It can certainly be the case that your dog has fleas without you being able to find one of these tiny, sneaky critters.
Allergy to the flea saliva is one of the most common skin allergies and this will usually make your dog very itchy.
Regular flea treatments are recommended and because of the heat and humidity (perfect for fleas) Australia-wide, treatments should continue through the winter as well. All flea treatment products are not created equal, and the efficacy of some products is not great as they only last for a couple of hours after application!
Therefore, when the flea eggs inevitably hatch, the fleas just jump back on your dog. Ask your veterinarian to provide the correct product for your pet, but Frontline and Advantix are excellent products.
In my opinion, the best product on the market for fleas is Comfortis which is a monthly tablet. This will kill all fleas on your dog within 2-4 hours and will last all month. Note that Comfortis is not registered for tick prevention however, so if you live in an area where Tick paralysis is a concern, Advantix or Fronline every 2 weeks in the tick season is crucial.
HOW TO TREAT YOUR PETS ENVIRONMENT
First look at where your pet spends most of his time. Target this area in particular. Use a flea bomb inside the house to get rid of those eggs and lavae that will hatch and repopulate your pet. You can also get a hand held spray to treat underneath cupboards, couches and beds.
If you are not keen to flea bomb, consider frequent vacuuming every 3 days. Also vacuum before the flea bomb and remember that those larvae are motile, so you will need to vacuum under furniture. Pay particular attention to pet sleeping areas. You will not necessarily vacuum up the fleas unless you have an industrial strength vacuum, as the flea cocoons are sticky, but vibrations of the vacuum will stimulate the fleas to emerge from their cocoons, and it is these cocoons that protect the pupae. Vacuuming also gets rid of flea faeces and other organic material from the floor that the larvae feed on.
You can also use a powder called Flea Busters, which is based on boric acid. It can be sprinkled in carpets or swept into the gaps in your floorboards and acts to kill flea eggs and larvae. It will work similar to a flea bomb in helping to control the immature flea life stages.
Treatment of the outdoors is more complicated. Ideally all animals should be on flea control and stray cats should be kept away from your yard. Immature flea life stages are susceptible to the effects of drying, extreme heat and cold and direct sunlight. They love a humid, warm and preferably dark environment. Sweep up leaves, keep lawns short, limit the use of mulch, fence off areas of the yard that are warm and dark and protected from the elements (such as under the house or veranda and down the side of the house). If your dog has a kennel, a carpeted floor is definitely not a good idea. Use an old towel that can be washed weekly instead.
Salt (such as pool salt) can be sprinkled in some outdoor areas to act as a dessicant or drying agent to kill immature fleas. It can be irritant to your dog’s skin and is not great for plants, so you ultimately need to block off the area if you can. There are also specialised pest companies that will treat your yard for fleas.
Make sure any pet beds can be washed in their entirety on a hot cycle in the washing macine (over 60ºC for more than 10 minutes). It is not enough to just wash the cover of the bed as the fleas will burrow down into a mattress or foam. Trampoline dog beds are excellent, flea resistant beds. If your dog has access to an old couch outside as a bed consider what could be living in there, and get an easier to clean bed.
If your dog is fond of sleeping in the dirt or mulch or under a shady tree these can be great areas for a flea nest. Perhaps he is trying to keep cool and you could consider a nice cool bed instead. Sweep the dirt as much as possible to get rid of organic material such as mulch and leaves.
Sometimes in the hunt for a more ‘natural’ way to protect our pets, all sorts of weird and wonderful recommendations are made on the internet. Just because something is ‘natural’, that does not necessarily means it is safer. Dogs and cats are much different to humans and things that are safe for us (such as grapes, chocolate and paracetamol), can harm our pets. Flea products have years of research into safety and have very strict manufacturing controls.
The best natural remedy for fleas in the environment is washing bedding on a hot cycle in the washing machine once a week and vacuuming every few days. The boric acid powders mentioned above are also great for killing fleas in the environment if you are reluctant to use a flea bomb. Also see the other environmental flea control options above.
NATURAL FLEA PRODUCTS THAT SHOULD BE AVOIDED
Garlic is a common flea remedy and can be very toxic to dogs, along with onions. Essential oils and in particular tea tree oil are very toxic if ingested, so are not pet safe. Tea tree is considered safe in animals if used at less than 1% concentration, but this is entirely ineffective for all its purported uses. We don’t tend to drink the contents of that scented oil infuser, but your pets will often groom themselves, so anything you spray on them has to be safe for ingestion. Citronella is particularly offensive to our pets, which is why it is used as a punishment in bark collars (don’t get me started on that one), so it seems particularly cruel to spray it all over them. Similarly lemon sprays are entirely useless as a flea repellent.
Fleas have adapted to be very clever parasites, so it is not just a matter treating your pet once a month. To really tackle those blood-suckers, you need to kill all those latent fleas in the environment to reduce re-infestation. We hope this article helped you find some solutions for your pets. If you have any other specific questions on how to treat your pet for fleas, please post a question in the Love That Pet forum. Sometimes with a little detective work a solution can be found that does not require large volumes of toxic chemicals to keep your pet comfortable this summer.
KEY POINTS TO REMEMBER
- Flea medication can seems like it is not working because nothing kills fleas instantly
- Treat the environment with flea bombs and regular vacuuming
- Wash pet beds weekly on a hot cycle
- Keep lawns short and yards swept
- If you bathe your pet more than weekly flea products may not work