Fleas: the dreaded pests that no pet owner wants to see on their dog. These pesky little parasites feed on your canine friend's blood, make Fido itch like crazy, and potentially lead to more serious health troubles if the issue isn't dealt with.
What's worse, fleas use their large back legs to jump around, sometimes to distances of a foot or more. They can infest other pets in your home, as well as your bedding and furniture, if you don't take steps to eradicate them.
Clearly, you'll want to identify and treat a flea infestation in your dog as soon as you can. But many pet owners worry about the chemicals in flea collars and other standard treatment options. Luckily, you can try different home remedies to get rid of these pests on your dog and around your home.
Let's take a look at some telltale signs of a flea infestation so that you know what to watch out for. Then, we'll discuss some home remedies for fleas on dogs.
Signs of a Flea Infestation on Your Dog
You can see adult fleas with the naked eye, although it isn't always easy. But most of the time, you'll notice the symptoms of a flea infestation before you notice the fleas themselves.
The common symptoms of fleas include:
- Intense itching and scratching, especially around the neck and shoulder area
- Inflammation of the skin
- Tiny red dots on the skin (flea bites)
- Scabbing on the skin
- Hair loss
Another telltale sign of fleas is flea droppings, also known as flea dirt. These look like tiny specks of black pepper on your dog's skin.
Running a flea comb through your pet's hair can reveal the flea dirt. You can also collect some of the flea dirt and wet it. If it turns red, it's flea poop (the red color happens because of the digested blood).
7 Top Home Remedies for Fleas on Dogs
You've confirmed the presence of fleas on your dog, either by symptoms, the presence of flea dirt, visible fleas in your dog's coat, or all of the above. Now what?
Here are some of the best flea remedies for you to try at home:
1. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil contains a fatty acid called lauric acid, a component that kills fleas. The fat covers the flea's exoskeleton and essentially suffocates the pest.
Only apply coconut oil to your dog's coat outdoors. Because the acid works as a natural flea repellent, the pests may leap out of your dog's fur. Work the oil through Fido's fur and on the skin, all over the body. After you’ve thoroughly coated your dog, bring them indoors and bathe them to get rid of the oil.
2. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has a high pH level, and it works as a natural flea repellent. You can use apple cider vinegar in two ways to try and kill fleas: by having your dog drink it or by applying it to your dog's coat.
For the drinking method, add a tablespoon or so of the vinegar to your dog's water bowl. (Check with your vet for an exact amount.) Keep in mind that vinegar is bitter, so your dog might not like the taste. If your pet refuses to drink the mixture, direct application might be a better choice. Make sure you apply the correct amount and concentration.
To apply it to your dog's coat, mix apple cider vinegar with water (consult your vet for a ratio of vinegar to water). Then, either add the mixture to a spray bottle and spray it all over your dog (avoid the face and eyes) or dip a washcloth in the mixture and apply it to your dog's fur.
3. Citrus Bath
Like vinegar, citrus also works well for repelling fleas. It's great for using directly on your dog as well as around your home.
Mix lemon juice and warm water and follow the process described above. Again, you’ll use a spray bottle to apply the homemade flea spray to your dog's coat and areas around your home. Or, you can mix the citrus mixture with a little pet shampoo and give your dog a bath.
4. Essential Oils
You can use essential oils to deal with a flea problem, but be careful. Certain essential oils can be toxic to dogs, including tea tree oil, pennyroyal, pine oils, and wintergreen oils.
Using a dog-safe essential oil like lavender or peppermint, however, may be a natural way to get rid of fleas and their larvae. Place a single drop of the oil at your dog's neck, or dilute the oils with water and apply to your dog's entire coat with a spray bottle. The aroma of these oils repels fleas. You can also use this method as a preventative measure.
5. Diatomaceous Earth
The diatomaceous earth method of flea control is for your home, not your dog themself. Diatomaceous earth is a powder-like substance that damages fleas' exoskeletons, drawing moisture out of their bodies to kill them. You might want to use this method in your home at the same time your dog is undergoing their own flea treatment.
Sprinkle food-grade diatomaceous earth around your home, including on bedding, furniture, baseboards, and anywhere else you think fleas might be hiding. All it takes is some vacuuming a few hours later to clean up the diatomaceous earth and, hopefully, the dead fleas along with it.
6. Baking Soda and Salt
This is another method for your home, not your dog themselves. A mixture of baking soda and salt dehydrates fleas and flea eggs. Combine equal parts baking soda and salt, and sprinkle the mixture liberally around your home or yard. After a few hours, vacuum the area thoroughly.
You can use this pest-control method in the yard. Nematodes are tiny worms that live in soil and eat insect larvae, including flea larvae. Get nematodes at your local garden center or order them online. Mix them with water, and spray the mixture around your yard. It's a great way to keep fleas away before they’re a problem, too.
When to See Your Veterinarian
If a flea infestation is severe or home remedies aren't working, it's time to visit the vet.
It's also possible that your dog has flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), a condition in which your dog is allergic to flea saliva. This causes symptoms like severe itching and inflammation, hair loss, crusting of the skin, and hot spots. Your vet can prescribe medicated shampoo. Your pet might also need antibiotics to help with secondary infections or even steroids to help the skin heal.
If your pet's itching and scratching is severe or you see inflammation, hot spots, bald patches, crusting or scabbing on the skin, or anything else that concerns you, contact your vet's office for help.
Flea Prevention Tips for Dog Owners
Just like any health problem, preventing fleas is better than dealing with them after the fact. Prevent a flea infestation in your dog by:
- Using a flea preventative: Prescribed products are the most effective and simplest way to ward off fleas before they infest your pet. Talk to your vet if your dog needs a flea preventative.
- Checking for fleas regularly: As described above, use a flea comb on your dog once every few weeks to look for fleas or flea dirt.
- Maintaining your yard: Fleas like to hide in overgrown grass and shrubs, so maintaining your yard is a good way to keep fleas at bay. You can also use the diatomaceous earth method or nematode solutions described above as preventative measures for the yard.
- Keeping your home clean: Regularly vacuum and shampoo and clean carpets and furniture. A clean home keeps fleas away.
Home Remedies for Fleas on Dogs: What to Know
It's no fun when your dog has fleas. Before resorting to flea collars and other methods, you might want to try some natural home remedies. From apple cider vinegar, citrus baths, and coconut oil to pest-control methods for the home and/or yard like diatomaceous earth and nematodes, a variety of solutions might work for you. Consult with your veterinarian to make sure these methods are safe and effective for your dog.
If a flea infestation is severe or you see symptoms like hot spots, scabbing, and constant itching, see your vet. More advanced medical treatment might be necessary.
Is your dog’s problem fleas, or are they just prone to itchy skin? Native Pet's all-natural Omega Oil may be able to help. The formula can help reduce itching and scratching and promote healthy skin and fur.
Learn more about your dog's health and wellness by visiting the Native Pet blog here.