Those Annoying Dog Fleas:
Stress on your dog
Distress on your purse

by Janice Jones     |Last updated 04-18-2023

Dog Fleas may not be your puppy’s worst enemy, but it can cause much distress and even disease.

When we think about external parasites on dogs, the first critters that come to mind are fleas, ticks and mites.

These tiny insects can become problems for your small dog as well as you, causing itchy skins, loss of hair and some are capable of transmitting diseases such as bubonic plague, typhus, and Lyme Disease. 

Dog Fleas are one cause of scratching in dogs.

No external parasite is more well-known and frustrating than the dog flea. Dog Fleas are a major problem in warmer climates, especially those that also enjoy a high relative humidity. 

In places such as the southern US, fleas thrive year round, whereas in colder climates, dogs may never be exposed to these pesky creatures.  Flea infestations can be treated and controlled, but no prevented. 

To understand how to protect your small dog from fleas, a quick lesson on the flea life cycle is in order. 

Observing Dog Fleas

Fleas are tiny brown bugs that hop rather than fly.  Fleas are not always easy to spot on a long haired small dog due to their extensive coat.

The fecal remains of the flea or flea dirt are easier to observe than the quick adult flea.  

Flea dirt looks like fine grains of black pepper.  An easy way to spot fleas is to use a fine toothed comb, often called a flea comb. 

Run the comb over the under belly of your dog and if you “catch” any adult fleas place them in something that will kill them such as hot soapy water or rubbing alcohol. 

Another easy way to spot fleas is to place the dog on a white towel and brush especially on the abdomen, inner legs and neck areas. 

If black specks collect on the towel, suspect flea dirt and where flea dirt accumulates, fleas are present.

Life Cycle of Dog Fleas

The Dog FleaFlea

Fleas proceed through four distinct stages, eggs, larvae, pupae, and adult.

Life begins for the flea when an adult lays eggs which take about 2 to 7 days to hatch. 

If the adult lays the eggs on the dog, the eggs can roll off onto bedding and carpeting. 

Once hatched, the larvae prefer dark places, finding anything organic to munch on.  If there is an adequate food supply, these larvae form a cocoon within a couple of weeks. 

In the pupae stage, they rest until the environment signals through vibrations, heat, and carbon dioxide that a warm host is near.  The adult flea emerges and must find a warm blood meal to survive. 

Once fed, the adults are ready to lay eggs and the cycle begins again. 

Problems Associated with Dog Fleas

Dog Fleas will move towards any warm-blooded source of food (blood) including you.  On humans, flea bites resemble mosquito bites. 

On dogs, the first reaction is scratching, biting, licking, with loss of hair and red spots following.

The flea injects saliva into the dog as it feeds on his blood causing an allergy. 

Called flea allergy dermatitis, much money is spent at the vet’s office trying to treat this side effect of flea infestation.

Besides causing untold misery in the dog (and human) another danger that fleas impose is their ability to transmit disease including tapeworm infections, typhus and bubonic plague.    

To treat completely, fleas must be eliminated from the dog as well as his environment.  Simply treating adult fleas will not cure the problem.

Treatments For Dog Fleas

There are a variety of products available, some more effective than others.  Flea treatments are specific to the species they are intended for and should never be shared such as using a dog shampoo on a cat.  I will first discuss conventional methods, followed by natural cures.

Flea Shampoos

Flea Shampoos are effective at killing adult dog fleas but do not provide any residual protection.  Flea Dips are stronger and will provide control for up to two weeks and kill mites and ticks too.  Since dips contain harsh chemicals, they are not always recommended.

My dogs rarely get fleas due to where we live, but when they do, I've used flea shampoo with great success. There are several great products on the market, and I can't really say that one works better than the rest.  Here are a couple that I have used with success.

Click on a product to learn about cost and availability.

Flea Powders & Sprays

Flea powders and sprays may work for a couple of days, killing adult fleas and some protection against the juvenile stages of the flea.  They are not used as often as they once were as newer products seem more effective in flea control. However, I chose this one because it will not only treat the dog but also the environment.

Spot on Treatments

Spot on products such as Advantage ™Frontline®, and Bio-Spot® are applied between the shoulder blades and typically last about a month. 

They kill adult fleas and inhibit the growth of egg and larval stages.

Oral Treatments

Another product, Capstar®, offers no long-term residual effect but knocks out the live flea population on your dog within thirty minutes.

It safe for puppies weighing two pounds or more as well as pregnant or nursing dogs and can be used as often as needed with no harmful effects.

Program® and Sentinel® are products that are given once a month and acts as flea birth control so that when an adult flea bites the dogs. 

The flea ingests the chemical that causes eggs and larvae cannot develop into adult fleas.  It is used in conjunction with a flea shampoo. 

Homemade Remedies

If you'd like to try making your own flea remedy there is lots from which to choose.  My favorite is using Dawn Dishwashing Liquid.  I bathe the dogs once and the dish soap kills all the fleas instantly.  I've used it on puppies as young as 10 weeks old.

Homemade Flea Spray Using Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple Cider vinegar will not kill fleas but will create an environment where fleas are likely to flee from (no pun intended).  Add equal amounts of water and vinegar to a spray bottle.

Shake to mix.  You can also add a drop or two of essential oils such as cedar wood or lavender to make it smell better.  Spray on the dog or in the environment. 

You can add 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to one quart of your dog's drinking water to achieve the same results. 

The problem is that many dogs will not like the taste and refuse to drink the water.  If this happens start with a tiny amount of apple cider vinegar and gradually work up to a teaspoon.

Use about 0.9 liter of water to about 5 ml of apple cider vinegar

Baking Soda

Plain old baking soda does a decent job of killing fleas in carpets and mats.  First sprinkle baking soda on the carpet.  (Color test first). 

Use a brush or carpet rake to spread the product around.  Next vacuum and dump the contents of the vacuum outside in an enclosed container.


Ordinary table salt is a great dehydrating agent and will kill adult fleas.  You would use salt the same way you use baking soda. 

Sprinkle on the carpets and wait a day or two before vacuuming. Always empty the vacuum contents outside in a closed container.

Lemon Spray

An easy way to remove fleas from dog bedding and other furniture is to use a homemade lemon solution.  Slice one whole lemon thinly and place in a saucepan. 

Add a pint of water and bring to a boil.  Remove and let stand overnight.  The next day, drain the lemon juice and place in a spray bottle.  Discard what is left of the lemon 

Food Grade Diatomaceous earth

Diatomaceous earth is a powder made up of fossilized microscopic one celled animals called diatoms.

Diatomaceous earth can be irritating to the eyes and lungs even though it is non-toxic.  It is best to remove dogs and wear a face mask.  Once the powder has settled, it is safe to be around.

Sprinkle a thin layer where you suspect fleas to be a problem.  Leave on for 2 days and then vacuum.


Yes, you heard me right.  Garlic can be a problem if fed in hiqh quantities, but a very small amount of garlic will not hurt your dog and will repel fleas and other insects. 

According to Rita Hogan, from Dogs Naturally Magazine, chop up organic fresh garlic into small pieces.  Give 1/4 clove per 10 pounds of dog.  Do this everyday beginning before the flea season until autumn.  You shouldn't have a flea problem.

Treating the Environment

The order in which treatment is most effective is:

1.Treat the dog(s) and other pets in the house

2. Vacuum

3. Wash dog bedding and toys in hot water

4. Spray and/or Fog

5. Continue to Vacuum daily and Wash dog bedding and toys in hot water

6. Treat the outdoors

Best Advice for Dog Fleas

Prevention is easier than Treatment

Treat the moment you see the first Flea

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About Janice (author and voice behind this site)

Having lived with dogs and cats most of her life, Janice served as a veterinary technician for ten years in Maryland and twelve years as a Shih Tzu dog breeder in Ohio.

Her education includes undergraduate degrees in Psychology with a minor in biology, Early Childhood Education, and Nursing, and a master's in Mental Health Counseling.

She is a lifelong learner, a dog lover, and passionate about the welfare of animals. Her favorite breed for over 50 years has been the Shih Tzu, but she has also lived with Poodles, Maltese, Yorkshire Terriers, Beagles, English Bulldogs, Carin Terriers, and a Cocker Spaniel.

When not writing, reading, and researching dog-related topics, she likes to spend time with her eight Shih Tzu dogs, husband, and family, as well as knitting and crocheting. She is also the voice behind Miracle Shih Tzu and Smart-Knit-Crocheting

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