Whole Dog Journal's Blog September 16, 2016

Fleas and Dogs Just Aren't a Good Match

Posted at 11:41AM - Comments: (23)

I was visiting a friend recently, and had brought (with her permission) my adolescent dog Woody along for the ride. Her (quite elderly) mother asked me, as we entered the home, “Does he have fleas?” I assured her he does not, but the brief exchange did bring up memories.

Years ago, I had a Border Collie, Rupert, who was incredibly hypersensitized to flea bites. I’ve met dogs with more severe flea allergies, but I can’t imagine living with one. I, too, grilled my friends at the front door about their dogs’ flea-bearing status. If they professed not to know, or were avowed non-users of flea-control products, they could forget coming into MY house. We could go for a walk together instead! I had to protect Rupert at all costs.

I recommend that everyone use the spot-on and other flea control products with care. Unless you live in an area that’s infested, I wouldn’t use them every month; where I live now, I’m lucky enough to need them only once or twice a year in order to immediately put an end to any random appearance of fleas on any of my pets. But you can bet that I immediately declare war if I see a flea on any of my cats or dogs: everyone gets a spot-on, and I go on a rampage of vacuuming and floor washing, all the pet beds and blankets get washed – even the CARS get a thorough vacuuming. In the old days, I’d know if Rupert got ONE flea bite, because he’d start scratching and chewing all over, especially the spot where the bite occurred. He’d have an inflamed, runny sore within hours – and often, I’d have another nice vet bill within days. So, I was careful about bringing Rupert to places where there might be fleas (including friends’ houses!) and was stringent about the dogs who came to my house!

This puppy does not have fleas...but I investigate immediately if I see one of my own pets or or one my foster dogs scratch.

I did have a little flare-up of fleas a few months ago, when the Great Dane puppies I was fostering all went up for adoption. It took four days of viewing at my local shelter for all 11 to find homes. Each evening, I’d take the ones who hadn’t been adopted that day back home, so they could relax and play (and potty) outside, after a long day in the small concrete kennels. On one of those days, one (or some) of them picked up fleas; perhaps from a neighboring kennel? At any rate, all of a sudden, the remaining puppies were all scratching like mad, and when I turned them over to check their tummies, they were CRAWLING with tiny fleas! Yikes! They (and all my dogs) got a dose of Capstar (an oral medication that kills all the fleas that are one them at that moment), and a spot-on. A great house-cleaning commenced, and the flea riot was stopped in its tracks.

I followed this up with Seresto collars for all of my dogs – my first experience with these. (They are expensive in stores, but the prices are far better at online retailers. It might not matter if you have just one dog, but it’s a big chunk of change if you have several.) So far, so good; I haven’t spotted any fleas, and you can believe I’ve been looking. I want my dogs to be welcome anywhere I want them to go with me, and I don’t want to have to worry about them picking up unwelcome visitors from my friends’ homes, either.

This may make me sound like a shill for the pesticide companies, but my dogs have had far more health problems related to fleas than the flea-killing products. And I’ve never had much luck with the plethora of natural remedies out there.

How about you guys?

Comments (23)

Hello, dog nation! We give our border collie about 1or 2 t. of human grade nutritional Brewer's yeast once a day. It has a nutty, cheesy taste that she likes. It is naturally rich in B vitamins so there's no need to buy the enriched yeast. She gest occasional garlic, a variety of foods (no kibble except for treats) and we apply food grade diatamaceous earth to her long coat and to our rugs, floors, baseboards. DIatamaceous earth is odorless, easy to handle and distribute. It apparently softens and breaks down the shells of the bugs, killing any that have contact. We bought a 40 lb. bag three years ago to use in bedbug prevention with 100% success for over six years now, along with frequent checks along sealed bedding and cups on furniture legs. Because we often walk our dog through a local woodsy park and let her run at a public dog run, in the flea and tick season (five months), we add an oral flea and tick treatment (Nexguard). But we would WELCOME your tips on a less expensive, but effective oral treatment! My husband found a tick on his underarm after one April walk in the woods, which reminded us that we get ticks from petting our pup. Also, have any of you used vinegar and water spray as an enzymatic odor spray for floors and for dog coats?

Posted by: JinJin | April 29, 2018 11:19 AM    Report this comment

Thanks for all the wonderful posts. I appreciate all the different analogies of flea products. We live in a very rural location, Missouri, we have had many ticks in the past. Inspections are done daily, minimal use of products and no insect repellants in their huge free roam area. They do have a perimeter fence. We have fleas this year! OMG! I use dimaceous earth, food variety and also the yard variety. I am so grateful winter is coming and the nights are getting frozen. We actually had no ticks this year, just fleas, I pray never to get fleas again. I believe that next Spring I will be prepared for fleas and try to believe they will not be back again. I am so thankful to read all the stories, knowing I am not alone really helps.

Posted by: Dobermom | November 23, 2017 11:20 AM    Report this comment

I know this post was 9 days ago but nobody mentioned the plug in ultrasonic devices. I had a dog who was very allergic to fleas so I plugged 3 small ultrasonic devices into the outlets near her bed, the kitchen and living room. She stayed free of fleas for years. When she died I unplugged the devices and suddenly there were fleas in the house. So I plugged them back in. There was also a smaller battery powered device to put on her collar during our long walks. I know some people have not had success with the ultrasonic but my experience was like night and day. Use ultrasonic and there were no fleas. Stop using and the fleas reappeared.

Posted by: SundogsHawaii | October 2, 2016 11:50 PM    Report this comment

When I first started using topical flea control products, I used them faithfully every month for many years. Then I noticed my middle aged dogs ALL developed skin growths in the spot between their shoulder blades. I surmised it must have been caused by the years of constantly using topical flea products. I started using flea products only from June through September, which seemed to work just fine. Then I took in a dog that had seizures caused by topical flea product. It was the veterinarian's first experience with seizures of a chemically induced origin. It took two months before I decided the flea product might be the cause. It took another month and much research to gather information to present my argument to my vet. To make a long story short, by October my poor seizure ravaged dog had to be "sent on to Rainbow Bridge." I started using the pill form of flea control the next season. Now that I'm retired, I cannot afford the pills for five dogs and five cats. I am trying home remedies this year. I am controlling the fleas by weekly bathing the dogs with mild shampoo and conditioner followed by a rinse of apple cider vinegar mixed 50/50 with warm water. In combination with the bathing, I wash bedding (theirs and mine) weekly. I spray bedding between washes with a 50/50 apple cider vinegar and water mixture if I notice any fleas jumping on me. If I see the dogs scratching like crazy, I spray them with the same mixture while I brush up their fur. Its a lot of work, but it does seem to do the trick. Here's hoping for a long, cold rainy season!

Posted by: KritterMom | September 25, 2016 4:04 AM    Report this comment

I wish I could "reply" to some of these comments are dreadfully worrying for those dogs. The reason for natural products not working on your dogs may simply be because your dogs immune is so badly compromised from chemicals and vaccinations etc

Posted by: AsNatureIntended | September 23, 2016 11:23 AM    Report this comment

Hi folks...it's start of Spring here in Rosebud VIC Australia so that also signals the appearance of fleas !!!...so spot on for Lily the Beagle and Benson and Anastasia my two cats and Capstar as well as a fast knockdown treatment and lots of vaccing and washing of bedding !!!...Lily is allergic so I keep on top of potential infestation...I've tried the natural remedies but in a multi pet household it was not highly effective I found...I hope this info is useful cheers 😀

Posted by: luvsahound | September 22, 2016 8:54 PM    Report this comment

If you can afford it, fipronil does a wonderful job of ridding the soil of fleas (and ants). It keeps the ticks away too. It lasts for years. We used it over 10 years ago and have not felt the need to re-use it. The soils is healthy and full of earthworms and we have lots of birds around. (Though I think the peewees are missing their feast of red-back spiders)

Posted by: Jenny H | September 22, 2016 6:33 PM    Report this comment

My dogs (seem) to be free of fleas, since we had our house sprayed for 'spiders'. (We have rough brick and the red-backs love it. DH decided that he was sick and tired of cleaning off the webs.)
So I would seriously suggest treating carpets, etc, for fleas more regularly that putting stuff directly in the dog.
But another thing which I think helps, is that my dogs all LOVE to bask in the sun - until their coats are uncomfortable hot to the hand. When I remembered that chooks (aka grown-up chickens :-) sun- bathe to rid themselves of parasites I thought -- yep, That is why the dogs don't have fleas.

Posted by: Jenny H | September 22, 2016 6:28 PM    Report this comment

No one mentioned using Beneficial Nematodes to control the fleas, they work in best in wet soil conditions. Basically they invade and kill one of the stages (I think the larval stage) in the life cycle of the flea. For ticks, if you can have chickens they eat them. I fortunately don't need this where live but would try this first.

Posted by: Hodag58 | September 22, 2016 4:49 PM    Report this comment

I live in South Florida and we never get a flea killing season due to our year round tropical weather. I have 4 dogs and 6 cats (who also go out in the yard) and I have probably used a chemical only 3 times in the last 4-5 years. No heartworm preventative or annual vaccinations. The cats get Flea Treats (brewers yeast) and the dogs get brewers yeast powder in their food. But I think the most compelling reason is that I primarily feed human grade, real raw food. Eating species appropriate food is the key I think, they aren't trying to digest dry chunks full of artificial everything. When I have had issues though, I use CedarCide, safe for dogs, cats, puppies, kittens. I also fog with it, amazing stuff, check it out. Kills all arthropods (which includes fleas, ticks, roaches, bed bugs, etc. etc.)

Posted by: SFLSue | September 22, 2016 4:42 PM    Report this comment

I am sitting outside waiting for flea bombs to do their thing right now because, sadly, my yard is infested with fleas. We have sprayed, we have spread Diatomacious earth. And the fleas came inside attached to my poor dogs--one who is very allergic to the little devils. I was using Natural Defense (Mercola), was using a homemade remedy of geranium rose, lemon grass and citranilla--which worked well for mosquitos, not for fleas. This evening, I'm done ...off to get some spot treatment of some kind. Hate it but .... I've had dogs who never got a flea despite being where they were, dogs who pick them up like magnets. I don't know the real trick so one does what one must.

Posted by: thedogmom | September 22, 2016 4:32 PM    Report this comment

I spend alot of time with a flea comb and yes I have one that has flea allergies but I am scared to death to use all those poisons on my kids. I almost lost one earlier this year with neurological symptoms and we dont know why. In the months previous I had used heartgard and advantage. Not knowing what caused the problem Im using more natural products. I kill alot of fleas every day and it isnt easy but they are worth it.

Posted by: smokikm | September 22, 2016 3:42 PM    Report this comment

we live in MO. long hot humid summers with LOTS of bugs. Ticks are a huge problem as well as fleas. Our farm is surrounded by fields and woods...so yes in spite of my fears we use Nexgard and Heartgard treatments monthly.

Posted by: dogsdolls | September 22, 2016 3:32 PM    Report this comment

I had dogs who were very sensitive to any kind of flea deterrents. I had one that I just lost after she was on Trifexius. She had a seizure and was taken off immediately. I tried the drops and it made a hard lump under her right side armpit. I noticed it a few days after I put the drops. I didn't think it was the cause until she got a little dirty and I gave her a bath. I didn't put anymore drops and it went away within a week.
I started her on 1/4 teaspoon of ACV and noticed within a few days no more fleas. She was on this regiment for about 3 years before she passed away. She died from anemia. Which had nothing to do with the ACV.
The new Vet I was taking her to her last few months said no that wouldn't of caused her death. She had stopped eating normally 5 days before she died. I was force feeding her the last 3 days. The Vet said sometimes they just don't know why they get that way. It could have been from the flea meds but he couldn't say for sure.

Posted by: Katie Cooper | September 22, 2016 1:24 PM    Report this comment

I'm also in Texas. And have a LOT of dogs and cats. And live in the country where wild animals and birds abound. Fleas are a hugh battle. DE has zero effect. Spot-on's have little effect. Capstar is great but unaffordable for so many animals on an ongoing basis. I have recently started using Wondercide on the dogs and cats and on the yard, which keeps the numbers down, but is high maintenance. I go over the dogs every day and kill the new arrivals. Fleas also are the route cause of dog tapeworms, which can kill the dog or cat if they clog their digestive system, and the effective treatment for these are very expensive. The most affordable and effective supplier has been off the market for over a year doing factory upgrades. Most things in nature have some value. I fail to see there was ever a value in fleas.

Posted by: Sharon L | September 22, 2016 11:32 AM    Report this comment

Be very careful about diatomaceous earth, especially if there's any chance of you or your animals' inhaling it--very bad for the lungs. Look it up before using.

Posted by: Dane Lover2 | September 22, 2016 11:14 AM    Report this comment

I'm excited to share this with everyone! After having tried essential oil's etc., I read about this on the Internet and it really really works.
Get maybe 4 to 6 lemons, cut them in quarters, cover them with water in a pan, bring to a boil, turn it of, put the top on, let it sit for 24 hours. I squeeze each little quarter a little bit, not to death just a little bit. All right then you have your ammunition for the fleas. Pour the liquid into a spray bottle.
You have to keep this in the refrigerator because it will go bad if you don't. Wash your dog with blue Dawn, only the blue, paying special attention to around the neck and a butt area, using a bath brush to apply the soap and remove the soap totally rinsing clean. You will see dead fleas going down the drain oh happy day! Towel dry your dog, and then spray them all over with the lemon water. I have also done this with limes when I didn't have any lemons and honestly it seems to work just as well. If you spray your dog all over with the lemon water of course don't get it in their eyes, do this every two days, it is my experience that there will be no more fleas. Of course, keep your house vacuumed and at least shake your dog beds out frequently and wash them at least sometimes ha ha! You can spray this lemon water on the bed as well after it is clean and shaken out. My two boxer dogs like it when I spray the lemon water on them! And if they like the taste and lick it, I don't have to worry about it poisoning them! It's all good.

Posted by: 2BoxerDogsRock | September 22, 2016 10:18 AM    Report this comment

It breaks my heart to read of all the pesticide used to kill fleas. They do irreparable damage to your dog. They're poison, people! When my dog got fleas I used a natural, extremely effective remedy - food grade diatomaceous earth. It looks like talcum powder. Spread it in their coat and sprinkle it on carpets and baseboards overnight. Vacuum in the morning and fleas are gone. No joke- it's great. While it feels very soft, it acts like shards of glass to fleas and quickly kills them. Stop poisoning your precious pets!

Posted by: L. Cole | September 22, 2016 10:12 AM    Report this comment

I live in Texas where fleas can be a be a big problem. In past years I had always relied on spot on pesticide products but my last Border collie had epilepsy (which in spite of medical treatment ended up killing him) and it worried me that these products may have contributed to making it worse. So with my present BC I decided to try other methods and after doing an online search, I have been using Dr. Mercola's Spot On Herbal Repellent, along with more frequent summer time baths and flea combing. So far my dog has not had any flea problems. However, we do live in the city so she doesn't do a lot of running through woods or go to other places that are likely to be flea infested.

Posted by: Holly's Den | September 22, 2016 9:57 AM    Report this comment

I live in the central Mediterranean where the weather is hot and humid. I am an avid alternative seeker but in the case of fleas l have had to admit defeat with every alternative and natural product. Even spotons do not work. The only way to keep flea free is by feeding a Nexguard pellet once every four weeks. The tiny pellet seems to taste like a jerky treat and l have no probs at all with this. Very against my grain but hekk it works.

Posted by: TCT | September 22, 2016 9:34 AM    Report this comment

I do use oral or topical flea/tick treatments on all my dogs and foster dogs. I bring home dogs from the shelter and they ALWAYS have fleas and ticks. I use the preventatives less often during the winter ....but I still use them all year round. I have tried the natural treatments and they just don't work. We are Northerners who currently live in NC and it never gets cold enough down here to kill fleas and ticks and worms. We have 2 washers and 2 dryers and vacuum cleaners on every level of the house....so it has to be chemicals and cleaning that keep the fleas and ticks at bay.

Posted by: Olivia | September 22, 2016 9:10 AM    Report this comment

Have you tried using Brewers yeast and garlic and organic FOOD GRADE diotomaceous earth? I keep my three dogs (bulldog, 2 mastiffs) on Brewers yeast year round. In over 9 years, I've NEVER had an issue with fleas or ticks. I also use an essential oil spray on them a few times per month (& bathe them every 4-6 weeks). Flea spray is Only Natural Pet Herbal Defense Spray. Diet is one of the best ways to combat pests. Fleas seek out opportunistic hosts.

Posted by: Shellby | September 22, 2016 8:59 AM    Report this comment

You're very fortunate, to live in an area where fleas aren't a huge problem for most of the year. Maybe CA is arid enough, that "flea season' is relative short.

Here in the warm, moist southeast, fleas are problematic most of the year (April - Oct). It's imperative to be vigilant about the yard (so far, beneficial nematodes have kept our yard fleas to a minimal/manageable level, but I would certainly spray with synthetic pesticides if needed), as well as to be vigilant about the interior of the house, washing pet bedding in hot water + Borax twice weekly, and scrupulously vacuuming the entire house and all crevices, any fabric surface, at least weekly.

Must to my concern, the dogs remain on flea/tick topical year round. We tried collars, but they weren't effective for us. Went off topicals for one month (in Nov), and that was a huge mistake.

I think flea (and tick) control very much depends on the dog's lifestyle (how much time romping in woods, etc), and the climate. I often miss the arid west coast and southwest.

Posted by: Jency | September 20, 2016 5:41 PM    Report this comment

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