Fighting Fleas!

by Dr Nicola Parry, DVM

Start From Scratch!

Fleas are no longer just a problem in the warmer months – our central heating now means that “flea season” lasts all year round. Thankfully though, you can take action and get ahead in this battle.

2 Simple Ways To Recognize That Your Dog Has Fleas:

A couple of things, however, that might alert you to a current problem:

  • Scratching

This might sound obvious, but frequent scratching tends to indicate a flea infestation, whether or not you see fleas.

  • Flea Dirt

Adult fleas may be hard to find, but you can usually find other evidence of their work! “Flea dirt” is actually the flea’s fecal material – digested blood deposited after feasting on your pet! Just brush back the hair to investigate, and look for the classic pinpoint dark specks on the skin. I always enjoy confirming my suspicions by transferring these to a white tissue, adding a drop of water and watching it turn red-brown!

Breaking The Cycle

Knowing the life cycle of the flea will help you understand how to attack the problem. Fleas love warm, moist environments, and will live on the dog and feed on its blood. The females lay eggs on the dog’s skin, and these can fall off onto the carpet, bed, your clothes, the floorboards, and anywhere else that the dog goes. Later, eggs develop through larval and pupal stages into a new generation of adult fleas.

So now you begin to see that it is not just your dog that needs to be treated, since most of the flea’s life cycle can be spent away from the dog.

Your 2-Sided Attack

Your plan of attack needs to be aimed not only at your dog, but also his environment. Here are some tips to help you prepare your battle plan:

4 Ways To Treat Your Dog

A hair cut if necessary!

  • Overlong hair is a great place for fleas and their eggs to hide.


  • Try Dirty and Hairy OUTDOOR shampoo and conditioner to gently cleanse and condition the coat and skin.

Flea control products

  • Numerous flea control products are available over the counter or from your veterinarian. In addition, you can use Flea The Scene. This safe, 3-in-1 spray nicely complements other anti-flea products.

Daily brushing

  • This keeps the coat healthy and helps to brush away fleas and eggs.

4 Ways To Treat The Environment

Vacuuming daily

  • Carpets, floorboards, furniture, your bed, your dog’s bed.

Then get rid of the vacuum bag to prevent flea reemergence!

  • Washing
  • Pet bedding
  • Your bedding
  • Removable furniture covers
  • Clothing that your dog might sit on
  • Flea control products
  • Separate products are available to treat your home
  • Pay particular attention to carpets, furniture and bedding.

Treat other pets

If your dog has buddies at home, make sure they too are treated. And not just dogs either – cats, rabbits, and hedgehogs for instance, can also be infested and may contribute to the cycle.

In reality, all dogs will have fleas, so it’s always wise to follow these steps regardless. Flea control should never be considered a onetime deal – it requires constant vigilance. But although we will never be flea-free, the good news is that we can definitely take steps to break this vicious cycle. These efforts will go a long way toward improving your dog’s health as well as your sanity!

Nicola Parry is a veterinarian at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is ACVP board-certified and her career has taken her along various paths, including general practice and academia. She enjoys teaching veterinary pathology, as well as writing for the veterinary, medical and scientific worlds. She currently lives in Massachusetts with her oddball cat, Tiddles

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1 Comment

  1. I have two chihuahua’s, one’s 13 yrs. old, and the other is 8 yrs old. We just moved out to California in Feb, & have been fighting a ginormous flea battle ever since. Especially for the last few months. I’ve had a REALLY hard time keeping the fleas off my poor babies! My roommates have 3 cats, who are also covered in fleas. They’ve treated them, & we’ve tried to wash, & treat as much of the house as possible. I’ve even treated the yard multiple times.

    I order their meds online, & have been waiting for their monthly meds to get here. They were supposed to be here last week, but had unfortunately gotten delayed several times. They’ve been miserably itchy, just covered in fleas. I washed them oatmeal shampoo multiple times, but it wasn’t doing anything. I was sent an update that their meds would be here late next Monday, so out of desperation to help ease their discomfort, I gave them a bath yesterday using a flea & tick shampoo. I was told that they’d be ok having several in between the bath, & when their meds would get here.

    Here’s my question/concern…The bath seemed to do nothing. I found at least a dozen live fleas on them this morning. Their flea meds came in earlier than expected, & arrived this afternoon. Is it safe to give them their topical flea meds one day after bathing them with a flea shampoo?

    I’m still traumatized by the dogs that were dying from their flea meds a few years ago, so I’m SUPER anxious about doing anything that might be harmful for them. They’re just so miserable, scratching non-stop. They’re even giving themselves little rashed where the keep scratching;(

    Thanks for the help!!

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