Disclaimer: I am not a vet and I am not advocating that everyone do what I did to get rid of fleas with my dogs. I am simply relating what I did and how it worked. Other people’s results will likely differ.
I haven’t been opposed to giving my dogs de-wormer, flea and tick treatment in the past.
I had all the dogs tested for worms last year and none of them had any, so I didn’t give them de-wormer in the fall like I usually do. This year there were NO TICKS at all. We don’t usually have many in our area anyway so in the last 5 or so years I have moved towards trying to minimize or limit how much preventative for anything I give my dogs. I even get titre testing done to see if my dogs are still safe from certain diseases. Not everyone will be able to do this, but some of you will.
This fall (2020), I was experiencing bug bites more than usual. I regularly check the dogs for fleas and this year was no exception. I had just checked Ira, who has white fur, for fleas and did not find any flea poop or see anything crawling. The biting went on for several weeks and I checked regularly, finding nothing. I thought they were mosquito or other bug bites.
Then one day I checked Ira again and found flea poop on the back of his neck. So, obviously I hadn’t done my job well and there was an infestation. JoJo had a few and Emmett had none, but Ira was the most affected. Ira spends most of his time outside in the dog pen where he has access to soil. JoJo and Emmett go there as well but when all the dogs are outside at the same time, Ira and Emmett have to be separated and Ira stays in the area with the dirt ground.
Flea eggs hatch, become larvae, then pupae and then become adults OFF the host (in this case dogs), and then search for a host. That means they can actually be picked up by dogs easily from the environment. We did stop at a few deserted parks for walks this summer so that is also a possible source, but really who knows where he got them.
Because the vet is more than an hour away I decided to try eliminating the fleas naturally. Ira was not in distress and not scratching his fur out (in which case I would have gone directly to the vet). I found out the flea life cycle can be interrupted easily with time and effort. The method I chose to get rid of the fleas worked for us because our dogs are very used to grooming and handling so there would be little to no stress involved.
Getting Rid Of The Fleas
The most important thing I did, besides removing the fleas from Ira’s fur, was vacuum the entire house at least twice a week. I also washed all the bedding, dogs bedding and clothes in hot water, then dried in a hot dryer. No thing or area of the house went un-vacuumed or washed.
We have a shop vac, so the bag had to be removed from the vacuum and tied tightly inside a large plastic bag when not in use. This prevents any fleas from getting out, whether they are already adults, eggs or larvae. Eggs can hatch anywhere in the house at any time so It’s important to vacuum continuously to remove them. The eggs and sometimes larvae, fall off the dog and develop on the floor and in carpets. Larvae will eat anything, dead skin cells, flea poop, anything on the floor. They then become adult fleas and hop around a host – your dog.
A “Fine-Toothed” Comb
Secondly, I went over the dogs with a “fine-toothed” comb – literally. If you have ever seen a “flea” comb, you will understand where this saying came from. A flea comb is a small comb with teeth VERY close together. The fleas cannot get through the comb tines. This drives them out of hiding in the fur so they can be grabbed and squished. I also used a small slicker brush to “line-brush” every part of Ira’s fur. Line brushing means brushing the fur in a line – either in vertical or horizontal lines from bottom to top in every part of the dog’s fur.
Ira was the easiest to do this with because he has white fur and the dark coloured fleas stood out well. I hand picked the fleas from his coat over the course of a week. When I couldn’t find any fleas for three days straight, I gave him a bath.
Most people will just give their dog a pill or topical treatment to get rid of the fleas on the dog’s body. I want to avoid these products if at all possible. If I put a topical treatment of Ira, he wouldn’t be able to play with JoJo like they do every evening in case she get the poisonous product in her mouth.
Proper Bathing Procedure
There is a proper bathing procedure for ridding a dog of fleas. This is how I do it.
Wet the dog down thoroughly, and I mean right to the skin if it is a heavily coated dog. I do one wet down and then a second one on heavy coats. I put the sprayer right at the skin after the fur is wet at the ends to get the skin.
I start from the head and slowly wet the fur down right to the back end. What this does is get the fleas moving from one end to the other. This is good because some fleas will pop out of the fur and will likely be stunned from the water. It will then be easier to remove them by hand as I see them.
Once the dog is completely wet, I put shampoo on starting at the head. I massage the shampoo in well at the head, being careful to avoid getting any in the eyes or nose (I generally avoid those areas anyway). I’m essentially making a line of soap that will drive the fleas from one end to the other. While doing this, I saw several fleas pop out of the fur, running away again from the shampoo. Some will just wash up completely stunned and so they will be easy to pick out.
I always do the soap wash twice. I do not use flea shampoo. It is extremely toxic to both dogs and humans and the smell literally make me nauseous and gives me a headache so I personally can’t use it. Basic dog shampoo is more appropriate for dogs than human shampoo. It can be diluted and if necessary can be a hypo allergenic type for certain dogs if appropriate.
Here’s our DIY bathtub we made especially for Ira:
Recap Of What I Did
So the way I got rid of fleas on my dogs and in the house was to:
- remove the fleas from the dogs by hand with a slicker brush and a flea comb
- vacuum the entire house including the dog beds, at least every three days for 2 months
- wash all dog and human bedding in hot, soapy water and if necessary our clothes as well
- shampoo dogs with proper flea removing procedure
It was a lot of work and most people won’t be able to do this process because of time constraints, other work and possibly non-compliance by their dog. I have the ability to do this because I work from home. But, two months later, we were free of fleas.
What Should YOU Do?
I’m not saying at all that you have to do what I did to get rid of fleas on your dog. Some dogs will have such huge infestations that they may become allergic to the bites and have terrible reactions and there is no other way to get them off but flea product. Other dogs may be allergic to the products that are normally used to kill fleas on dogs and so they can’t be used at all. This is something you would discuss with your veterinarian. Some people buy flea/tick treatments on their own and I don’t advocate this. If you’re going to use a pesticide shampoo on your dog, you need to consult your vet first.
However, even if you get medications through your vet, you will still need to do intensive vacuuming of your house and hand pick some of the fleas out of your dog’s fur.
There is no one right way to get rid of fleas, but these are the basics that could be utilized. It’s a good idea to have many tools in your dog handling toolbox.
Being able to groom your dog with “a fine-toothed comb” is crucial. It helps him be less stressed out if and when you need to groom him. This is a given for all dogs, but the training for this is often missed. Learning to do proper bathing technique yourself can also help you to keep your dog’s coat in good condition and your dog less stressed. Even though I brush my dogs daily, I still ended up with a flea infestation, so knowing how to do these things is crucial.
And if there is any chance that I may not have access to medications that would help with a flea infestation in the future, I will at least know that I can do something to help my dogs, even if temporary, to get rid of fleas.