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Fleas on Dogs

Fleas can be a problem for both the dog and the owner, but with the right therapy, it’s possible to get rid of them. The main problems fleas cause in dogs are excessive scratching and licking, which can lead to different skin injuries, and if not taken seriously, complications such as skin infection can occur. In this article, you will learn how to prevent fleas, how to get rid of them if your dog already has them, and whether fleas can pass from dogs to humans.

Flea Bites on Dogs – What Do They Look Like?

Ectoparasites like fleas usually attack during the summer, but they also appear at the end of spring or at the beginning of autumn. The first thing that you can notice after the fleas have infested your dog is red and itchy skin.

Pet skin with flea bites

When you notice something like that, check the dog for ectoparasites. You will do this by examining the skin fully. In the case of flea infestation on a dog, you might notice tiny red dots on the skin where the flea was feeding on your dog’s blood.

You may also notice other symptoms like severe redness, dandruff, and in some cases, even the loss of hair can occur. Dogs change their behavior as well. They start to scratch excessively and even bite the itchy areas.

If you want to find out if dog fleas can spread to humans and cause health problems, or learn more about how you can recognize fleas at a particular stage of their development, keep reading. But in case you’re already sure your dog has fleas and want to learn more about how to get rid of them, you can skip to the section “How to Get Rid of Fleas on Dogs? (Treatment)“.

Understanding the Flea Life Cycle

To determine the right treatment, it’s very important to know the exact stage of flea development, because different ectoparasitic drugs have different effects on fleas in different stages of the life cycle.

The flea life cycle has four stages: egg, larval, pupal, and adult stages.

Stage 1: Flea Eggs on Dogs

The first stage begins when the adult female flea lays its eggs onto the host after mating. Female fleas need blood to be able to produce eggs. The eggs, after they have been produced, fall from dog or other pets into the surrounding areas such as carpets, furniture, and other surfaces in the house where the conditions for hatching and further growth are perfect. The eggs easily fall off the dog onto the ground because they are smooth and unattached to the dog’s body. With the eggs, flea dirt also falls on the ground. Flea eggs have an oval shape and they are extremely small. It takes around one week for eggs to hatch.

Stage 2: Flea Larvae on Dogs

The flea larvae are slightly larger than flea eggs and they are white in color. After hatching, the larvae stage lasts around one week.

Through this period, larvae prefer damp and dark places and they feed on the dirt from fleas. Because of the feeding, they change their color from white to brown. With the help of the bristles, larvae can easily grasp and move around the area. In the third larva stage, after approximately one week, they spin a cocoon in which the larva pupates into the adult form.

Stage 3: Flea Pupae on Dogs

Life cycle of dog fleaDuring the pupae stage, fleas are well protected from the outer world and resistant to cold and even some insecticides. The cocoon is attached to the surrounding area and it cannot be removed easily. Inside the cocoon, the fleas develop until they are ready to emerge from the cocoon.

The pupae can develop within a week, and it will emerge only if the conditions are right (warmth and humidity) and if the dog is present (fleas can sense dogs’ warmth and carbon dioxide), but if the conditions are poor, a grown adult may not emerge for a longer period as much as one or two months or more.

Stage 4: Adult Fleas on Dogs

When the adult flea emerges from the cocoon, it attaches to the host within a few hours and begins to feed and reproduce. It is very important for them to find a host, or else they die. They waits in the area where they have emerged from the cocoon until the dog or some other host is close enough so they can jump on it.

The adult flea’s life lasts around two weeks in which they are mating, and then the whole cycle repeats itself. The female flea lays around thirty to forty eggs daily, but it can only be done after feeding. In this period, if the female flea does not find the source of food, it dies without reproducing.1

To feed, they suck the blood from the dog. While feeding, they can easily transmit diseases such as Bartonellosis and Yersiniosis because fleas saliva can be full of microorganisms. Also, they transmit endoparasites (Dypilidium Caninum) when the dogs ingest the flea.

Flea Dirt on Dogs

Pet with flea dirt

The flea “dirt” is flea feces, which consist mainly of the blood of the dog, and it looks like tiny black dots. If you have noticed the flea dirt on your pet or in the house, your dog is infested with fleas. Part of flea dirt falls with the eggs on the ground, so larvae can feed on it later. It can easily be seen by the naked eye, especially in white-colored dogs.

The most common place on which you can find the flea’s dirt is on the dog’s stomach and between the legs where the fur is thinner than on the rest of the body. Flea dirt can easily be cleaned with regular washing and combing with the flea comb, but it doesn’t solve the problem because the fleas are still present and more will be produced.2

How to Get Rid of Fleas on Dogs? (Treatment)

In the flea treatment, different drugs can be administered in several ways. The most popular and easiest way is with spot-on drugs. Active ingredients that spot-on drugs mainly contain are imidacloprid, permethrin, fipronil, pyriproxyfen, etc. You can apply it yourself by putting it directly on the skin. It is applied to the back behind the neck because it’s harder for the dog to ingest it. Be sure that you avoid the hair to achieve the best effect. Some veterinarians recommend putting it on two or three places across the middle of the dogs back. The protection usually can last from one to two months.

Another way are chew tablets with sarolaner or fluralaner as an active ingredient, which are effective against the ectoparasites. The protection from ectoparasites with chews can last up to three months, or if you need protection that lasts longer, there are products like flea collars, with which protection can last up to eight months

There are also fipronil spray solutions that are also suitable for puppies. The benefit of spray is that you can spray the dog’s house or bedding and get rid of all present ectoparasites.

Flea Collars for Dogs

happy dog in natureThe collars for ectoparasites are a very effective solution against ectoparasites. There are many different kinds of flea collars for dogs. Some flea collars can be water-resistant, suitable for puppies and adult dogs and some of them are only for adults, not water-resistant, etc.

With flea collars, protection can last from three to eight months, depending on the manufacturer. If stored correctly during colder months, when the ectoparasites are not as active as in warmer periods, protection can last up to one year.

Even if the collar is water-resistant, be sure to take it off when bathing the dog because based on dog owner experiences, you can prolong the protection that way. The active ingredients can be different, depending on the manufacturer.

The collar can contain antiparasitic chemicals such as Amitraz, Imidacloprid, Flumethrin, Diazinon, Carbaryl, etc. Some of these drugs can be combined. Flea collars are very effective against fleas, ticks, and mites. Also, some of these collars repel mosquitoes and other kinds of insects.

They are usually safe for dogs and humans, but of course, be sure they are made by certified pharmaceutical companies and properly tested. Try to avoid buying flea collars from unknown manufacturers because they may not be safe for dogs or humans. They can irritate the skin and even cause respiratory problems.

Home Remedies for Fleas on Dogs

Many dog owners try some natural, homemade flea repellents. Some of these might work, but only for a short period of time. Usually, they make spray mixtures of essential oils such as rosemary and lavender. Peppermint can be used only in small concentrations because peppermint can be toxic for dogs. You should not use it without first consulting with your veterinarian.

Also, some owners wash their dogs with dish soap to kill fleas, but this is not recommended because you can cause different skin problems like dry skin, dandruff, hair loss, etc. Vinegar has shown to be ineffective in the treatment against fleas and other ectoparasites.

Essential Oils for Fleas on Dogs

Essential oils like rosemary and lavender have shown to be effective against fleas. You can make the spray solution and spray your dog, dog house, bedding, and other surrounding areas. The protection only lasts for a few days, so if you want to use this natural way of treatment and protection, be sure to spray your dog and dog’s living space at least every ten to fifteen days. You should not use these oils before diluting them in water, because high concentrations can be toxic for the dog and can irritate the skin. Before doing it, consult with your veterinarian about the concentration.

There are also essential oils that are toxic to dogs and you should definitely avoid. These oils are cinnamon, sweet birch, citrus, pennyroyal, melaleuca and wintergreen.3 Peppermint is also considered toxic, but it can be used in lower concentrations. Do it only after you consult with your veterinarian.

How to Prevent Fleas on Dogs?

To prevent the flea infestation on your dog, be sure that you wash your dog regularly (every two weeks), and use some kind of flea protection such as flea collars, spot-on solutions, sprays, and chew tablets. Also, you can wash your dog with antiparasitic shampoos at least once a month. Use only veterinary approved products.

For the baths you will perform in between medicated shampoos, it is recommended to use mild shampoos that mostly contain natural ingredients such as oatmeal and aloe vera extract which are natural ingredients that will help your dog’s irritated and dry skin regain its natural moisture.

How to Get Rid of Fleas in the House?

If your dog is protected against fleas, it also means that they will not appear in your home. Therefore, prevention is key. This works only if you protect your dog regularly and on time.

If your house is already infested with fleas, you can use a spray solution made from fipronil and amitraz and spray inside and outside of the house. Amitraz can be toxic for miniature breeds and to dogs with some health conditions. Symptoms of poisoning can be lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea, so first consult with your veterinarian.

While doing it, you have to pay particular attention to the dog’s living space. First, you should clean your dog’s living space and you should wash the bedding. Be sure to vacuum before and after the treatment to clean all of the residues from the carpet and other surfaces. You can also make homemade solutions from essential oils such as rosemary and lavender and use it to spray inside and outside of the house.

Outdoor Flea Control

Gardens are a rich source of many types of insects, and fleas are one of them. To protect your dog and your family, you can use spray solutions to spray your garden and tight spaces around your house, garage, etc. Do not spray your dog with it!

Dog Fleas on Humans

Fleas can pass from a dog to a human, but there are many different types of fleas, and the species that live on a dog feeds exclusively on dog blood and cannot survive on humans for long. Therefore, dog fleas cannot cause any major damage to human health, except itching rash and small bumps, or, in rare cases, tapeworms (Dypilidium Caninum).

Humans usually get tapeworms by ingesting dog fleas. The disease usually doesn’t cause any major problems and is easily treated with antiparasitic medications like praziquantel. The main symptoms of tapeworm infection in humans are vomiting and diarrhea. Children are more susceptible than adults because they spend more time with dogs. Wash your hands after contact with a dog and advise your children to do the same.

Sometimes, cat fleas can parasitize on the dogs. This certain species of the flea can transmit Bartonellosis, which can be transmitted by a flea bite. In this case, broad-spectrum antibiotics and painkillers may be given as treatment.

To prevent diseases, frequently check if your dog is infested with fleas, and if you notice symptoms such as red and dry skin or tiny red spots, contact your veterinarian who will determine the appropriate therapy, and in order for the therapy to be effective, it’s important to know at what stage of development the fleas are.


Dog fleas (Ctenocephalides Canis) primarily attack dogs, but they can also attack cats and humans. Although dog fleas can’t survive on humans, they can feed on their blood for a short period of time. To find out more about whether dog flea bites have any effect on humans, please read the section “Dog Fleas on Humans“.

The most common symptoms that indicate a dog has fleas, besides excessive scratching, are red dots on the skin (bite marks), flea dirt, loss of hair, and dandruff. So if you notice that your dog has changed its behavior and started to scratch or bite its skin excessively, there is a good chance that he has fleas and you need to check it as soon as possible. If you are not sure about it, consult your veterinarian.

Be sure to use protection against ectoparasites regularly and on time. There are many ways to administer the drugs to the dog such as spot-on, antiparasitic shampoos, spray solutions, chew tablets, collars, etc. The protection can last from one to eight months, sometimes up to a year.

For prevention, it’s also possible to use natural essential oils such as lavender and rosemary, but in this case, protection lasts for ten to fifteen days, and essential oils must always be diluted with water. Also, gardens can be a big source of fleas and other insects, you should use outdoor insecticides, which helps in the prevention of flea infestation. Don’t use it on dogs!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Fleas on Dogs

What Kills Fleas on Dogs Instantly?

Fleas can be killed instantly with spray solutions with active ingredients such as fipronil, amitraz, etc. Amitraz but these can be toxic to miniature breeds and dogs with health problems.

How to Treat Fleas on Dogs?

There are many ways for the treatment of fleas. You can use spot-on solutions, flea collars, spray solutions, chew tablets, antiparasitic shampoos, and homemade solutions made from essential oils diluted with water. (ie. Rosemary, Lavender). To learn more about treatment, please read the section 'How to Get Rid of Fleas on Dogs? (Treatment).'

What is the Best Way to Get Rid of Fleas on Dogs?

All ways are effective but by experience, chew tablets and flea collars provide the best protection. If the dog is already infested, the best choices are spray solutions because they have an almost instant effect, but it doesn’t last as long as collars and chew tablets.

How to Get Rid of Fleas on Dogs Fast?

Washing with antiparasitic shampoos and spraying solutions with antiparasitic drugs on your dog can kill fleas in a few minutes, depending on the manufacturer and product quality. If you bathe your dog with antiparasitic shampoo, be sure to leave it on for fifteen minutes.

How to Get Rid of Fleas on Dogs Naturally?

You can get rid of fleas by making spray solutions from essential oils, such as lavender and rosemary.

Can Dog Fleas Live on Humans?

Humans can get fleas from dogs and get bitten, but fleas are unable to survive on the human body.

Can You See Fleas on Dogs?

Although they are extremely small, fleas can be seen on dogs easily, especially on white dogs.

Does Dawn Dish Soap Kill Fleas on Dogs?

Dawn dish soap can kill fleas by drowning them but using dish soaps on dogs is not recommended. This will only kill adult fleas on the dog, but not other fleas in the surrounding area. After a short period of time, your dog will be infested again.

Dr. Benjamin Razic (DVM)
Dr. Benjamin Razic (DVM)
Dr. Benjamin is a young, ambitious veterinarian, working in a busy regional vet station in Travnik. He is interested in animal virology and is locally engaged in animal rights. Benjamin also has a certificate in surgical support, anesthesia monitoring, canine welfare, and hospitalization. He has a mixed-breed dog he has found on the streets.

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