For being such a tiny pest, fleas can cause quite the chaos. Due to their small size and rapid reproduction ability, flea infestations can quickly become a frustrating and itchy experience.
In this step-by-step guide, we’ll show you how to effectively get rid of fleas just like the pros do. This 3 step process focuses on eliminating fleas from your pets, inside your home, and even your yard. Even if you’re only dealing with one, I highly recommend you read through all three sections because you may end up having a larger problem than you originally think. But before we dive into the details, lets first discuss the differences between fleas and ticks.
Differentiating Between Fleas and Ticks
Many people confuse ticks for fleas and vice-versa, which can make treatment ineffective. This confusion is largely due to the preventive treatments for dogs (flea and tick collars/medicine) which are typically marketed for both pests. Even though these products do work at repelling both fleas and ticks, getting rid of a full blown flea infestation requires a very different treatment process than ticks. As a result, it’s necessary to identify the correct pest before you can give your pet and home the proper care.
Fleas are tiny insects measuring about 3 millimeters long. They don’t have wings but rely on their modified back legs to jump up to 30 centimeters high. Fleas are brown or reddish-brown with flat bodies and leave small red spots when they bite. The insect’s bites tend to appear in lines.
Fleas feed frequently and can bite up to once every 5 minutes when they latch on to your pets.
Signs of Fleas on Dogs
Although fleas are tiny and difficult to see at a glance, you can spot signs of a flea infestation on your pet to warrant closer investigation. These signs include:
- Small, black, pepper-like specks on the dog fur (flea droppings)
- Small white specks on the dog fur (flea eggs)
- Tiny dark spots that move in the dog fur
- Red patches and other signs of irritation on your pet’s skin
- Hair loss
- Excessive licking and scratching
On the other hand, ticks are a lot easier to spot on your dog than fleas. There are over 800 different species of ticks although they share some basic similarities in appearance.
All stages of tick development are capable of biting so it is necessary to be able to identify tick larvae, nymph, and adults.
Larvae: tick larvae are tiny, about the size of a grain, and look like black or red specks
Nymph: tick nymphs are roughly the size of a sesame seed and look like larvae, except slightly larger
Adults: adult ticks are about the size of an apple seed when unfed and have a teardrop shape and flat back. Unfed adult ticks are brown in color and darker around the mouthparts.
Engorged ticks (fed ticks) are white or gray in color, have rounded bodies and measure about 1 centimeter long, noticeably larger than unfed ticks.
Signs of Ticks on Dogs
- Excessive head shaking (ticks often like to bite around the ears and in the ears)
- Spotting a live tick on your dog or anywhere in the house
- Signs of fever including loss of appetite, fatigue, and vomiting
- Unexplained scabs on the dog’s body from flea bites
Do Fleas and Ticks Spread Diseases to Dogs?
Ticks and fleas can potentially spread a number of diseases and infections. This is why it is necessary to be vigilant especially during peak tick and flea season to keep both you and your pets safe.
Diseases from Fleas
- Tapeworms: Tapeworms affect both humans and pets. Children are more likely to get tapeworms than adults. Dogs get tapeworms by accidentally ingesting infected fleas. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss. Dogs typically swallow fleas while grooming their fur or while chewing at irritated skin caused by the flea bites.
- Anemia: Fleas reproduce and spread rapidly. In the event that your dog is attacked by hundreds of fleas, the result is typically low red blood cells or anemia. Symptoms of anemia include lethargy, rapid breathing, and weakness. Anemia can be potentially fatal in pets so it is necessary that you see a vet the moment you suspect that your pet might be anemic.
- Flea Allergy Dermatitis: Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is a skin condition that is common with dogs that are allergic to flea bites. Symptoms of FAD include intense itchiness and irritation, skin infections, and hair loss.
- Murine Typhus: Murine Typhus is mostly associated with rats but fleas can also transmit this disease. Fleas may bite infected rats and contract pathogens that they later spread to hosts. Only humans can be infected with Murine Typhus and symptoms include nausea, headache, aching, and fever.
Diseases from Ticks
- Lyme disease: Lyme disease is one of the most common diseases spread by ticks and is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia Burgdorferi. Hard-shelled deer ticks are especially notorious for spreading the infection to dogs, usually within two or three days of beginning to feed. Symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs include lack of appetite, difficulty breathing, walking stiffly, and fever. Humans can also contract Lyme disease and its symptoms include severe headache, rashes, neck stiffness, joint pain, facial palsy, and swelling.
- Tick paralysis: Tick paralysis is caused by potent neurotoxins present in tick saliva. These toxins attack the animal’s central nervous system and cause paralysis. Deer ticks, Lone Star ticks, Rocky Mountain wood tick, and American dog ticks most commonly spread tick paralysis. The symptoms of tick paralysis typically appear within 6-9 days of the tick latching on to a host and include poor reflexes, partial paralysis, difficulty breathing, and rapid heart rate. Tick paralysis is potentially fatal to pets and symptoms may begin to dissipate soon after the tick is removed.
- Anaplasmosis: There are two forms of anaplasmosis, both of which are bacterial infections. The western black-legged tick spreads the form of anaplasmosis that attacks white blood cells while the brown dog tick spreads the strain that attacks the platelet. The variety of anaplasmosis that attacks the white blood cells may also be spread to humans. Symptoms of anaplasmosis include joint pain, lameness, fever, coughing, and loss of appetite, diarrhea, and vomiting. Dogs with the platelet variety of anaplasmosis may show signs of red splotches and bruising on the body.
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever: Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, also known as RMSF, is a bacterial disease commonly spread by the brown dog tick, wood tick, and American dog tick. Ticks can spread RMSF to both humans and pets and symptoms may include swelling in the legs and face, diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and joint pain. Other symptoms in humans include chills, high fever, headache, and confusion.
3 Steps to Get Rid of Fleas
Our ultimate DIY flea treatment plan is broken down into three main focus areas: your pets, your house, and your yard. Each of these three areas must have a separate focus and treatment plan in order to effectively eliminate the pest. Completely eliminating a large flea infestation can sometimes take over a month; however we’re confident that by following these steps you will get rid of them once and for all.
So let’s get right to it!
Treatment A: Fleas on Pets
Even the best flea prevention efforts may not be successful in completely keeping fleas away from your pets, especially during peak season.
It’s crucial that you act fast the moment you discover these pests on your dog or cat. The sooner you can treat your pet and get rid of the infestation the better you can protect your pet from discomfort, possible infections, and full blown infestations in your home.
1. Wash Your Dog with a Flea Shampoo
Flea baths should always be the first step when your dog or cat becomes infested with fleas. Simply use a specific medicated shampoo and fully lather your pet ensuring to scrub deep within the fur all the way down to the skin. The medicated shampoo will kill any fleas currently on your dog.
- KILLS ADULT FLEAS & FLEA EGGS - Provides flea treatment, killing adult fleas and flea eggs on your dog or cat to prevent...
- KILLS TICKS - Adams Plus Flea & Tick Shampoo With Precor kills ticks on contact.
- KILLS LICE - Lice travel on pets, too, and Adams Plus Flea & Tick Shampoo With Precor kills lice on contact.
Adams Plus Flea & Tick Shampoo is a great product for a pet that is already infested with fleas. It has active ingredients that kill both fleas and ticks and works on both dogs and cats. Comb your dog’s fur after washing to remove the dead fleas.
2. Apply Repellent
Flea drops and sprays are concentrated formulas designed to repel and/or kill fleas. It’s important to utilize these after the flea bath is done to ensure ongoing protection. But what’s the difference between the two types?
Flea and tick sprays are really easy to use. If you already see more fleas on your dog after they had a flea bath (it can happen as easily as laying down on their bed where more fleas were waiting), simply spray their fur to kill and repel.
We like the flea sprays that include Insect Growth Regulators (IGR), which essentially stops fleas from being able to reproduce. This is incredibly important when dealing with an infestation. Our go-to flea spray is this Adams Plus Flea and Tick.
- KILLS FLEAS & FLEA EGGS - This highly effective combination of ingredients provides quick relief from biting fleas and...
- KILLS TICKS - Adams Plus Flea & Tick Spray kills Deer Ticks which may transmit Lyme Disease.
- REPELS MOSQUITOES - A light, even coverage of your pet's hair or coat will also provide effective repellency of...
Flea drops are super concentrated and are applied directly onto your dog’s skin (typically behind the neck). It causes no harm to your dog and offers longer-term protection – typically 4-6 weeks but in some cases up to 3 months. We prefer to use this as a standard method of prevention after the infestation is managed.
We personally use Bayer K9 Advantix II with great results.
- TWO MONTHS PROTECTION: 2 monthly applications of K9 Advantix II flea and tick prevention for extra-large dogs weighing...
- FLEA, TICK AND MOSQUITO PROTECTION: K9 Advantix II flea and tick prevention for dogs works through contact, so fleas,...
- EASY TO APPLY: K9 Advantix II flea and tick control for dogs is an easy to apply topical formula
Looking for a natural method?
Coconut oil has a lauric acid that repels fleas. This treatment is a good alternative for pet owners who are hesitant to use commercial products on their dogs.
Rub a generous amount of coconut oil in your hands until it liquefies and massage the oil deep into your dog’s fur. Run a fine-toothed comb through the coat and you should see fleas sticking on the comb. Other fleas should jump off the dog while you massage it.
Repeat this treatment every week for the best result. This is a good way of getting rid of existing fleas as well as protecting your dog from future infestation. Coconut oil is also great for soothing flea bites on your dog.
3. Consult Your Vet
As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t use any chemical treatments on nursing dogs or on dogs under 4 months. Always visit your vet for a recommendation of the best products to prevent and/or remove ticks and fleas for these dogs.
Also, visit your vet immediately if you notice any unusual symptoms or behavior from an infested dog. Most of the diseases that dogs contract from ticks and fleas are curable with timely and proper treatment.
Treatment B: Fleas in House
Make sure you wash all the dog bedding and any other fabrics that your pet has come into contact with in warm water to remove any fleas that may be waiting to re-infest your pet. Vacuum your carpets thoroughly to get rid of fleas in the house.
1. Vacuum and Steam Clean
Vacuuming is one of the most important steps for getting rid of fleas. If you have an infestation, you should be vacuuming around the clock (ok, at least daily). Fleas can lay their eggs in carpeting and even tiny cracks in hardwood floors – so you really need to be cleaning the entire house.
If you have pets, pay special attention to where they sleep and eat. Dog beds and cages are obvious hot spots for fleas. Once you’re done vacuuming, it’s important to quickly empty the contents into a sealed garbage bag and place it outside away from the house to avoid them coming right back in. Even better, vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters work amazing for fleas because they can’t get back out.
I highly recommend you step up your flea killing power by using a steam cleaner. The high heat instantly kills fleas, larvae, and eggs. Use the steam cleaner on pet bedding, carpets, and any other upholstery such as couches and even curtains. You may want to even do the mattress while you’re at it.
2. Wash All Bedding
Very similar to how we deal with bed bugs, all bedding should be washed on hot soapy water – this goes for both your own bedding and your pets. Once washed, place them in the dryer and use the high heat setting. This ensures the fleas are properly dealt with!
3. Spray Flea Insecticide
Use a similar flea spray as detailed above in Treatment A.2; however, you’ll want to use a spray intended for spraying within your home and not on your dog. The ones created for spraying directly on your pets have a slightly different formula that makes it safer for direct exposure. We really like the Adam’s sprays, and they happen to have another formula specific for spraying within your home.
- PROVEN EFFECTIVE - Kills fleas, flea eggs, flea larvae, bed bugs, ticks, cockroaches, ants*, spiders, mosquitoes, and...
- KILLS FAST - Begins killing fleas in as little as 5 minutes
- DUAL ACTION - Kills over 30 insects and prevents new infestations
This stuff is fragrance free and does not stain. Focus the spray on all of the same areas you were vacuuming / steam cleaning earlier in step 1. Not only does it kill fleas quickly, but the Insect Growth Regulator prevents any more fleas from reproducing for up to 28 days.
If you have a large home and want to use a professional-level insecticide along with a gallon garden sprayer, we really like the combination of Permethrin SFR (kills adult fleas) and Precor IGR (prevents reproduction). This IGR is specifically made for dealing with fleas indoors.
- Target pests: Fleas. Does not work on ticks. For Ticks,
- For use in: indoor control only of pre-adult fleas - up to seven full months. Does not work outside in direct sun
- Application: Apply at a rate of 1 oz per 1 gallon of the diluted spray solution per 1500 sq ft of surface area with any...
Treatment C: Fleas in Yard
People often times neglect the idea of treating their yard for fleas, since the biggest nuisance is when they are indoors. However, your pets are very likely bringing the fleas in from your backyard. Small rodents, stray cats, and other wildlife all can be carrying fleas and their eggs into your yard. Before you know it, you can have an outdoor infestation without even knowing it.
Our steps for keeping fleas at bay are very similar to our guide on getting rid of ticks from your yard.
1. Mow Frequently
Keeping a well-maintained yard does wonders for keeping some pests at bay, including fleas and ticks. Fleas like to hide out in tall grass, so cut your lawn short and do it frequently. I highly encourage you to bag the grass clippings as well and dump them somewhere off site. This prevents them from just finding a new hiding spot in your lawn.
2. Rake Leaves and Reduce Clutter
Rake fallen leaves as soon as possible, because they provide the perfect hiding spot. Nicely stack your wood piles, clean up fallen branches, and trim back bushes to allow as much sunlight as possible into your yard.
3. Spray Permethrin
If you follow us at all here at Bug Lord, you know how much we love Permethrin for outdoor pest treatments. Permethrin SFR is very safe to use in your yard once dried. Just keep your dogs and children out of the yard for a few hours after you spray it, but once it dries they are perfectly safe. It also does not wash away from rainfall, so the treatment can last weeks.
While the Permethrin will do a good job at killing all fleas it comes into contact, we still recommend using an additive IGR to prevent any more fleas from reproducing.
How did my house get fleas?
Cats and dogs are usually the first culprit for bringing fleas into the house, however this is not always the case. Fleas can easily cling onto a human and, if they lay eggs, you can very quickly have a large infestation. Most people think of a dirty house when you hear of a flea problem, but even spotless homes can develop a problem under the perfect circumstances.
How do I prevent fleas?
Always use a flea and tick collar (or drops) on your dogs. This drastically reduces the chance of a big flea problem because most ticks won’t want to go near your pets, and if any do, they will drop dead.
Vacuum and clean your home regularly. Even with a flea collar, it’s still possible for a straggler to cling onto your pets fur long enough to make it inside the home. Periodically treating your yard is often recommended as well.
Do bug bombs or foggers work for fleas?
We do not recommend the use of foggers. Some pest control companies still use these for large infestations, but we feel they can be very dangerous to use and targeted insecticide sprays can work just as well as long as you know where and what to spray.