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Fleas on Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Does your dog have fleas? Check out this blog post for everything you need to know about these pesky parasites, including how to get rid of them for good!

Written by Raquel Astacio. Published in February 2023.

Alarmed to learn that your dog is infested with fleas? You're not alone! Fleas are a common problem faced by pet owners - especially during the summer when the warm weather creates ideal breeding conditions.

Not only can fleas cause significant discomfort and irritation to your pup, but they can also spread disease. So in order to keep your four-legged best friend comfortable and safe from illness, it's important that you learn how to recognize signs of flea infestation as well as how to effectively prevent and treat them. Pet owners, keep reading to learn all there is to know about fleas on dogs.

What Are Fleas?

Fleas are small, wingless insect parasites that feed on the blood of dogs, cats, humans, and other warm-blooded animals. Known to cause significant irritation, these tiny creatures are a persistent nuisance that can spread a myriad of diseases and can also trigger allergies or anemia. And with over 2,200 species of fleas recognized around the world, their presence should not be taken lightly!

What Do Fleas Look Like?

Fleas are microscopic in size, varying in length from 1/16 to 1/8 of an inch, and are usually dark brown or black in color. They have an oval-shaped body with six legs, and the rear of their bodies are typically flattened, enabling them to move easily through fur or feathers.

Where Do Fleas Come From?

Fleas require a warm-blooded host to live, feeding on blood to survive. And although these pesky critters can be found almost everywhere, they do not appear out of thin air. In reality, fleas are quite opportunistic – over time, a pet or wild animal will carry them from place to place in their fur or feathers, which is how population centers get contaminated by fleas. Though female fleas will lay their eggs both indoors and outdoors, flea populations grow fastest when the environment is warm and humid with plenty of air circulation.

The Life Cycle of a Flea

The life cycle of a flea is a fascinating process that involves four distinct stages.

Stage 1

When it comes to reproduction, fleas don’t waste any time - after just one-to-two days of feeding on a host’s blood, female fleas get right down to business and start laying eggs! The first stage of a flea’s life cycle begins when it hatches from an egg.

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, a female flea can lay up to 50 eggs in a single day and up to 2,000 in her lifetime! These eggs are pearly white in color, oval-shaped, and extremely small. But don’t let the size fool you - flea eggs are made of an incredibly resilient material that allows them to survive for weeks before hatching, though most will hatch within one-to-six days.

Stage 2

The second stage of a flea’s life cycle involves the larvae (now hatched from its shell) growing into a pupa - a process that typically takes one-to-two weeks. During this stage, the flea develops from its immature form into an adult flea, undergoing pupation to transform from one state to another.

To do this, fleas will envelop themselves in a cocoon for protection as they go through changes in size, shape, and color. And though the pupation process itself is short, the flea may remain in its cocoon for several weeks or months until a suitable host arrives.

Stage 3

During stage three, the adult flea emerges from its cocoon, ready to begin feeding on its host animal's blood. This stage is when fleas become most active and start jumping around looking for a suitable mate. During this time, female fleas also begin to lay their eggs, which will later hatch and start the whole life cycle anew.

Stage 4

Finally, the fourth stage sees death take hold of adult fleas due to various factors such as extreme temperatures or pesticides used against them by humans trying to control their spread. Flea death can also occur naturally after mating has taken place if nutrition sources become scarce or hostile environments become too difficult for them to inhabit.

Most fleas will complete their life cycle between three and eight weeks.

Signs of Fleas on Dogs

If you suspect your dog may have fleas, there are certain signs to look for that indicate the presence of these pesky parasites. First and foremost, you'll want to be aware of excessive scratching or grooming. This is usually caused by flea bites on dogs, which drives them to itch in an attempt to relieve irritation.

Other signs may include:

  • Red or irritated skin
  • Hair loss (especially near the hind end, tail, or lower back)
  • Scabbing
  • Small bumps on the surface of the skin (especially around the neck or under the chin)

The best way to know for sure if fleas are present is to purchase a flea comb (a small, handheld comb with very finely spaced teeth) and gently comb through your pet’s coat. Fleas will usually gather on the lower back (right above the base of the tail) or on the underbelly, though you may find them in other areas as well.

Can You See Fleas on Dogs?

Fleas are visible to the naked eye, though it may take a little bit of practice to recognize them since they are so small in size. Using a flea comb can help lift the fleas to the surface of your pet’s coat, which may help you visualize them. In addition, be on the lookout for flea “dirt” - a more agreeable term for flea feces. Because fleas live off of blood, flea dirt may be either black, brown, or red in color and will resemble the appearance of ground pepper flakes.

Treatments for Fleas on Dogs

Flea control is an important component of pet wellness that involves eliminating existing fleas and preventing future infestations. But because fleas repopulate so quickly, getting rid of them can be a difficult task - especially if you don’t know where to start.

The best way to rid your home of these unwelcome pests for good is to use a three-pronged approach:

  1. Getting rid of fleas on your pet
  2. Eliminating fleas from your home
  3. Preventing future infestations

By using this three-step approach to flea control, you can help restore your four-legged companion’s comfort and regain control of your home.

Step 1: Getting Rid of Fleas on Your Pet

Before you start Googling “how to get rid of fleas on dogs,” let’s first talk about your personal beliefs and budget. Because believe it or not, both of these considerations will have an impact on how you choose to treat your pet.

Are you a naturalist who prefers to avoid manufactured chemicals at all costs, or are you open to anything that resolves your flea problem? Is a prescription medication within your budget, or would it be better to invest in something over-the-counter and more affordable? Are you able to give your dog a pill, or is a topical solution more up your alley?

Knowing the answer to these questions ahead of time can save you a lot of time and energy. But to cover all of our bases, let’s take a look at every available option for getting rid of fleas on dogs.

Medicine for Fleas and Ticks on Dogs

Keeping your fur-clad best friend safe and healthy is every pet parent’s top priority, and proper treatment for flea infestation is a big part of that. Fortunately for the modern-day dog owner, flea control options have expanded dramatically in recent years, and there are now more available options for flea control than ever before!

One of the most popular oral flea treatments on the market nowadays is a product known as Capstar. Known for its fast-acting response, Capstar will begin killing the fleas on your pet’s body within just thirty minutes of ingestion - and with just a single dose! According to their website, Capstar “achieves greater than 90% effectiveness against adult fleas within 4 hours for dogs.”

But if giving your pup a pill just isn’t going to happen, consider instead using a medicated flea shampoo or spray such as those from Advantage. Medicated flea shampoos and sprays are specifically formulated to kill fleas on contact while simultaneously making your pup’s coat clean and shiny - a win-win for you and your pet!

After treating your pet with a pill, shampoo, or spray, be sure to pull out your flea comb and thoroughly brush out your dog's coat. If any live fleas attach to your comb while brushing, simply dip the comb in a combined solution of dish soap and water to kill the fleas. In order to keep your dog flea-free in the long run, continue to inspect and comb him weekly - especially if you live in a warm-weather climate!

Home Remedies for Fleas on Dogs

For the pet owner who prefers a more holistic approach, there are several all-natural ways to rid your pet of fleas at home - most of which employ the use of essential oils!

Essential Oils

To rid your pup of pesky fleas, check out this great essential oil recipe from The Natural Pet Doctor:

  • 1 and ½ ounces of base oil (such as hazelnut or sweet almond)
  • 4 drops clary sage essential oil
  • 1 drop citronella essential oil
  • 7 drops peppermint essential oil
  • 3 drops lemon essential oil

Once combined, carefully mix all oils together in a dark glass dropper bottle. Then, apply 2-4 drops to your dog’s neck, chest, legs, and tail. The same amount can also be applied to your pet’s collar or bandana. Repeat as needed two-to-three times daily (especially before your pet goes outside).

Step 2: Eliminating Fleas From Your Home

Keeping your home free from fleas is an important part of maintaining a healthy environment for both you and your pets. The most effective way to start the process is to vacuum thoroughly, paying special attention to areas where pets spend a lot of time. You should also launder any pet bedding or soft furnishings that may have been exposed to fleas in hot water. Finally, using an appropriate product like the Knockout Flea Treatment from Virbac can help kill any remaining adult fleas on sight. By following these straightforward steps, you can help ensure that your home will remain free from fleas and move on to the final step: preventing future infestations.

Step 3: Preventing Fleas and Ticks on Dogs

The best way for a pet owner to prevent future flea and tick infestations is to keep their dog on a year-round preventative. Flea and tick preventatives are available in various types, from chewable products such as Nexgard or Bravecto to flea collars from brands like Seresto. There are also topical options available, such as Revolution that can be applied directly to your pet’s skin.

How to Get Rid of Fleas on Dogs Naturally

If you prefer to avoid manufactured preventatives but still want full protection, consider instead using a natural approach to flea prevention as recommended by The Natural Pet Doctor. Many holistic-based methods for flea prevention revolve around diet and lifestyle changes - a top-notch choice for owners who wish to avoid artificial flea products.

FAQs About Fleas on Dogs

“Can dog fleas live on humans?”

The short answer is yes, dog fleas can live on humans as well. Fleas require blood to live, and they aren’t all that picky about where it comes from! This means that, unfortunately, fleas aren't limited to household pets.

Symptoms of a flea infestation in humans often begin with excessive itching around the ankles, although it's important to keep in mind that not all itching or skin irritation is caused by fleas. If you think you may be suffering from a flea infestation yourself, it's best to consult your physician for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

“What kills dog fleas instantly?”

The quickest, most cost-effective way to instantly kill fleas is to drown them in a warm bath. If you find an infestation of fleas on your pet, simply lead your pup into the bathtub or yard, gently wet their coat with warm, clean water, and massage their skin with shampoo. Flea shampoos, as we discussed in an above section, are a great product for killing fleas, though regular pet shampoo will likely suffice in a pinch. But keep in mind - bathing will not prevent fleas from returning.


Fleas may be small, but their presence can cause big-time misery - quickly ruining any dog’s day. Thankfully, there are many fool-proof ways to get rid of these annoying pests, and to ensure that they don’t come back. Taking the time to establish a reliable treatment plan and preventative routine is key to protecting your pet so that they remain happy, healthy, and scratch-free for many years to come.

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