It's the thing every pet parent dreads, FLEAS.
They can sneak into the house on your clothes, or they can hitch a ride on your dog. Either way, they're a pain to get rid of and their bites can itch for days.
I've posted about flea remedies and preventatives in the past, but they have been especially bad this summer so I thought a more in-depth and thorough post might be in order.
Lets start at the beginning...
Fleas are small, about the size of a pinhead, wingless bugs who use their legs to jump from host to host. They live externally on the skin creating havoc within the fur, and have mouths designed specifically for biting and sucking blood, similar to that of a mosquito.
After feeding, a female will generally lay around 20 eggs directly on the host. Many of the eggs will roll off landing on surfaces your pet frequents regularly, like bedding or other resting areas. Vacuuming and washing blankets and sheets will help to prevent the infestation of fleas, as well as other bugs.
Eggs hatch into larvae which feed off any organic material including dead bugs, feces and vegetable matter. Larvae then turn into pupae and then into adult fleas, though fleas can remain as larvae or pupae for several months often referred to as "overwinter," until optimal conditions for survival are present. This is one of the reason why riding your home of these pesky bugs can be so difficult.
Generally speaking, fleas can live for between one and one and a half years with optimal conditions. Sadly, this means females can lay about 5,000 eggs in their lifetime...that's from ONE female flea!
Above are good reference pictures for just how small fleas are.
Besides being obnoxious and cumbersome to deal with, flea bites can itch for days, sometimes even weeks! They can carry bacterial or viral infections, and even lead to hair loss from repetitive scratching or in extreme cases, anemia. It's also a real possibility that your dog has contracted Tapeworms if they've had fleas as fleas are known to be carriers. Dogs aren't the only ones in danger of getting fleas, either. If your fur baby happens to be a rabbit, ferret, chicken, or even a squirrel or a mouse, they too are perfect hosts for fleas, alongside cats and humans.
If you suspect your dog or cat might have fleas, grab a flash light and take a look at your pets underside, as well as the inner thighs, and base of the tail. This is where fleas like to hide out; especially if you've caught the infestation early.
Also, once we've parted the fur, look for flea dirt. It'll look like pepper flakes. If you find something you think might be flea dirt, use tweezers to remove the flakes and place them on a wet paper towel. If the flakes spread apart to form small blood pools, it's most definitely flea dirt as flea dirt is essentially flea poop and will consist of the blood the flea ate.
So now what? You're fur kid has fleas and you're panicked that your house is going to turn into flea central. Relax! There are several ways to treat them, both naturally and commercially.
My favorite, and most recommend flea remedy is food grade Diatomaceous Earth. It can be purchased online via Amazon or at your local hardware store, such as Lowes or Home Depot.
Diatomaceous Earth is a soft, crumbly, porous deposit formed from the fossil remains of diatoms. In other words, it's a white powder that kills any bug with an exoskeleton, including fleas! It's also natural and kills on contact so, there's virtually no waiting. Just sprinkle it on your pet, rub it in and wowza, dead fleas! You can even sprinkle it onto your carpets and furniture, then vacuum it up killing any fleas that may be chilling out waiting for the perfect snack to come their way.
***While Diatomaceous Earth is safe to use topically, you don't want you or your pet to breath it in as the edges are sharp and inhaling a copious amount could result in lung damage.***
Another awesome and immediate flea remedy is Dawn dish soap. Generic brand will not work, it must be original scent Dawn. Just run a nice warm bath for your pup, plop them into the tub and lather on the Dawn soap. Be sure to really work the Dawn down into the fur and onto the skin. Let sit for a few minutes, rinse, and watch the dead fleas be washed away!
It's also important to know that while fleas may look like they are dead, floating in the water, it actually takes roughly 24 hours for fleas to drown. If you simply empty the wash pan, without making sure all the pesky bugs are rinsed free, they can revive in a couple hours and come back to haunt you! No joke!
There are several over the counter, commercial shampoos geared towards flea removal, but from personal experience Dawn works just as well, if not better and is generally half the cost. it's also less likely your fur kid will have an adverse reaction to Dawn when compared to some other commercial flea shampoos.
Vacuuming and washing linens is going to play a HUGE role in eliminating and controlling a flea infestation. Even if the soap and water during the washing cycle doesn't kill fleas or their eggs, the high heat from the dryer is sure to do the job. Fleas are heat sensitive, and will not be able to withstand temperatures within the dryer.
As mentioned before, be sure to regularly vacuum where your dog sleeps and or rests, especially if these are materials that cannot be washed. It's important to remember to empty the vacuum bag or cartridge after each cleaning as you don't want any fleas crawling back into your home!
Fleas and many other outdoor bugs, including mosquito, have an aversion to the smell of citrus. There's an easy spray you can whip up in your kitchen using lemons, water and a pan!
What you will need:
4-6 whole lemons
1 1/4 cup water
Slice the lemons into halves and place them into the pan with 1 1/4 water.
Bring the water with lemons, to a boil and let sit for 5 to 6 minutes.
Turn the burner off and cover the pot, letting the lemons steep overnight.
This will allow all the juices and oils from the lemons to saturate the water.
Place one or two lemon halves into the spray bottle along with some of the water.
BAM! Flea Spray. Easy peasy!
Lightly spray directly onto your pups fur. Fleas, gnats, mosquito's, etc. will steer clear of your now lemony fresh pooch.
And of course there are your more traditional treatments and preventatives like topical liquids you apply monthly, or oral medications that protect against both internal parasites, as well as fleas and ticks.
So relax! Even though it's no walk in the park, fleas are treatable and your home will return to the nice calm, itch free oasis that you love it to be!
With over 10 years of experience through ownership and rescue work, I hope to share my knowledge and insight to happier, healthier fur kids. Have a question, feel free to ask!