now that we understand how fleas and ticks work, let's look at species-specific issues and solutions and strategies for ridding your pets of these pests.

Dogs + Fleas and Ticks

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iStock/momcilog
The problem begins with unusual amounts of scratching. Perhaps you spot some "what's that" tiny specks around the house. Or that luxurious coat that was so thick is looking a bit sparse these days. Yes, it’s confirmed. Your pup has fleas.


When it comes to dogs and fleas and ticks, the results of infestations can range from misery to downright dangerous. Fleas and ticks are equal opportunity spoilers causing issues for dogs of any size, age, and regardless of location.

Dogs often get infested with fleas through contact with other animals or contact with fleas in the environment. The flea’s bite can cause itching for the host, but for a sensitive or flea-allergic animal, this itching can be quite severe. It can lead to severe scratching and chewing that causes hair loss, inflammation and secondary skin infections. Some pets can be hypersensitive to the flea's saliva and will itch all over from the bite of even a single flea.

Ticks can cause a range of illnesses including Lyme Disease. In addition to preventative treatments you should also be checking your dogs for ticks regularly. Ticks prefer to stay close to the head, neck, feet and ears, so focus on these areas the most.

Let's Review:

  • Any age dog in any part of the country is susceptible to flea infestation. 
  • While most active in summer and again in fall, fleas can hang out 365 looking for a meal, Treat dogs and cats for fleas all year long. More.
  • Tick bites on dogs may be hard to detect. Signs of tickborne disease may not appear for 7-21 days or longer after a tick bite. Watch your dog closely for changes in behavior or appetite if you suspect that your pet has been bitten by a tick. Consult your vet right away.

The best way to deal with fleas is prevention. Flea and tick preventatives kill fleas that come in contact with your dog, preventing your pup from bringing them home in the first place. There are several options out there, from flea collars to topical liquid applicants and pills.

If your dog already has fleas, these preventatives will still kill them, but you may need to take more aggressive action, like a prescription preventative. You can also use a flea shampoo or a fast-acting chemical treatment, such as a flea pill that kills the fleas on your dog within hours. For any and all preventatives it vital to ask your dog’s veterinarian for recommendations.

When it comes to ticks, you will have a range of options here too. From preventatives and shampoos to collars, you can work to stay ahead of issues. Of course you also need to be checking your dogs for ticks anytime but especially after a walk in the woods. If you do find a tick attached to your dog, removal should be done immediately and carefully, making sure to get all parts of the tick’s body removed from the skin.

Learn More About How Fleas and Ticks Impact Dogs

Flea Facts to Chew On: Did You Know?

50

Number of eggs one female flea can lay per day.

Source

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200

Fleas can jump up to 7" high X 13" horizontally or 200 X their body length.

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15

A female flea can consume 15 times its body weight (in blood) on a daily basis.

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3 of the Most Common Flea and Tick Treatments for Dogs

While recommendations may vary due to your dog's needs, here are some of the more commonly prescribed treatments your veterinarian might tell you about. (All flea and tick medicines and treatments for dog here.)

K9 Advantix II Flea & Tick Spot Treatment for Dogs

This broad-spectrum, veterinarian-recommended treatment is specifically formulated to repel and kill fleas, ticks and mosquitoes on contact with no painful biting required. It further kills all life stages of fleas to prevent re-infestation, and even kills lice while also repelling biting flies. (Purchase according to dog's weight.)
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Bravecto Soft Chews for Dog

Provides up to 12 weeks of protection against fleas and ticks and may terminate Lone Star ticks for up to 8 weeks, and kills 98.7% within 24 hours.  Best of all, each chew is flavored, so your dog will actually look forward to taking his medication for a change. (Purchase according to dog's weight.)
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Seresto Flea & Tick Collar for Dogs

This veterinarian-recommended treatment with two active ingredients is specifically formulated to repel and kill fleas and ticks on contact with no painful biting required. These ingredients work together to provide dual-action protection against parasitic pests for up to eight months! (Purchase according to dog's weight.)
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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How do I prevent my dog from getting fleas?
A: The best approach to prevention is the use of a reliable, monthly flea product from your vet. It’s best to discuss your dog’s general health and other risk factors to ensure your dog has full protection.
Q: I treated my dog with medication for fleas several weeks ago, but now they are back. What happened? Did the product not work?
A: Although sometimes medications can fail for various reasons, the most common reason to see fleas several weeks after initial control of an infestation is that environmental stages of the flea life cycle were not eliminated. If eggs, larvae and pupae (cocoons) are not removed, new infestations can occur. This is why it is crucial to treat your dog and home at the same time.
Q: When is my dog most at risk for a flea infestation? 
A: While summer is typically when fleas can become a big problem reproducing rapidly in warm, humid conditions. However fleas can be a problem anytime of the year ,and with central heating and increasingly milder winters, fleas can survive and infest your home all year round. 

Cats + Fleas and Ticks

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As with dogs, you might notice excessive scratching and even biting or gnawing by cats at their fur, but also lethargy. Think about the size of your cat and consider that a single flea can bite hundreds of times a day, sucking blood each time. Exhausting.

The misery that an infestation of and bites by fleas on your cat is distressing to be sure, but flea bites can also lead to serious medical problems including flea allergy dermatitis to tapeworms. Fleas can also be vectors for a blood born parasite called Mycoplasma haemofe a bacterium that can cause anemia, fever and severe illness. Fleas are not just a nuisance and should be taken seriously.

It's important to jump on the problem when you first see sign of fleas on your cat. Ridding your cat of fleas is similar to the step you would take for your dog:  Flea and tick collars for cats help kill fleas, flea eggs, flea larvae and ticks immediately as well as repel fleas; Topicals such as liquid solutions that are applied to the skin; Pills and chewables that are fast-acting and provide symptom relief; and baths with flea shampoo (yes, it is a challenge to bathe a cat, but here you gotta be boss). Next, short-circuit the lifecycle of fleas in your environment (see below). Finally, give your cat time to rest and recover. That's a lot of stress and impact for a little one. 

Let's Review

  • Indoor cats as well as those who enjoy the outdoors can get fleas.
  • Cats can often be silent sufferers. If they are acting differently (very quiet, hiding, lethargic, mega-scratching) it could be due to a flea infestation.
  • Fleas are very small— only about 1/12 – 1/16” long— and can be hard to spot. Look for clues such as light-colored specks in your pet’s coat or on their bedding (flea eggs), or black, pepper-like black in their coat or on their bedding (flea feces).
While ticks are not as great an issue for cats as they are for dogs, they can become a host. Fortunately, Lyme disease is extremely unlikely to occur in cats and as of 2018 has not been seen outside of a controlled laboratory setting. There are preventatives available so check with your vet. Here is a tutorial on how to remove a tick from a dog or cat. Never use flea and tick products meant for your dog on your cat as they can be toxic, possibly causing your cat to have seizures. 

Learn More About How Fleas and Ticks Impact Cats

More Flea Facts: Numbers Don't Lie!

4

Fleas have 4 life stages: egg, larva, pupa and (no one's favorite) biting adult.

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100

A flea can live more than 100 days without a blood meal.

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2000

It's true. A female flea can lay 2K+ eggs in her lifetime.

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3 of the Most Common Flea and Tick Treatments for Cats

While recommendations may vary due to your cat's needs, these are some of the more commonly prescribed treatments your veterinarian might tell you about. (All flea and tick medicines and treatments for cats here.)

Credelio Chewable Tablets for Cats

Small, flavored chewable tablet form and is prescribed to provide monthly protection against ticks and fleas for cats and kittens. Rapidly absorbed, after 24 hours kills at least 99% of ticks and 100% of fleas for a whole month. Either placed directly in your cat's mouth or disguised in food! (Purchase according to cat's weight.)
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Frontline Plus Flea & Tick Spot Treatment for Cats

Kills adult fleas, flea eggs, flea larvae, chewing lice, and ticks. Formulated with two active ingredients to help disrupt the flea life cycle and inhibit future infestations. Designed to be waterproof after 24 hours, fast-acting, and long-lasting—one easy topical application works for 30 days. for cats weighing over 1.5 pounds. 
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Revolution Plus Topical Solution for Cats

Help protect your four-legged friend from pesky critters with this 6-in-1 broad spectrum monthly solution. Apply quick-drying, small-volume prescription to help: kill fleas before they lay eggs, kill ticks for a full month, prevent heartworm disease and treat and control roundworms, hookworms and ear mites. (Purchase according to cat's weight.)
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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Are fleas painful to my cat?
A: Yes, scratching is not the only misery for cats caused by fleas. Not only can fleas cause a sharp pain when they bite (well, fleas don't actually "bite"; they  stick their proboscis into the skin and suck blood) their salivary glands give off a substance that can be irritating. And, a hypersensitive cat's endless scratching may open wounds in the skin that are vulnerable to infection.
Q: Are fleas dangerous for my kitten? 
A: Yes, because it doesn't take too much of this blood sucking to cause anemia in a kitten that is carrying innumerable fleas. This is not as much of a problem with adult cats, but it's frequently seen in kittens.
Q: How do I stop my cat from getting fleas? 
A: There are only two ways to counter flea infestation: You must rid your cat of the insects, and also rid them from the environment (home and outdoor spaces) where your cat lives. Short-circuiting the lifecycle of fleas in your home or yard requires meticulous vacuuming, the use of flea-killing products, and in extreme circumstances, the services of a professional exterminator.

Fleas and Ticks in the Yard and Garden

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Fleas and ticks thrive in outdoor spaces either in the wild such as woods or shady spot or in a backyard that has been left untended. That said, you have options.

Fleas and ticks are plenty happy breeding and living in your lawn and yard where they can easily hitch a ride on your pet (or you) and then be brought inside the house where, at least for fleas, they're even happier. Here are steps you can take : 

  • Treat your lawn. Ask at your local garden center for recommendations for pet-safe, insect-control lawn care products. 
  • Build a barrier. Remove all leaf litter, brush, and plantings for 6 to 18 inches (wider barriers are better) from the outside of the house to create a perimeter that’s unfriendly to fleas.
  • Mow high (but not too high). Overly long grass gives fleas places to hide; grass that’s too short won’t be attractive to insects that  prey on fleas.
  • Let the sunshine in. Prune trees and shrubs by removing low branches and thick canopies to allow sunlight beneath.
  • Clear clutter. Remove places throughout the yard under which fleas can hide and lay eggs. Piles of lumber, old garden pots and bagged materials are hot spots.

Let's Review:

  • Quick way to tell if you have fleas in your yard? Don a pair of tall white socks and take a walk in areas your pets frequent most. If there are fleas, you will see them on your socks (which you will then bag up and toss out!).
  • Clear all leaf litter, brush, and plantings for 6 to 18 inches (wider barriers are better) from the outside of the house.
  • A thick thatch layer (matted organic material at base of grass plants) gives fleas, their eggs, and their larvae a happy place to hide. Remove thatch.
  • If an area is heavily infested (such as around a dog house) you might need to call in a professional. Ask for specific information about pet-safe treatments.

Learn More Outdoor Prevention and Treatment


True or False?

Ticks, like fleas, are insects.

No. Ticks are arachnids, or relatives of spiders, scorpions and mites. 

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Ticks are champion jumpers.

No. Ticks climb plants and hang out, latching onto a passing human or animal.

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I don't see any more fleas. I'm good?

Maybe, maybe not. Fleas in the pupae stage remain dormant  for up to 2 years.

Learn More

Effective Flea and Tick Solutions for Your Yard

Results may vary due to your yard's particular layout and severity of the problem, but these are worth a try.
The paw-some chemical-free spray repels fleas, ticks and mosquitoes at all points during their life cycles, helping to keep your furry friend happy and healthy. It uses natural essential oils that are safe for butterflies and bees, as well as your flowers, grass, vegetables and gardens. 
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Vet's Best Outdoor Flea & Tick Spray

This flea and tick spray for your yard is formulated with a blend of steam-distilled essential oils without any harsh chemicals. Crafted for your turf, lawn, kennels, patios and other outside surfaces. Designed to kill mosquitoes, fleas, flea larvae, flea eggs and ticks on contact.
Shop now!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: I would prefer to not use chemicals. Are there "natural" solutions? 
A: Perhaps. There are a few strategies to try including introducing nematodes that can help to control populations and using cedar chips which can be an effective flea repellant. Spread them where your pet hangs out most often and around the perimeter of your yard with a bed of at least 3' wide. Also, consider spraying your yard with cedarwood oil which is safe for pets, humans, and the environment.
Q: How do I keep fleas and tick out of my yard? 
A: No one wants to hear this because we all take joy in encouraging wildlife to visit our yards. Animals such as mice, deer, raccoons, and stray dogs can bring fleas and ticks and are best discouraged from entering by building fences when possible. If that's not possible, at least don't ring the dinner bell to entice them to come and eat. Also, here comes the sun! Frequently mowing your lawn exposes the soil to sunshine, keeping it dry and flea-free. You can also prune bushes and trim trees to increase the sunniness of your yard.
Q: Can I just spray my entire yard with a pesticide? 
A: Expert opinion on this vary, but most agree it can create a sense of false security and should be a last resort. It's best to consult with an expert before proceeding. Most flea pesticides come in the form of hose sprayers or tank pumps. Make sure toys are removed from the yard before spraying, and keep children and pets off treated areas until those areas are dry, or until the product instructions indicates it is safe. Most applications of insecticide will need to be repeated in two to three weeks after your first round. 

Fleas Inside the House

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Once fleas find their happy place in your home, they can be difficult to eject. But it's not impossible. Here's how to get the jump on them.

Killing the fleas on your dog is just one part of the problem. You also need to rid your home of fleas in all stages of their life. 5% of fleas live in the environment as an adult while a shocking 95% of fleas live as eggs, larvae or pupae happily biding their time in your home or yard. So, if you see fleas on your pet they are probably just the tip of the iceberg.

  1. Wash all dog beds and soft dog toys in hot, soapy water. Repeat this weekly.
  2. Also toss any bedding, blankets or throws, or throw rugs where your dog likes to sleep into a hot water wash.
  3. Vacuum all carpets, hardwood and other flooring, curtains, and upholstered furniture. Use crevice tools! Toss vacuum bag immediately in an outside garbage bin.
  4. Choose and apply a flea control spray or fogger that will treat all stages of fleas (or call a local exterminator).
  5. Eradicate fleas from your yard (see below) so they're not bringing more of them in. Also, vacuum car seats and interior.
  6. Continue to treat your dog and any other pets with a monthly preventative.
  7. During "flea season", try to restrict your dog from mixing with strange dogs and be sure his puppy playmates are free of fleas.

Let's Review

  • Pets are hosts. You cannot rid your house of fleas without first ridding your pets of them. (See above.)
  • Fleas mostly hang out where your pets sleep. Wash bedding (pet beds and blankets, and your bedding too if they share your space) in hot, soapy water. Do this weekly to interrupt flea life cycle.
  • Fleas like dark places. Vacuum under beds and other furniture. Use corner attachments for baseboards, heat vents, floor cracks, carpet edges and room corners.
  • This requires patience. It can take as long as three-to-four months to get rid of an infestation. That's how long it takes for all of the fleas in your home to go through their life stages.

        Learn More About Indoor Flea Prevention and Treatment

        Effective Flea and Tick Solutions for Your Home

        Results may vary due to your home's particular design and severity of the problem, but these are worth a try.
        Spray this plant-based formula with cedarwood and lemongrass on pet bedding, pillows, blankets, rugs, you-name-it, for natural flea and tick prevention. It kills fleas, flea eggs, flea larvae and ticks while repelling mosquitoes to help keep your home pest-free.
        Shop now!
        Naturally occurring, soft, siliceous sedimentary rock that has been crumbled into a fine white to off-white powder, it's effective for killing fleas that are hiding in carpets and can be used on hardwood floors, too. Use outdoors for killing fleas in your garden.
        Shop now!

        Frequently Asked Questions

        Q: I don't have carpet in my home. Can I still get a flea infestation?  
        A: Fleas do not give up so easily! They're just fine with hard-surfaced floors such as wood or tile and they can live quite happily in the cracks and around the edges of  floors. And, they also enjoy bedding down in bedding, furniture, and area rugs.
        Q: I would prefer to not use chemicals. Are there "natural" solutions? 
        A: Perhaps. There are a few strategies to try including introducing nematodes that can help to control populations and using cedar chips which can be an effective flea repellant. Spread them where your pet hangs out most often and around the perimeter of your yard with a bed of at least 3' wide. Also, consider spraying your yard with cedarwood oil which is safe for pets, humans, and the environment.
        Q: Can fleas live in a clean home? 
        A: Unfortunately, fleas can infest even the most spotless home. Having fleas in hour house, apartment, condo, or yard is not a on referendum on your housekeeping skills! 

        Fleas and ticks are no one's favorite part of being a pet parent, but solutions and treatments do exist and are typically effective. The keys are prevention, quick and effective treatment and staying ahead of the problem with consistent monitoring and mitigation. Do this, and the little biting buggers will find that your house is no home sweet home for them.

        There are no “stupid” questions when it comes to your pet’s health. If you suspect your pet is sick, please call your vet immediately. For diet, wellness and health-related questions, always consult your regular veterinarian when possible as they can make the best recommendations for your pet. (If you need help finding a vet near you use this link.) The content on this blog is provided for informational use only and does not constitute professional veterinary advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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