If your dog has fleas, then you might be wondering how often you should bathe them in flea shampoo to get rid of the problem. In this article, we explore not only flea shampoo but also other alternative treatments, as well as the life cycle of the flea itself. Armed with this information you should be able to get on top of your flea issue once and for all!
The flea life cycle
The most common type of parasite that veterinarians see in the clinic is the flea. This is usually Ctenocephalides felis (the cat flea), an insect that can infect many mammals including cats, dogs, and rabbits. Fleas can carry diseases and transmit tapeworm to your pets.
Adult fleas are brownish red, wingless, and approximately 1-3mm in size. When a flea senses the vibrations and the carbon dioxide breathed out by a passing animal, it will hatch out of a small cocoon on the ground and hop on.
From eggs to larvae
If mated, female fleas can lay up to 50 eggs a day! These eggs roll and fall from the animal’s fur onto the ground where they hatch out into small larvae within 2 to 12 days. These larvae look like little whitish wriggly worms. They will crawl into all the cracks and gaps in your home, feeding on organic debris such as mature flea feces. This could be occurring between the fibers of your carpets, the gaps in the sides of your sofa, or outside on the ground in your garden.
Pupa and hatching
After a period of feeding and growth, each larva then forms a pupa. This sticky pupal cocoon is quite tough. It can sit disguised in its environment, for weeks or months if required, until an animal passes by again. Then out will hatch a mature flea, and so the life cycle continues.
How often to bathe your dog with flea shampoo
Flea shampoos can help to tackle a current flea problem, but many over-the-counter products will not prevent it from occurring in the first place. You should only use flea shampoo as instructed on the packaging, ideally no more than once every 7-14 days. This may be enough to treat the issue if it has been spotted early enough, but in many cases, a more effective flea product might be needed.
Why you shouldn’t overuse
You shouldn’t overuse flea shampoos because washing your dog’s coat too frequently can strip his fur of its natural oils. Using shampoo more frequently than every week or two can cause your dog’s skin to become dry and irritated. Rather than repeated shampooing, you should look at alternative treatment options.
Alternative flea remedies
While flea shampoo can be helpful in some instances, they are not the most effective product available. Many flea shampoos only treat the fleas on your pet at that time and don’t give ongoing protection. To stop an infestation from occurring in the first place you should consider a regular preventative product.
One of the most popular types of preventative flea products is topical liquids, or “spot-ons.” There are many different ones available on the market, but the most effective will be prescription medications. These can only be obtained if you are under the care of a veterinarian. Pet shop products may help to a degree, but often these cheaper treatments can be a false economy.
Spot-on treatments work by being absorbed into the lipid (fat) layer of your dog’s skin, killing fleas that contact your pet. Dogs are not susceptible to the effects of insecticidal drugs so these products are perfectly safe for them.
There are pills available to treat and prevent fleas, which some people prefer to spot-on products, especially if your dog has thick fur or swims a lot.
Again, products prescribed by a veterinarian tend to be more effective than store-bought treatments. Some medications are effective against other parasites as well as fleas so discuss this with your veterinarian too. Tablets might be monthly or every 3 months, depending on the type used.
Flea collars can be an option for some dogs. If you want to try a flea collar then choose one that is recommended by a veterinarian, as many pet shop products are not that effective. Some flea collars can last 6-8 months and protect against other parasites too such as ticks and mosquitos.
Flea combs can be useful to help physically remove fleas from your dog’s fur. A flea comb has very narrow teeth, to catch these small insects as you groom your pet. This can help reduce the number but bear in mind you may not catch every single flea! It is therefore unlikely that a flea comb on its own will be curative. New fleas that have hopped on and reproduced may lay eggs before you have a chance to catch them with your comb.
How to treat the environment
When a flea infestation occurs, only about 10% of the flea population will be on your pet. The rest will be in your house!
There are products you can use to treat your environment, which can help to greatly reduce flea numbers. Most home treatments will kill flea eggs, larvae, and adult fleas, but won’t penetrate the tough pupal phase. This cocoon can sit unaffected in your house for weeks or months. So, it is not uncommon to see fleas still hopping on your pet from time to time.
However, if your pet has an effective preventative flea treatment on board then these newly hatched fleas should quickly die and won’t reproduce.
Lots of hoovering will help encourage them to hatch out a bit quicker due to the vibrations. Hot wash any bedding and make sure all the animals in the house are treated with effective products, otherwise the fleas will always find a host to reproduce on. If you are still really struggling then calling a pest exterminator might be necessary to properly fog the entire house.
It is very tricky to treat the garden for fleas, as any insecticidal products would also affect the insects and wildlife in your garden. Instead, you can reduce the risk of flea eggs being dropped in your yard in the first place by preventing wild animals from entering your property. Good fencing and motion-activated floodlights may help.
Any existing flea infestations in your garden should eventually resolve if your pet is protected with an effective preventative flea treatment.
Regularly checking your dog
Take time to groom your dog regularly at home, looking for any evidence of fleas. The adult fleas can be hard to spot sometimes as they are quite fast, but you may see flea dirt (poo). This appears like little black specks in your dog’s fur.
If you aren’t sure whether it is flea dirt or normal dirt/mud you can smear some of it onto a piece of damp cotton wool or white paper. Normal dirt will smudge brown whereas flea dirt will smudge red or pink (digested blood).
You may notice other issues in your dog too like hair loss, inflamed skin, and excessive scratching. Regular preventative flea treatments should make these symptoms much less likely to occur.
Veterinarians are very good at spotting fleas! Taking your pet for regular checkups will help nip any problems in the bud. You will also be able to access prescription flea and worm treatment if you are under the care of a veterinarian, which tends to provide the best protection against these parasites.
Be wary of flea season
While fleas are more common in the warm summer months, be aware that fleas can be seen all year round due to central heating in our homes. The pupal phase of the flea life cycle tends to hatch out when environmental conditions are warm and humid, which is why we traditionally see more problems with this creepy-crawly in the summer. But with warm, well-insulated homes, fleas can actually hatch out all year round.
Keep a clean home
While having fleas is not necessarily an indicator of a poorly kept home, having a tidy environment makes it less likely for a problem to get out of control. Keeping floors clear makes hoovering easier, and less clutter means fewer areas for flea larvae to hide. Keeping your pets off soft furnishings and your bed will also help keep these areas clear of hair, flea eggs, and dirt. Make sure your pet has his own comfortable, easy to wash bedding.
Flea shampoos can be used occasionally to help treat very mild flea problems, but ultimately you may need to consider more effective products. Speak to your veterinarian for advice on the types of prescription products available and to discuss some of the tips discussed in this article. A flea infestation can take weeks or months to get on top of, so using a regular preventative treatment on your pet is a good idea to stop this from happening in the first place!