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Fleas! How to Prevent and Treat Your Dog's Greatest Nuisance

Author: Dr. Jason Nicholas

Published: May 30, 2014

Updated: August 1, 2023

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puppy has fleas and is scratchingIf you have pets, you’ve probably experienced fleas or heard horror stories from others who have. Fleas are miserable pests that can wreak havoc on a household. Understanding how to prevent fleas and how to treat your pets if they become infested are the keys to keeping your pets (and everybody else in your home) happy. Fortunately, there are several safe and effective products that can help keep fleas out of your home and help to remove them if they're already there.

Flea Prevention Is Best

Flea prevention is the easiest and most cost-effective way to deal with fleas — the costs and inconvenience of dealing with an infestation once it’s established are far worse than those associated with preventing such an infestation from taking hold in the first place. As with most things… prevention is better and easier (and cheaper) than treatment.

Flea Prevention Tips

  • For flea prevention to be effective, ALL pets in the household need to be on monthly treatment — even indoor-only cats!

  • As with most things… prevention is easier (and cheaper) than treatment.

  • Fleas can survive and thrive in your home even during the winter and in the absence of pets for months!

Why Flea Prevention Medication Should Be Year-Round

Generally, pets should be on flea prevention throughout the year. You might have heard that you don’t need to continue flea prevention when it’s cold outside, but I highly discourage this. There are just too many ways for fleas to take hold and keep themselves going. And it often doesn't get cold enough in many parts of the world for an area to become truly flea-free.

For example, one stage of the flea life cycle is the pupal stage, a life stage that is protected from the environment by a cocoon. Pupal-stage fleas can remain dormant for several weeks while waiting for more favorable conditions. Also, in some areas, when the weather gets cooler, rodents start trying to seek shelter in homes. Those mice and rats could easily bring plenty of fleas into your home.

Don’t Forget Indoor-Only Cats!

For flea prevention to be effective, ALL pets in the household need to be on a monthly program. This includes indoor-only cats! Indoor-only cats are not immune to getting fleas.

How to Get Rid of Fleas In Your Home and on Your Pet

Clean Regularly
While flea preventative medications are the most effective tool for preventing an infestation, cleaning is also a big help. You should regularly vacuum your carpets and wash any bedding on which your pets sleep – including your own. This will help to kill any fleas or larvae and remove any flea ‘dirt’ that may occasionally get into the home.

Prepare Any New Home
When moving into a new house or apartment, it’s always a good idea to get the carpets and floors thoroughly cleaned. Ideally, you should "flea bomb" the whole environment several days before you move in, then steam clean the carpets and mop any hard floors. This will help to truly ensure that you and your pets are starting with a fresh slate and no fleas.

Remember the flea life cycle I mentioned above? The pupal stage can hibernate for several weeks in the absence of an appropriate host.  Even if the home hasn’t had pets in it for a while, a flea infestation can still be lying in wait. Taking a little extra time before you move into your new home will help you avoid an unfortunate experience later on.

Of course, even with the best preventive measures, there are some rare instances where fleas can sneak in and take control. In these instances, it’s important to quickly and effectively treat the infestation to save you and your pets as much discomfort as possible.

Many of the steps necessary to treat an infestation are the same steps you take to prevent one:

  • Get all pets on a safe and effective flea medication. Speak with your veterinarian for recommended products. There are lots of options - from chewable pills such as Comfortis, Trifexis, Nexgard, and Bravecto to topical "spot-ons," such as Advantage®, Revolution®, Vectra-3D®, Activyl®, and many others. There are even some safe and effective flea collars these days, too (especially Seresto® and Scalibor®). 
  • Bathe and/or flea comb your pets to remove ‘flea dirt’ and adult fleas. Young fleas feed on flea dirt, so by removing it from their environment you deprive them of food.
  • Clean the environment. Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum! Pre-treat carpets with Borax, let the powder sit for an hour or two, then vacuum it up well and dispose of the vacuum bag outside. Be sure to keep all pets and children off the carpets until you are sure that you have vacuumed up all of the Borax.
  • Shake and “punch out” your couch and chair cushions over the carpet before vacuuming - this will get rid of the fleas and flea dirt present on your cushions. Steam cleaning also works well as does a product called FleaBusters.
  • When vacuuming, pay particular attention to the areas around and under couches, chairs, beds, and any other raised areas where your pets spend time. When your pet jumps down, the fleas and flea dirt fall off your pet onto the floor in these landing spots.
  • Launder all bedding in the hottest water possible. Not just the pets' beds, but your and the kid's bedding, too.
  • Leave all pets on an effective and safe flea preventative all year long to avoid having to go through this again.

Hopefully, you and your pets will never experience a flea infestation. It isn’t a fun time. Save yourself the frustration and costs, and save your pet the discomfort. Follow my recommendations for preventing fleas, and you’ll likely never need my recommendations for getting rid of them.

About the author

Profile picture for Dr. Jason Nicholas

Dr. Jason Nicholas

Dr. Nicholas graduated with honors from The Royal Veterinary College in London, England and completed his Internship at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. He currently lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Dr. Nicholas spent many years as an emergency and general practice veterinarian obsessed with keeping pets safe and healthy. He is the author of Preventive Vet’s 101 Essential Tips book series.