Dog flea advice

  • Fleas are common in the environment and can easily be picked up on walks
  • The best treatment for fleas is prevention - not cure - and there are a range of products available
  • If your dog catches fleas, your home must be treated with spray to get rid of the infestation
  • Flea eggs can lie dormant in cracks and crevices for anything up to a year
  • Your dog may be scratching itself more if it has fleas and flea dirt could be visible in the fur

Dog and puppy flea treatment advice

The only way to be certain that your dog does not have fleas is by using regular, good quality flea control which is recommended by your vet, as they are very common in the environment and can easily be picked up on walks. A single application of any product is not sufficient.

Not only can fleas make your pet uncomfortable, sore and itchy - they also pose a serious health risk. Flea infestations can cause anaemia due to the amount of blood a dog can lose to the parasites, and it can be fatal - especially in puppies or weaker dogs.

What do I do if my dog has fleas?

As well as getting your pet treatment as soon as possible, it’s important to remember that the parasites only spend a limited time on the animal. Their eggs tend to build up in cracks and crevices, such as down the sides of armchairs – and can survive for anything up to a year. So as well as treating your pet, carpets and furnishings in the home also need to be treated with an aerosol spray at the earliest opportunity.

Other pets in the household, such as rabbits and cats will need treatment – but ask for your vet's advice about different species, as products effective in dogs may be toxic and dangerous to cats, and vice-versa. But some of the same products can be used.

What dog flea treatment shall I use?

There is a vast array of products available in pet shops and supermarkets – but it’s best to consult your vet as spot on treatments and medication in the form of tablets and injections are the only effective long-term methods of flea control. Before using any product, it’s essential that you ask your vet for advice.

Spot on dog flea treatment

Spot on products, whereby liquid is applied to the skin at the back of a pet’s neck, have become a very popular – and effective – method of flea control. Some products contain substances that kill adult fleas, while others work by interrupting the development of fleas – and some do both. These treatments normally eliminate and prevent ear mites, too.

Tablets and injections

What an adult flea looks like under a microscope

Flea medication administered in tablet or injection form is also a good option, if you find it difficult to give your pet a spot on treatment.  It works by preventing the development of eggs into fleas, eliminating new generations all together.

Dog flea treatment combs

This is not an effective method of flea control, and is not preventative. But combs can be useful if you suspect your dog may have fleas, as you can only see them if your pet has lots. Use one of these fine-toothed combs on your dog over a clean white surface. If no fleas can be seen but you spot any small black specs, place these on damp cotton wool – if it is flea faeces, it will dissolve to leave red-brown marks, meaning it’s likely your pet has fleas.

Dog flea treatment powders 

Flea powders are only active for the few days that they remain on the coat and only kill adult fleas, not the larvae. For these reasons they have no long-term effect, so are not a good choice for treatment.

Flea collars

The collars have growth-inhibiting substances in them to stop fleas growing but most are not reliable enough. Some can also cause irritation to your pet. This method should only be used if it’s a high-quality and safe product recommended by your vet.

Dog flea treatment shampoo

Again, not a long-term effective solution for combating fleas as it will only kill the fleas on your dog at the time of bathing and does not prevent them from redeveloping.

Dog flea treatment herbal remedies

These are ineffective and some – such as tea tree oil – can even be toxic to pets. Also, many of these have not been through the rigorous safety checks applied to the products recommended by a vet.

How do I get rid of fleas in the home?

This is what flea dirt in a dog's fur looks like

Thorough vacuuming followed by the use of an insecticide spray containing an insect growth regulator is a good way of eliminating fleas in the home and other areas. A single application can last for six months to a year. Great care should be taken not to allow products containing permethrin to come into contact with your dog and never use any spray in close proximity to a fish tank, as they are highly toxic to fish.

Can dog fleas live on humans?

There are about 2,000 different types of fleas and only one of those can live on humans, so it is extremely rare. All other fleas cannot survive on human blood but can be transmitted from pet to pet by people, as they are capable of leaping long distances.

— Page last updated 5/10/2016