One of the most standard images associated with happy puppies is the picture perfect cuddly pooch, all flappy ears and lolling tongue, grinning away and chasing his tail in circles. Or splashing around in puddles and scratching his ear with his hindleg. Or playing in a pile of leaves and trying to scratch his backside against a tree…. the image changed a bit there, didn’t it?
Fleas, ticks, and mites are a such a regularly occurring nuisance for dogs, that they really justify the full annoyance quotient of the word ‘pest’. And of these, fleas are by far the biggest problem. Everyone who has had dogs knows that no matter how hard you try to get rid of them for once and for all, our dogs regularly come back with new infestations from their other dog friends, mutual rub-nose acquaintances at the vet or the park, or even from houses of people with other pets. In this regard, fleas deserve some grudging respect for how incessantly they hound dogs (pun intended). But they deserve no quarter, because they give our dogs none.
Everyone who has had dogs knows that no matter how hard you try to get rid of them for once and for all, our dogs regularly come back with new infestations from their other dog friends, mutual rub-nose acquaintances at the vet or the park, or even from houses of people with other pets. In this regard, fleas deserve some grudging respect for how incessantly they hound dogs (pun intended). But they deserve no quarter, because they give our dogs none.
Fleas are tiny insects that are the canine and feline equivalent of lice in humans. While there are many types of fleas and many different tame and wild animals they are found on, the common and core factors are that they live on the skin in their fur, suck their blood, make nests in the hair tangles, and breed on our pets as part of their life cycle. While they are minuscule and wingless, they are capable of jumping very high, which is why they travel so quickly from pet to pet. They multiply very quickly, which is why it’s often a problem to kill them off altogether. And had they only sucked blood, could it maybe have been a milder problem. But the multitude of potentially lethal diseases they carry, such as Bubonic plague, and diseases like Myxomatosis, that they transmit from other animals, make it necessary to make sure every single one of them is off.
And while that call to action is all well and good, it’s hard to go to war on fleas without realizing very quickly that everything that promises to unleash chemical terror on them, can be very harmful for our dogs as well. Everything that consists of harsh chemical based treatments (which promise to the quickest solution), is also quick to damage our dogs’ fur, skin, and take a toll on their overall health. Which is why anti-flea treatments have to be chosen with some discernment. Plus, it’s always good to keep a close watch and prevent their recurrence as far as possible, too. So whether it’s your own dog you’re looking for a solution for, or foster puppies, or just a pet you’re rehoming, one of these considerably milder solutions might be the best fit for you.
Believe it or not Only 1 in 100 Fleas are seen by the owners so it’s very important that we do everything we can do remove the fleas and stop them from coming back!
1. Flea Combs
As simplistic as they sound, flea combs are fairly effective when your dog has an active flea infection. Flea combs are plastic combs with narrow, closely placed teeth, that you can use to comb the fleas out of your dogs fur. They work best if you detangle your dog’s fur in advance, because that you can simply drag the comb from skin to hair-end and drag the fleas out from near the roots, where they nest, or the shaft of the fur, where they ‘stick’. If you have any experience with lice combs, the principle is pretty much the same. Which is why if you can find a wooden flea comb, it’ll be easier to use. But that’s not to say that the plastic ones don’t do a decent job as well.
Here’s how to use a flea comb: Right after you’ve given your dog or puppy a bath, have him sit in front of you, preferably on a sheet of white paper or an old towel or light coloured cloth that you can throw away later. The reason for this is that when you comb the fleas out, you can do so in a downward motion, dragging them down onto the paper or cloth. This way, you’ll be able to see how many you’re getting, and whether you’ve started to ’empty’ a section out.
Use a soft bristled brush and brush the tangles out of your dog’s fur. This makes sure the motion does not get impeded. It’s easier to work with damp or wet fur, but dry fur is also not a problem. To make sure that the fleas don’t get away, use a solution of vinegar in water or dilute soapy water. Dip the comb in it each time and in one long motion, drag the comb through the fur from the neck downward to the tail region, and onto the paper.
The vinegar or soap solution helps drown the fleas and makes them stick to the comb and cloth. Each time, you can simply swipe the comb sideways onto the cloth and get everything off. Then repeat the motion all the way from top to bottom, wiping the comb clean each time. After a few repetitions through one area, you’ll notice that the number of fleas you’re ‘excavating’ has decreased. When you finally empty one section out, you can move on to the next one.
It takes a few sittings, but over a period of 3-4 days, you can effectively get every flea out of your dog’s fur. The advantage is that it takes the eggs out too, so you’ll be reducing the chances of future infestations very drastically. It’s also the most cost effective solution. Also, it’s completely harmless because you don’t use anything stronger than vinegar or soapy water, which eliminates any chance of irritating your dog’s skin. But on the downside, it does take a little time for getting every flea out.
2. DIY Flea Repellent
Another minimally reactive solution to making sure the fleas that came stay off, is using a flea repellent spray. While commercially available sprays are also an option, here’s one you can make yourself at home.
Rinse a small plastic spritzer/spray bottle and fill it halfway up with water. To that, add half a cup of witch hazel, half a cup of apple cider vinegar, and a couple of teaspoons of vodka (3-4 teaspoons if you’re using a large spray bottle). Shake it thoroughly and use this as a mist for your dog’s fur.
The science behind this spray is that apple cider vinegar and witch hazel help make your dog’s fur too acidic for fleas. The change in pH is not enough to affect your dog, but the fleas won’t be able to survive in it, and neither will their eggs or larvae.
If you’ve recently removed the fleas from your dog’s fur, spraying this solution intermittently is a good way to ensure that they don’t come back. Also, if you’re taking your pet out to a park or anywhere that he might pick more fleas and ticks up from, spraying him in advance is a good idea. Especially a couple of direct spritzes to just above the tail. That area has short and dense fur and is a flea hotspot!
3. More Apple Cider Vinegar!
As vinegary as this theme seems to be, it’s for a reason- its efficacy! Apple cider vinegar is one of the least toxic or irritating substances you can use to fight fleas. Which is why it is a good idea to add it to your dog’s diet. Based on your dog’s size and weight, giving him water to drink with 1-2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar added to it is a brilliant way to naturally alter your dog’s diet. The shift in acidity is almost imperceptible, but very drastic for fleas. It even helps repel ticks, for the same reason.
You might be wondering why a direct local application wouldn’t just do the trick. The reason is that just like our skin, dogs also have very sensitive skin under all that fur. Directly applying apple cider vinegar to their skin over time causes irritation, flaking, and itchiness, and the broken skin may predispose them to catching infections in the hair follicles. Applied directly to skin, it also causes burning and stinging over any inflamed or broken skin. Adequately diluted though, apple cider vinegar is greatly effective for them, both in drinking water, and in spray form over the fur.
4. Scrub a Dub Dub, there’s a Puppy in the Tub! (and his bedding)
While having to wash everything your pooch sleeps on or in may seem like a Herculean task, it’s one that will leave your dog feeling like he’s wearing the Golden fleece. Fleas and ticks regularly skip off their host animals and into their surroundings. In case of our indoor dogs, that is the interior of our house. This is actually one of the methods by which humans end up becoming secondary hosts for fleas. While we may not share our dogs’ beds, they often share ours. And when not, we share sofas, blankets, carpets, and rooms. It’s no big exertion for fleas to kamikaze jump off our pets into the thicket of the floor carpet or nearest rug. Then they jump onto the nearest available foot and clamber up for a quick meal, or even back to their station.
This is one of the reasons recurrences happen so very often. More significantly, this ease of spread is the reason flea and tick borne diseases can be so dangerously close to home for humans who are otherwise not exposed to the wilderness. And, especially if you have children in the house, this becomes a very real and very serious concern.
So! How do you tackle this? The answer is deceptively simple- thorough, thorough cleaning. Cleaning up the aftermath of fleas is no Mini-wash work, but still necessary. All bedding, mattresses, bed covers, blankets, or even toys that your dog uses, or is regularly in contact with, needs to be soaked in almost boiling hot water for 1-2 hours, and washed thoroughly after that with a strong detergent powder. This will kill any indwelling fleas who survived your dog’s cleanse, and the likely eggs and larvae that are usually found in these materials. The boiling water will also help sterilise the bedding, making it clean and safe for use again. It’s also a good idea to dry them on high heat, just to make sure.
The bed and carpet itself will benefit from a comprehensive dusting and vacuuming, when they are too big or cumbersome to wash or bleach. This will get rid of any stray eggs or larvae. Repeat the wash once a week, till you’re sure that your pet is flea-free. And then, his (and your!) bedding will be, too!
5. Shampoo with a Special Twist
-specifically, a twist of lemon. Flea shampoos are readily available in most drugstores and pet stores, but they are too strong and toxic, for the most part, to be advised for more than 1-2 uses. Instead, here’s a small alteration you can make to your dog’s usual bath regime.
A cup of water and a cup of lemon juice added to a cup of your dog’s normal shampoo, help make it a regular flea-fighter. You can store this mixture in a separate bottle and use it every week, making sure to foam up your dog and leave the mixture soaked into his fur for at least 5-10 minutes each time. For larger dogs, you can up the ratio of lemon juice to shampoo.
Working on the same principle as apple cider vinegar, lemon juice helps make your dog’s fur too acidic for fleas to survive in. If you follow the bath up with a combing session with a flea comb, then you’ll get all the fleas out, too.
6. More Special Ingredients!
In addition to fresh lemon juice, you can also add essential oils like witch hazel, cedarwood oil, rosemary oil, and lavender oil. All of these are proven to be effective against fleas, and repelling fresh attacks from fleas. In all cases, these can be added diluted to the shampoo mixture. They are safe as long as they are used in dilution, because otherwise they can cause irritation to your dog’s skin. Also, they too need to be left in at least for ten minutes. So you can work your dog up to a full lather and then make him sit like a little foam ball for ten minutes, while the shampoo mix does its work.
7. Boric Acid- Not So Boring!
Boric acid, also known commonly as Borax, is a frequently used antiseptic powder used to get rid of mites, ants, fleas, and any invading six or more legged menace. Borax is an acidic powder with abrasive and desiccant properties, which makes it very useful for getting rid of fleas. But this also means that it needs to be used with a modicum of caution.
Because of its toxic nature, Borax has to be used carefully. The areas of use, for example, should not be in direct sunlight, and should be in an area with a humidity of at least 50%. Additionally, you have to make sure that no one disturbs the dusted areas for 2-3 days, and especially make sure that no one inhales that powder.
It’s particularly important for children and pets, who go nosing into everything they shouldn’t. Borax is corrosive and cause serious lung irritation when inhaled. It is also toxic when ingested, which is why it’s good to ascertain that your dogs won’t lick it up by accident, or you or someone else won’t ingest it in any way.
Also, the longer it’s left on, the better it is. So a very good way to sterilise everything effectively is to throw all the beddings, bedspreads, covers, carpets, and rugs into one room, and douse it liberally with borax powder. Ensure that the objects don’t receive direct sunlight from the windows. Then leave the room closed for 2-3 days, by which time the borax will seep into the materials and dry the eggs out. Also, the larvae die of destination as well, so that takes care of both of them. In fact, brushing the powder into the materials is an even better technique, if you have a stiff bristled brush.
Afterwards, you can dust them down and clean up the entire aftermath with a vacuum cleaner. However, make sure to discard the vacuum bags as well.
8. Collar Those Fleas!
Flea collars are often overlooked as go-to help devices, in the fight against flea infestations. They are available in most large stores and in practically every pet store. But if you’re comfortable with a little DIY, you can simply make one on your own. The difference will be that store-bough collars remain effective for months at a time, while the DIY ones need to be ‘refreshed’ every few days. However, what chemicals are used also differ dramatically. The store bought collars usually contain flea repellants, while the DIY collars can be made with particular essential oils.
You can take your dog’s pre-existing collar and make it flea-repellent by spraying it with a mixture of equal parts essential oil and distilled water, mixed together. Shake the mixture well and then spray it onto the collar, or simply douse the collar in it. The essential oil and the smell repel fleas very effectively.
Essential oils that are particularly good in this regard are Lavender oil and Tea tree oil. Cedarwood oil is less effective than these. Also, another useful substitute is using a bandana instead of a collar. Both work just as well, but bandanas look maybe a little more festive!
Two things to watch out for is that if the DIY collars get wet, they lose their efficacy, as the oil washes off. So if you forget to take the collar off before you give your dog a bath, simply refresh the spray on the collar and you’ll be good to go. Also, the spray itself wears off over time, so re-spraying once a week is a good idea.
9. The Rest of the House, too!
It’s not just your pet’s bedding that can be a storehouse of fleas and eggs. Carpets, sofas, doormats, rugs, all can house a host of nests or stray fleas waiting for a new host. Borax, as mentioned, is a good option.
If that is not on hand, diatomaceous also works, partly as a desiccant. Regularly cleaning up by dusting and vacuuming makes sure that these hideouts get emptied out- even when you’re just in maintenance mode. In either situation, though, you have to remember to clean the vacuum out afterwards as well, and throw the vacuum bags away.
If you ever have a spillage or need to clean dog pee from a carpet make sure you do it as quickly as possible, so no germs build up and become a problem.
10. Flea Bombs!
Well okay, not literal bombs, but these are the potpourri of the flea warfare arsenal. Using a small muslin square and some dried herbs, you can make your own little flea repelling bundles. Use lemon peel, dried lavender buds, cedarwood chips, and fold them up and tie off with a little string.
These little aroma bundles can then be placed between folds in your dog’s bedding, under carpets, in corners in rooms, basically around the spots that your dog loves, so that fleas never accumulate in these areas. Once a month or so, change the filling inside the bag. Otherwise, just enjoy the mild fragrance- and the satisfaction that your dog and home are flea-free!