Pet Health

The Best Flea and Tick Tips for Your Dog

If you are like me, your dog is an intricate part of your family. And when your dog is suffering pain from bug bites and stings, you want to relieve that suffering as quickly as possible.

The Best Flea and Tick Tips for Your Dog

All dogs pick up fleas and ticks at one time or another with a higher chance during the warm weather months. Even a pampered city pet can pick up a stray flea from a potted plant. Hunting dogs often return home with a collection of ticks. Fleas hop from one dog to another with amazing speed and agility. Your pet only needs to greet one flea infested friend in order to acquire the beginning of a flea colony of his own.

Fleas are a problem for dogs and their owners alike. These tiny insects will live on your dog and feed on the animal’s blood and lay eggs. The bites and presence of fleas will cause the dog to itch and if the dog happens to be allergic to fleas (the allergy is technically to the fleas’ saliva) it can experience extreme itching, loss of fur in some places, inflammation, and infections. Regardless of whether the dog has an allergy to flea saliva, infestations must be dealt with or they will go on and on and the fleas will also infest your home, other pets, and can even live on humans. In short, you can be directly and adversely affected by an uncontrolled flea infestation.


Fleas belong to the insect order Siphonaptera. They are common pests and may attack many mammals, including us. They can be a year-round problem because they infest not only pets but also the home of the owner. Because of this, treatment of your pet alone may only temporarily solve a flea infestation.

There are more than 2000 species of fleas in the United States alone, but the one that attacks most pets is the cat flea, Ctenocephalides Felis. A cat flea can lay up to one egg per hour, and within two days, a wormlike larva will hatch from those eggs. The eggs are oval, smooth, and about 0.5 mm in size. The hatched larvae will range from 1.5 to 5 mm in length. The complete cycle from egg to adult takes approximately 30 to 75 days depending on temperature and humidity.

What does a flea look like?

Flea close-up

Adult fleas are about 1/16 to 1/8-inch-long (typically 2 to 4 mm in length). They are dark reddish brown to black, wingless, hard bodied, have three pairs of legs and are flattened from side to side. Fleas can jump vertically up to seven inches and horizontally up to fourteen inches. They have piercing-sucking mouth parts and spines on their body. Adult fleas cannot survive and lay eggs without a blood meal and may live from two months to one year without feeding.

Although many species of fleas feed primarily on one type of animal, the common cat and dog flea will readily take blood from a variety of animals, including us. Flea infestations of pets and our homes will most likely involve the cat flea and occasionally the dog flea.

When not actively feeding, adult fleas often hide in locations frequented by the host animal such as your dog bedding, sofas, or carpeted areas.

Flea Life Stages

The common cat and dog fleas breed throughout the year. After feeding and mating, the female deposits her eggs, usually on the host. Several eggs are laid daily and up to several hundred over a lifetime. Eggs normally fall off the host into bedding material or similar areas and hatch within two weeks.

Flea eggs accumulate in areas where the host spends most of its time. In addition, adult fleas defecate small pellets of digested blood which also drop off into the environment. A flea comb will often gather this fecal matter at the base of the tines providing a good sign of flea infestation. The combination of white flea eggs and black dried blood specks may appear as a sprinkling of salt and pepper where an infested animal has slept.

Fleas undergo complete metamorphosis, that is, they pass through four developmental stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Immature fleas do not resemble adults at all.

Flea larvae are tiny, light colored, and worm-like, without legs. They feed primarily on various debris and organic material including the droppings of the adults which contains digested blood. Flea larvae occur indoors and outdoors, wherever the eggs have fallen off the host. In houses, flea larvae live in carpeting, furniture, animal bedding and other protected areas with high humidity. Flea larvae also live outdoors in areas where animals spend time such as under porches in and around dog houses, etc.

Because flea larvae depend on the adult’s fecal pellets of dried blood as a food source, they cannot live in lawns or other outdoor areas unless the pet visits those areas enough to provide this food.

Depending on the species of flea and environmental conditions the larvae will pupate in one week to several months. The pupa is contained within a loose silken cocoon which is often covered by bits of debris. Under average conditions, the life cycle of the flea normally requires between 30 and 75 days but may take much longer. Adult fleas inside the cocoon, called pre-emerged fleas, will stay in that condition for weeks to months if no external cues from a host is available.

However, when disturbed by the presence of a host such as vibrations or carbon dioxide from exhaled breath, the fleas emerge simultaneously and attack the host. Therefore, it is possible to return to a house or apartment that has been empty for months and find it full of fleas.

When the normal host is available, fleas may feed several times a day, but they can survive extended periods of starvation. In household situations, the normal host is a cat or dog. However, if the normal host is removed, starved fleas will readily seek other sources of blood and often, we are the alternate host. In severe infestations, fleas will attack humans even though the normal host is present.

Diseases from Fleas

Certain species of fleas have been known to transmit such diseases as bubonic plague and murine typhus. These have never been a major problem. The major problems with fleas are as a nuisance pest of pets. The irritation and itching from flea bites results in scratching and potential secondary infection. Fleas may also transmit the double-pored dog tapeworm to dogs and cats.

The worst part of fleas is that they act as hosts to tapeworm larvae, and if your dog swallows one you may end up with a worm problem too. You can trap fleas in a silky smooth coat with a flea comb, but fleas that nestle in the dense undercoat of double coated dogs must be treated with a product that penetrates the skin, and a regular mild treatment is safer than an occasional severe one.

In one day, a single flea can bite your pet 400 times, while consuming more than its own bodyweight in blood.

These persistent attacks from fleas can cause severe allergic responses in some people and pets. Some dogs can contract flea allergy dermatitis, an allergic reaction to the flea’s saliva. Once sensitized, a single flea bite may produce symptoms including hair loss, usually around the base of the tail, dermatitis, and intense itching. In worse cases, puppies and young kittens can also die from serious flea infestations.

With proper flea management knowledge, flea problems will not be a big issue and can be battled and won over easily.

Does my dog have fleas?

checking for fleas

If you suspect that your dog has fleas because it’s been scratching more than usual, there are ways to check for their presence. Fleas are very small but visible to the naked eye and brownish in color. Because they prefer dark places they will try to hide beneath the dog’s fur, under the collar, or on the underbelly. Their fecal material can also be seen on the dog’s coat and looks like multiple black flecks or specks – almost like pepper. If fleas or their droppings are found it is time to treat your dog to get rid of them.

Fleas and ticks may be small little critters, but they have a huge impact. The biggest part of their impact is their advantage in numbers – big numbers that just won’t stop growing. Fleas can transmit tapeworms and heartworms by biting your pet. If left untreated, a simple case of heartworms could prove lethal.

Let’s not forget the impact that fleas can have on your home. They can quickly infest your home and make pets and humans miserable. As your pet sheds, even small amounts of hair on the floor or carpet can become a breeding ground for astronomical numbers of fleas. Once fleas have moved into your home, it can be very difficult to stop the problem. If your home becomes infested with fleas, it could take multiple visits from a professional to apply powerful, potentially harmful pesticides just to contain the infestation.

Treatment Options

There are times it will not matter what preventative methods you use to avoid flea infestation. At some point, your dog or cat will become infested with fleas or possibly ticks. There are treatment options available for your pet in the case of infestation.

There are several flea treatments available for dogs, but one of the best is an oral medication that will not kill adult fleas but does kill the eggs and larva. This interrupts the flea life cycle and prevents them from coming back, if the dog is not continually exposed to new fleas. If that is happening, the source must be cleaned of fleas whether it is the carpet, the environment, or other dogs with which your pet associates.

Fleas can be a real nuisance for dogs and their owners but catching them and treating the dog quickly is the key to eliminating the infestation and preventing the insects’ return.

  • Oral medications can be prescribed by your vet to kill fleas. These medications get into their blood stream and encourage them to bite your pet. Once the flea bites your pet, the flea dies almost instantly. Of course, this treatment does not prevent other fleas from getting back on your dog a few days later when the medication is out of their system. Therefore, a follow up prevention, like a spot-on treatment, must be used immediately after. Capstar is one example which is a pill that kills all adult fleas within a half hour.
  • Flea powders and sprays are a great way to kill off any flea infestation. They are not 100% effective in preventing recurrence, so measures must be taken to prevent a future infestation.

Many pet owners become confused when it comes to the various methods of flea and tick control. Many pet owners become uncomfortable at the thought of toxic pesticides that are used in conventional flea and tick prevention methods. The good news is that we live in a time that natural options are available. At times, you may need to use a little elbow grease to create it, but if properly made, they can be just as effective, and for the most part safer, than chemically made options. Do you know what options are available to your pet?

Natural Remedies that Go on Your Pet

  • Spot based and squeeze on flea treatments are available in topical, natural forms. Most of them are made from essential oils that have a strong smell. These essential oils repel fleas and ticks. The most popular and effective oils are cedar, peppermint, and pennyroyal. When combined properly, they create a potent tick killer and flea repellent.
  • Natural spray-based flea and tick repellent can be created making the same oils as mentioned above.
  • There are many flea and tick powders composed of all-natural ingredients. These powders work mechanically, without a chemical base to kill fleas and ticks. As these powders dry up, they draw moisture out of the body of fleas and ticks. Because of the way these powders work, fleas and ticks cannot become immune to mechanical methods, unlike the resistance they can build up to chemical methods.
  • Mix garlic with Brewer’s yeast into your dog’s favorite meal. The mixture repels fleas from the inside out.
  • Your pet will not complain about a daily combing. Using a fine-toothed flea removal comb, gently comb your dog, dipping the comb into vinegar to remove fleas and their eggs from the comb. Keep a zip top plastic baggie nearby with a white piece of paper towel in it. After you have finished combing your pet, immediately place the comb in the baggie. Look for pests to show up against the white paper. If you do see one, pop it through the plastic bag to prevent any from escaping.
  • Flea collars made of herb-based ingredients can be worn on a regular basis. Make sure to replace them often so that your pet does not attract pests.
  • Bathe your dog on a regular basis with a shampoo that provides a rich lather. Once you lather the soap well, let it sit on their fur for a while. Add a small amount of citrus based essential oil to the bath water.

Prevention Options

When it comes to flea and tick treatment, prevention is the most effective approach. The key is preventing your pets from attracting fleas and ticks in the first place. Here are some of the options you can use to accomplish this.

  • Spot-on treatments can be ordered from your veterinary office. Apply the treatment behind the shoulders for cats, and on the back of the neck for dogs. These treatments can be expensive over time. If you need to save a little bit of money, you can purchase cheaper options over the counter. Be careful with these treatments because they can be fatal if they are used wrong. The biggest advantage to these treatments is they repel both fleas and ticks over a 30-day period.
  • Flea collars can be purchased over the counter, but they should be replaced on a regular basis to ensure they remain effective.
  • Flea combs can be purchased in the pet department of your local store. By combing your pet every day, you can prevent an infestation, or a re-infestation between the flea treatment applications.

While flea collars, powders, and sprays may help to prevent infestations to some extent, they will not help if the dog is already infested. When fleas are infesting a dog the female lays eggs at a rate of about thirty per day. These eggs fall off the dog and into the carpet, soil, or wherever the dog may be. In these areas they hatch and pupate, eventually growing into adult fleas which can then re-infest the dog. In order to halt the cycle, all the fleas on the dog and in the environment must be killed or the life cycle will not be interrupted.

In order to effectively control an infestation, fleas must be removed from the pet, the home, and the yard.

Starting with the pet, there are shampoos, topical treatments, sprays, collars, and oral medications.

The least recommended is shampoo, due to the grooming the pet does to his own coat. The pesticides can be toxic if they are consumed in quantity. Topical treatments are better, along with sprays and collars, but the best and most recommended is the oral medication Lufenuron called “Program” from your veterinarian.

From powders and sprays to dips and pills, the array of products available to combat these annoying insects can be a difficult road to navigate for even the most dedicated pet owner. But choosing the wrong product or applying it incorrectly can be dangerous.

“Dogs and cats have different needs, especially when it comes to flea and tick control, and applying the wrong product can be harmful to a pet,” said Dr. Jordan Siegel, technical services veterinarian for Wellmark International. “Some people are too busy to read the labels or they simply get products confused, particularly if they have more than one dog or cat.”

Wellmark International, located in Schaumburg, Ill., has created topical applicators designed to eliminate that confusion and make applying flea and tick treatment easier.

Zodiac Spot On is the company’s easy-to-apply monthly treatment that controls flea and tick infestations. Its Pet Specifix applicators feature cat-head shapes for felines and dog-bone shapes for canines to help pet owners keep track of the treatment they need for each pet. In addition, the applicators are color-coded to match pet weight ranges to help avoid accidental misapplication.

Because just one adult flea on a pet can lay up to 50 eggs a day, which can end up in a home’s carpet and furniture, it’s important to break the flea life cycle. Ticks can be more harmful than fleas because of their ability to spread Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other infections to humans.

Here are some tips on applying flea and tick treatment:

  • Don’t use a product on a species other than the one for which it is registered.
  • Select products that contain both an adulticide and an insect growth regulator. This one-two punch will kill adult fleas and ticks while preventing flea eggs from maturing into breeding, biting adults.
  • Read and follow all product label instructions.
  • Treat all pets in the household, not just those with the flea problem.
  • Institute an ongoing treatment and prevention program to avoid re-infestations.

To clean the home, all areas frequented by the dog should be cleaned thoroughly by vacuuming, washing bedding and rugs and possible treatment by insecticides. Treating your carpet with a Borate powder such as “Borax” laundry powder works as a poison upon ingestion by the flea, simply sprinkle the powder on your carpets and leave it for a few h ours before vacuuming will rid most homes of their fleas. A second treatment can follow if necessary. It’s cheap, you can do it yourself and there are no insecticides used.

Home and Yard Treatment Options

All too often pet owners find that treating their pet only goes so far. If you do not treat your home and your yard, you will find yourself fighting a losing battle. If you are looking for a way to treat your home and yard, here are some amazing, natural options.

  • Vacuum your home daily to whisk away fleas and their eggs. Do not focus only on the carpeted areas and upholstery, hardwood is a common home for flea eggs. To ensure that the fleas do not multiply inside your vacuum, suck a few mothballs, or some powdered Borax into the vacuum. This will kill them before they can escape.
  • Diatomaceous earth, also known as diatom earth, is a 100% natural insect killer. It dries out pests, prevents them from reproducing, and kills them. Apply this dust to the lawn liberally and apply a thin line around your home. Make sure to wear a dust mask while you are using it. If you notice a problem around your pet’s bedding, you can sprinkle it around that area too.
  • Borax powder is sold in the laundry isle of almost every store. If sprinkled liberally on furniture and carpets, and then vacuumed up after it has been allowed to sit for a while, it will kill the fleas living in these items.

To treat the lawn and around the outside of your house, pyrethroids such as “Archer” or “Nylan”, as well as fenoxy carb such as “Logic” or “Torus” can be effective. Outdoor treatment is usually only done in extreme or severe cases of flea infestation and may not be necessary. You should however keep your lawn trimmed to create a drier, less ideal environment for flea larvae. If you don’t want to handle the pesticides yourself, any licensed professional pest control operator can do the treatment for you.

In summary, you should check with your veterinarian before using any form of flea treatment.

  • Never use products for dogs on a cat, as cats are more sensitive to the pesticide and they groom themselves more thoroughly.
  • Never apply pesticides to young, pregnant, or sick animals, and use alternative methods to control fleas, such as combing frequently with a flea comb, vacuum your home frequently and dispose of the vacuum bag, wash all pet bedding regularly, and bathe your pet with a pesticide free shampoo.
  • Prevention is much easier than dealing with an infestation.



Ticks are not insects like fleas, but arachnids like mites, spiders, and scorpions. A tick has a one-piece body, harpoon like barbs around its mouth to attach to a host for feeding, crablike legs and a sticky secretion to help hold itself to the host. The United States has about 200 tick species whose habitats include woods, beach grass, lawns, forests, and even in some urban areas.

They have a four-stage life cycle, egg, larvae, nymphs, and adult. Depending on its species, a tick may take less than a year or up to several years to go through its four-stage life cycle. Adult females of some species lay about 100 eggs at a time. Others lay 3,000 to 6,000 eggs per batch.

Ticks can carry various infectious organisms that can transmit diseases to cats and dogs as well as humans. The four primary diseases and their symptoms are:

  • Babesiosis – lethargy, loss of appetite, weakness, pale gums
  • Ehrlichiosis – high fever, muscle aches
  • Lyme disease – lameness, swollen joints, fever, poor appetite, fatigue, vomiting
  • Tick paralysis in dogs – gradual paralysis and poor coordination

Of the four diseases, Lyme disease is the worst, as it can also infect humans. Studies indicate that dogs are 50 percent more susceptible to this disease than humans. Lyme disease is transmitted through the bite of the deer tick, also called the black-legged tick. Symptoms in humans include fatigue, chills and fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, swollen lymph nodes, and a red circular skin rash. In June 1992 the USDA licensed a vaccine to prevent Lyme disease in dogs. There is no vaccine for cats yet.

If your dog is outside regularly, ask the veterinarian about the Lyme disease vaccine. Watch for the symptoms mentioned earlier, and if you suspect a tick-borne disease get your dog to the vet immediately. With early diagnosis, antibiotics generally work. If possible, dogs should be kept out of tick-infested areas. In areas where ticks are prevalent, yards where dogs exercise should be treated with appropriate chemicals to kill adult and immature ticks.

Does my dog have a tick?

Dogs should be examined frequently for the presence of ticks on their bodies. Ticks prefer sheltered locations, such as inside the ears and between the toes of the host, but a heavily infested dog may have ticks anywhere on its body. When a tick is found it should be removed immediately. The proper way to remove a tick is to use fine-point tweezers, grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull gently, if the ticks mouth parts remain embedded in the animals skin, you should try to remove them as you would a splinter. Alcohol or other disinfectants should be used on the bite site, the tweezers, and your hands if you do not wear gloves.

Treatment Options

At some point, your dog will get a tick. It’s always good to check after walks outside especially in areas prone to ticks.

  • If your dog has a tick attached to him, using a pair of tweezers, and a topical anesthetic, will help your pet get back to normal.
  • After you remove the tick, place it in a Ziploc bag and put it in the freezer. Freezing it will not only kill the tick, but it will preserve it in case an illness develops later, and your vet needs to identify it.

Tips for Ticks

Ticks can and will survive after they are removed from the host. You should flush the tick down the toilet or drown them in a small container of alcohol if you don’t want to freeze them and preserve them in case of problems with your dog.

You should never squeeze a tick as it will release toxins that may contain any of the diseases discussed earlier. Hundreds of pesticides and repellants are available to control ticks on dogs and cats. Products range from oral medications that are available only from your veterinarian, to collars, sprays, dips, shampoos, powders, and spot-ons.

The chemicals Chlorpyrifos and Amitraz are used in several types of products and are very effective against ticks. Amitraz should not be used on dogs that are sickly, pregnant, or nursing. However, no matter what type of medication you use, always check with your veterinarian first.

Best Tips for Soothing Bug Bites and Stings on your Dog

The tips you will find below are inexpensive and the chances are you will already have some of the ingredients in your medicine cabinet or in your kitchen. I have used every one of these over many years to treat my dogs.

  1. 1. This first tip is one you may have never even considered or even thought about it: Meat Tenderizer. Yep! You heard right. All you do is pour the meat tenderizer into the bowl and then add water. Once it has thickened into a paste simply apply it directly to the sting or bite. There is a good chance your dog will experience almost instant relief. The cool thing is you can reapply it if needed, without worrying about it harming your pet.
  2. 2. Chances are this one is going to shock you, but again it works. Try dabbing ammonia directly to the bite or sting with a cotton ball. However, make sure not to apply around the nose and eyes of your ‘Fido’. Also, if your animal has extra sensitive skin it’s a good idea not too use it to smooth bug bites and stings.
  3. 3. This is absolutely one of my favorites too soothe bug bites and stings. I apply aloe vera gel, from an aloa vera plant leaf, when I can get my hands on it. But for a backup, I keep aloa vera gel that I get from my local drug store. Again, it’s a simple matter of applying the gel directly onto the bite. The results are almost instantaneous. Not only does it work good on my dog, I use it on myself for mosquito bites and the occasional wasp sting.
  4. 4. Now this tip is one that will reduce the swelling and itching right away. However, it may require some patience on your part and on your dog’s part. If it’s a sting, search the area where your dog is biting and scratching. There is a good chance the stinger may still be embedded in the skin of your pet. Once you find it and remove it then you can apply some healing gel or even bathe it with a cold cloth.
  5. 5. Speaking of a cold cloth this is going to be my last tip to you. Try putting several pieces of ice into a washcloth and hold it directly onto the sting or bite. Just like you, your animal will find it will smooth bug bites and stings.For additional tips, check with your local vet or read additional articles on

By Dawn

Dr. Gleason is a graduate of Colorado State University with a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine (DVM). She is certified as a Canine Certified Rehabilitation Practitioner (CCRP) and a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist (CVA).

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