During a home renovation weekend, my husband left to buy lumber, and imagine my surprise when he returned with a dog. We already had two dogs and a cat, and we really didn’t have room for another pet. He explained that when he returned to his truck to put the lumber in the bed, he heard a yelp. Someone actually threw this puppy in the back of his truck in a parking lot in almost 100-degree summer heat. So, I couldn’t fault him for bringing him home, and the puppy did have an abundance of cuteness — and fleas.
Fleas are annoying little pests that bite and survive off blood. They can cause anemia and other serious health concerns for animals if left untreated, and they can multiply quickly. They can affect indoor animals too; fleas can jump far and be tracked in by pets, humans and even dirt. It can be hard to figure out a plan of attack standing in the aisle of the pet store staring at the sheer number of products lining the walls. While some flea treatments may be necessary, there are additional ways you can help curb these unwanted visitors.
I Have Fleas. Now What?
You’ll want to start by bathing your dog. Depending on the size of your dog, you may need to use the bathtub instead of the sink. Get the neck area wet and soapy before working on the body. This way the rest of the fleas should end up getting washed off the body or killed by the soap. Avoid getting soap near the eyes, nose and mouth. Fleas that are found on the head or facial area should be easy to spot, and these can be dropped into the water also.
Petroleum jelly can be dabbed on fleas as you spot them to stop them from hopping away. Dry your dog thoroughly and check around the bathing area for any stray fleas.
Now that your dog is clean, you should wash all bedding (and sheets if your dog sleeps with you). A thorough vacuuming or steam-cleaning should be next, and don’t forget to check the chairs and sofas. If you have a severe infestation, you may opt to use a more aggressive means of removing them from your home. Foggers require you and the animals to evacuate the house, and there are time limits before you can re-enter on the directions.
If you consult a pest control company, make sure they know you have pets and ask about the risks and side effects of the product they intend to use.
Don’t Forget Areas Outside the Home
Check and treat your outdoor areas. Warm, humid and moist environments are the flea’s favorite playground, and your dog is the transportation. Nix the free rides by clearing dead or dying foliage and standing water, and keep entrances to the home clear and dry. If you use a commercial lawn treatment, read the directions carefully for harmful ingredients and the amount to apply. Some professionals recommend using nematodes on your outdoor areas. These microscopic worms love eating insects and their eggs, and when the supply of food runs out they biodegrade. They can be hard to find in local pet or garden stores but are available online (aff).
Does your dog ride in the car with you or has the pet been in one of your vehicles recently? Head there next and vacuum your vehicles too. If your dog visits the neighbors or a day care, or if a dog walker or sitter comes by regularly, let them know you are treating for fleas so they can check and treat if needed.
Help Prevent Future Infestations
To help with prevention, here is a three-point checklist:
- Vacuum the home at least once per week.
- Check the outdoor areas.
- Check your pet daily.
What About Flea Medications?
Oral Preventives: If you choose to use a preventive flea medication, there are several to choose from (such as Sentinel, Promeris and Comfortis). Before you buy or apply any flea preventive, make sure the medication is specifically produced for dogs and the weight limits apply to your dog. Overdosing can result in serious consequences, and this is a step to never skip.
Flea Collars: There are a few chemicals used in pet products that are insecticides, and some can be dangerous to them and your family. The most common chemical to avoid is propoxur, a chemical normally found in flea collars. This chemical has been blamed for pet deaths and disabilities, causing cancer and even prompted a new law in California. Further legislation is ongoing, but the products are still being sold.
Sprays and Powders: Sprays are better for short coats, and powders are better for rubbing into longer coats.
Topical Preventives: If you choose to use a topical preventive (such as Advantage, Advantix, Frontline Plus, Frontline Top Spot, Revolution and Proticall for Dogs), always check the label and the directions for dosage and weight limits. Make sure it says it is made for dogs before you open the package. Some treatments will have a waiting period before your pet can get wet or go swimming, so check to see how long Snickerdoodle may have to wait before plunging into the nearby lake.
Other Notes on Flea Control
If you have a new pet or are starting a new treatment, consult your veterinarian. Please bear in mind that any treatment you give your dog can affect other household pets, especially cats. If you have a multi-pet household, always check with your vet and read directions carefully. Do you have a kitten with fleas? Read this article first.
If you decide to use aromatherapy to control fleas, always consult your vet and a qualified aromatherapist. Some essential oils can be deadly for dogs and especially so for cats.
You can also check your pet’s food. Look at the ingredients and see what’s in there. Quality dog food should not be full of fillers, and a healthier diet equals a healthier dog. Fleas tend to choose sick animals over healthy ones, so this could be an added advantage.
I’m sure you’ve read it, but we’ll keep repeating it:
Check the box for the animal type and weight the product is manufactured for.
This way you can avoid serious complications or death. The ASPCA listed insecticides as the number-two pet toxin for 2011, according to the 165,900-plus calls the group received at its poison control center. Double-check the package to make sure your chosen treatment is safe, is not expired and is designed specifically for your animal, and confirm any weight limits before applying the product to your pet.