==> Dog Fleas?
How to get rid of fleas!
Best Flea Treatment For Dogs and Best Flea Control For Dogs
There seem to be two groups of dog owners: Those who readily buy into chemical solutions ("pesticides") to control pests like fleas, and those who seek biological solutions ("natural remedies" or "home remedies").
This Periodical is meant to help both groups: The first group to reconsider, and the second group to reassess.
Please do leave your comments/ own experience at the end, so that over time we can find the best flea treatment for dogs and the best flea control for dogs for any dog owner! Okay?
In this MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL:
This Periodical has two parts:
I have already worked on this Periodical far longer than on any other Periodical before. And it itches me everywhere! You'll see in a moment, why.
Everything? Always? Well, I did. See below. Feel free to click on what you like:
- What is a flea?
- Types of fleas <-- Crucial!
- What do fleas look like?
- Flea pictures!
- Do fleas fly?
- How do dogs get fleas?
- Are fleas attracted to light?
- How fast do fleas feed on dogs?
- Flea life cycle! <-- Crucial!
- Do fleas bite?
- Do flea bites hurt?
- Flea bites pictures!
- What do fleas do to dogs?
- Dog fleas on humans?
- Human flea bites?
- Flea diseases!
- Signs of fleas on dogs?
- What to do if your dog has fleas
- How to get rid of fleas? <-- Why not?
- Flea treatment for dogs
- Flea control for dogs
- Flea repellent for dogs
- What to do if you have fleas in your house
- Flea treatment for yard
- Natural flea remedies
- Best flea control for dogs? <-- Interesting!
A lot to find out! Let's start.
A flea is a ... VAMPIRE! Seriously, fleas are hematophagous, meaning they live on the blood they suck from their host (animal or human). Just like a vampire does - if I got it right from watching a few episodes of Buffy?
(And yes, just like Buffy, we need to slay these vampires too, see later)
A flea is considered an insect though, meaning it is an invertebrate with three pairs of legs (=6) and a body visibly segmented into head, thorax, and abdomen. Insects do not necessarily have wings, and fleas don't (did Buffy's blood-sucking sparring partners have wings? I don't think so. But they fed on all kinds of foods, right?). Well, fleas only feed on blood (human or animal).
This is important to understand right from the start to appreciate the differences in the reported efficacy of flea remedies further below:
There exist an estimated 2,500 flea species in the world, and naturally some species are prevalent in some geographies but may even be non-existent in other geographies.
For example, the 'dog flea' (Ctenocephalides canis) is extremely rare in the state of Indiana in the USA. On cats and dogs the flea that's commonly found is the 'cat flea' (Ctenocephalides felis). Conversely, in some geographies in the world the dog flea is so prevalent that the cat flea is almost never found on a dog.
Further, of course many (if not all) flea species have a number of geographically different flea subspecies or strains.
Given the often very different reported experiences of dog owners with flea remedies, it is obvious that differences in the locally prevalent flea subspecies are a significant factor when trying to explain the often so different success that dog owners have with a particular flea remedy.
The widespread use of certain pesticides over the past decades has allowed many flea species and subspecies (and other insects!) to become increasingly tolerant to these chemicals: The fleas have built up resistance.
For example, there is now widespread global resistance amongst dog fleas and cat fleas (and ticks, mosquitoes, etc!) against carbamates (carbaryl, propoxur, etc) and pyrethroids (natural: Pyrethrin; and synthetic: Cyphenothrin, Cypermethrin, Permethrin, Phenothrin, Flumethrin, etc). - When you see flea remedies or other insecticides with any of these as active ingredient, expect that the flea remedy may not be very "active" anymore.
This resistance has led to an ever wilder cocktail of inactive ingredients in the flea remedies: Synergists (eg Piperonyl Butoxide) are added to "trick" the possible resistance of the parasites targeted. This resistance is also the reason for a constant flow of new active ingredients ("pesticides"). A list of the currently used active ingredients for flea control is in the flea remedies table further below.
These three reasons are the core reasons why in terms of the efficacy of flea remedies our conclusion may be slightly unsatisfying for some dog owners:
In addition, some dog owners misapply a particular flea remedy (because they don't know enough).
But you will in just a moment.
A final reason for less-than-expected efficacy of a flea remedy is that some dogs (dog breeds) have some specific characteristics that make a particular flea remedy less effective - or even dangerous.
For some characteristics, adverse reactions of your dog (particularly to topical flea drops!) can be anticipated, because the reason for adverse reactions is well-known:
However, there are other dog-specific characteristics that are yet unknown, such that adverse reactions of your dog cannot be anticipated, because the reason for adverse reactions is not known:
What this all means: If you decide to administer your dog a flea remedy (particularly the vastly popular topical flea drops that are basically a cocktail of chemical pesticides), you quietly accept that it could be your dog that may suffer severe or even deadly adverse reactions!
"1%" chance may sound like a low risk you take, but consider that say if you play the lottery(?), you play (and pay) because you believe that the 0.00000002% chance to win the jackpot is worth it. If a 0.00000002% chance is "enough", then certainly 1% is more than enough.
Food for thought?
Not handsome! See these:
Note that fleas are typically dark-brown to black, the last flea image shows this well: Consider that you'd only see the flea's black back (top of the image)! The rest is against a light source, hence it appears here light-brown but it wouldn't on your dog because your dog isn't a light-bulb.
The last flea picture is a close-up that clearly shows the blood-sucking mouth vessels and the backwards-pointing bristles on the flea's torso and legs that help the flea to stay put. Say when a heavy raindrop hits the tiny flea, or when the dog is shaking its body, or when you groom the dog with a standard comb - in all cases fleas are able to hold on tight to the dog's coat!
These bristles also allow the flea to sprint between the dog's hair shafts like Mo Farah sprints across the tartan track. Better: When you try to catch it, a flea can flee from you even through a GSD's dense long coat or plush coat as if the dog's skin was depilated like a turkey ready to eat on Thanksgiving. In short: Fleas are FAST and SKILLED! Even more than Mo.
No, fleas don't have wings, so they cannot fly. BUT: Their long hind legs (see the flea pictures above) can catapult them with ease from say the dog's neck hair to the dog's tail hair! Even upwards from the dog's paw hair (where the flea may have latched onto the dog) to the dog's ear hair! - In the Skin Allergies Periodical was quite abit about fleas, you remember?
And all this faster than we can blink an eye! Thus, they seem to be flying through the air. To SEE them flying though (and much else in our fascinating world), we need a cheap high speed camera (helps to capture Mo too).
The key ways dogs get fleas are:
- jumping over from other animals (dogs they play with, or a cat, squirrel, rabbit, fox, deer, bovine, etc)
- jumping over from flea-infested interior (bedding, rugs, blankets, plush toys, etc)
- caught in the vet's waiting room, at the dog groomer, boarding kennel, etc
- latching onto the dog during dog walks, from grasses, foliage, bushes, etc
Thus, if you don't manage fleas in any other way (see How to get rid of fleas), it would be wise to make it a routine to have a quick but thorough check of your dog's coat outside your house when you come home.
However, since fleas are so tiny (see the flea pictures above) and typically dark-brown to black, it will be almost impossible to see the fleas on the dog's coat itself (unless you have a solid white German Shepherd, like currently only 2.1% of our members have).
This is why a really good flea comb is essential when we have a dog (or cat). The best flea comb will catch the fleas inside it's double row of narrow teeth when you perform coat care (our recommended flea comb catches far more fleas than any other comb we've seen or heard of).
Or: Are fleas attracted to white German Shepherds more than to black German Shepherds?
One of the most widely copied myths about fleas I've come across during my research for this topic is that white-coat dogs would attract more (or even all) of the fleas while black-coat dogs would attract less (or even none)!
This goes so far that many websites swear that you could set a bait for fleas using a "light trap": a desk lamp illuminating a dish of soapy water, such that "the fleas are attracted to the light, jump into the water, and drown".
It would be nice to get rid of fleas so easily, but sadly light traps seem to be a myth: On scientific sites (typically of universities and institutes) I could not find a single reference to fleas being attracted to light - while I found countless references that fleas avoid sunlight and seek dark hiding places wherever they can.
Similarly, no academic source mentions that fleas are attracted to soapy water, enjoy to jump into it, then find out they cannot swim, and thus drown right there! Conversely, scientific fact is that fleas have a waxy exoskeleton body, which makes it hard to drown given how light-weight fleas are (exoskeleton means the skeleton is outside the body/makes up the body).
You would need to use a LOT of soap in the water dish to get the flea to submerge (washing-up liquid reduces the surface tension of the water, thus makes it easier for the flea to submerge). More likely is that the flea would accidentally jump onto the water surface, and then jump right back or elsewhere.
This doesn't mean you can't find a couple of fleas in the water dish the next morning after setting up that "light trap": If there are a LOT of fleas jumping around, it's a simple statistical truth that a few unlucky ones will end up drowned in the water dish. But that's the point: If you happen to find a couple of fleas in the water dish under the "light trap", you can be sure that you have a full-blown flea infestation on your carpet (and that you were lucky enough to catch a couple of them, hurray!).
In short: Be careful with what you find on the typical copy-and-paste websites on the internet (this includes most vet sites since real vets don't have the time to fill websites, so they too outsource the content production to Bangladesh etc). Such "bloggers" rarely have the academic skill and interest to research first, before publishing anything. To copy-and-paste is so much easier for them!
Find out more: Click to save vet cost, training cost, and your nerves!
Fleas latch onto a new host (your dog/you) when they are unsatisfied with the meal they receive from their current host (or when they haven't got a host yet).
This is why, when a flea latches onto your dog (and is pretty much undisturbed in the thick coat until you groom), the flea is already hungry (they eat A LOT, see next) and thus most fleas start feeding within 5 minutes (just finding a nice peaceful spot and getting the suction vessel ready).
Within an hour (at most) all fleas are feeding on their host, no matter how dense or shaggy, well-groomed or scruffy the coat.
The adult female flea lays up to 20 eggs at a time, about 24 hours after the first meal (ie sucking blood from the dog). Some on the dog, but most in preferred "egg spots": dark and moist locations with little vibration (people or pets moving around), thus along walls, in corners, cracks, and deep between carpet fibers!
Fleas can suck blood 15 times their own body weight - PER DAY! The enormous amount of food allows fleas to lay eggs several times a day - a total of about 50 per day (not "an average two" as one popular "flea site" suggests).
These eggs are almost clear to white and about 0.5 mm long (thus, conversely, if you have good eyes the eggs can be seen on a black German Shepherd but not on white German Shepherds). In other words, good to know what you are looking for: smooth oval shape, clear-to-white, fixed - or rough flea shape blackish-brown, moving? Both! First the fleas, then the eggs (see How to get rid of fleas).
However, since the eggs have a smooth surface, any eggs on the dog would normally pretty quickly fall off the dog's coat and onto the carpet or into wood cracks (and soon you'll have a whole-house flea infestation).
Whitish larvae of 1-5 mm in length hatch from the eggs within 1(!) to 12 days. The larvae typically remains invisible since they immediately move into hiding places (cracks, folds, etc). The larvae feed on any organic matter they find (preferably the adult fleas' feces), and they quickly eat up reserves for cocooning.
The larvae seek moist and dark hiding places to mature. If you have sandy soil or a gravel driveway at your house, that's where the next generations of your looming flea infestation are hiding and emerging from (this is where the erroneous term 'sand fleas' comes from).
Within 7 to 15 days the larvae spin cocoons to become dark 2-4 mm long pupae (in dry conditions the larvae stage can extend to over 6 months). Thanks to the reserves accumulated for cocooning, the pupae does not need food: It doesn't eat, and it doesn't move around (worth to understand, see later under Diatomaceous Earth).
After another week, a fully developed adult flea may emerge from the cocoon. However, the pupae may rest in the cocoon for up to a year(!), they only emerge when they sense the presence of a suitable host (sound, movement, smell, or metabolic CO2 in the air).
This is why flea infestations are often noticed after returning home from vacation or when moving into a vacant house: The fleas emerge and are primed for their first meal. Just imagine that! The first meal after potentially months of 'hibernation'. Yippie, what a feast!
So, in good (moist) conditions you can have a new generation of fleas in the house in just 15 days. And then EVERY DAY another generation, because the flea lays eggs every day!
Conversely, a hot and dry summer lengthens the flea life cycle considerably, and thus reduces the number of fleas (remember, the quicker the reproduction the higher the population, see the incredibly insightful Periodical on Spaying and Neutering your dog).
The weather also influences the adult flea's life expectancy: In very hot and dry conditions, an adult flea may live no more than two to five days without a blood meal. But in warm and moist conditions (room temperature and the lack of a dehumidifier are ideal for fleas!) and with adequate blood meals, the adult flea may live up to a year (thus on top of the other flea life stages). At room temperature, the average lifespan of an adult flea without a blood meal is two months!
The female flea is reproductive about 3 months, and then dies. By that time - if she was on your dog or in your house from the beginning - she may have left you a BIG present:
Not just 4500 more fleas (90 days * 50 eggs), no, instead: 1,693,250 more fleas (make it 1.7 million)! From this one first flea, yes. Now you know why it's called flea infestation...
Obviously no one (?) ever has had so many fleas in the house. The reason is, there are multiple disruptions in the flea life cycle:
You vacuum-clean, steam-clean, or sweep, you use acidic or even strong chemical detergents, you wash the bedding and clothes, you shake out the cushions, you groom the dog. And many fleas will use your dog (or you) to hitch-hike and latch onto another host.
No, not exactly. Although you read of "flea bites" everywhere, an hour of studying high-res flea bite images (after an equal amount of fruitless text research) made me conclude that the flea rather pierces the skin (like a sting, see the suction vessel here).
Anyway, the flea immediately injects saliva that contains an anti-blood-clotting agent (so that the blood flows easily) and a narcotic agent (so that the host doesn't immediately feel the sting and scratch the flea off!).
After the first blood intake (after emerging from pupae stage), fleas undergo a metabolic change and now need regularly new blood meals to survive: Typically fleas suck blood 10 - 15 times per day (a true parasite)!
No, the bite/sting does not hurt, but a few hours later the narcotic is no more effective and then the dog (or we) feel an itch. With fleas, this itch can be so strong that it does truly hurt. And when our dog (or we) have many such itches (from many flea bites/stings) then it may become really uncomfortable for our dog (or us).
The above also means: When we feel the itch, the flea is long gone. While when our dog scratches, the flea is most likely still somewhere in the coat, because fleas like to hide and take a nap in the dense coat between their meals.
Fleas (precisely, the flea bites/stings) generally cause no more than a lot of itching and scratching. Fleas are more a nuisance than a danger (contrary to ticks, see the next Periodical). Transmission of diseases is rather rare (but possible, see Flea diseases).
When the fleas suck the dog's blood, their saliva irritates the skin, leaving a red itchy spot. The dog then scratches the itch, and the red spot becomes a 'hot spot', a skin inflammation. The open wound allows pathogens to enter the dog's body without the protection of the skin, and they don't even find that much resistance because the dog's immune system is already busy with the skin inflammation...
Thus, although a flea bite itself is unlikely to do harm, on dogs flea bites often cause a chain reaction: When something itches, dogs scratch until the skin is bloody (dogs do not have the human concern "I must stop scratching or my skin will bleed"). The lesion can then rather easily cause bacterial and/or viral infections.
In other words, on dogs fleas rather easily cause flea-mediated diseases. Hence best really is to protect the dog from fleas from the outset!
When a dog flea (or cat flea) doesn't get a chance to dine from an animal host, but the flea senses the presence of a human host, then once the flea gets really hungry it will pester the human host, yes!
Although fleas do have their preference for a specific host, all flea species are known to thrive on human blood too. Obviously, children and babies are particularly affected (they are often low to the ground).
It is a fact that some humans are resistant or even immune to flea bites (they acquired 100% resistance). This means they can live with the fleas and not be aware that they share house and blood with them (and they don't get the red spots around the tiny flea bites either, so they don't notice anything at all)!
However, most modern citizens in the "developed world" (where we have little experience of real hardship) are sensitive to the tiny flea bites. If you find red spots like shown above on your legs or abdomen, then do give fleas some thought.
Equally, if it regularly itches you (I mean, without writing a Periodical on this subject, doh!), then get naked and do an intense peep show in the mirror: A red halo around a small red spot with a bit of swelling, that's likely a flea bite, not a pimple.
In addition to the chain reaction mentioned above, fleas can also directly cause and transmit diseases: When the fleas suck blood, small amounts of saliva and regurgitated infected blood enter the wound and can infect the dog (or us).
The least worrying flea disease is flea allergy dermatitis if your dog is allergic to flea saliva (some dogs are, but not before 6 months of age). However, although very rare, fleas can also transmit serious diseases, in particular typhus and plague.
Plague is a life-threatening infection caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, transmitted by fleas. So here we have one of those rare cases where antibiotics do make sense (life-threatening condition), and where they may even be necessary to get the disease under control.
Plague comes in different forms, and all forms can affect humans and animals (with cats being particularly susceptible). If a dog is bitten by a flea that carries the pathogen, the dog is likely to infect us too. The most serious form of plague is pneumonic plague, destroying the lungs. This plague is highly contagious as it is transmitted by microscopic droplets in the breath and coughs.
Both other forms of plague (bubonic plague and septicemic plague) can develop into pneumonic plague, so any plague has to be taken seriously immediately: Antibiotics within 12 hours of suspected infection. In the 14th century (when there were no antibiotics), the "Black Plague" (or "Black Death") wiped out an estimated quarter of the world population!
In recent decades, an average of 7 human plague cases are reported yearly in the USA. Worldwide however, the number of human plague cases is likely to be much higher than the 2000 cases reported to the WHO, because in developing countries there is no reporting mechanism.
Lastly, fleas can transmit the tapeworm (will be discussed in a few weeks).
As said, flea diseases are very rare. Nonetheless, for the reasons shown above, best really is to protect the dog from fleas from the outset.
So what are the flea symptoms that we know we've got a flea problem in the house?
- When the dog scratches a lot
- When we find fleas in the flea comb during coat care
- When we notice some quick movement on top of (or within) the dog's coat
If we notice that the dog scratches a lot, it could be down to fleas, so an immediate coat check is advisable. If you can, do it outdoors and place your dog on a large piece of white or whitish paper (the silk-like packaging material you sometimes get when ordering items online is ideal).
With a German Shepherd (most coat types), obviously frequent deshedding is necessary anyway. When we then use the best flea comb with systematic strokes from top to bottom and from head to tail, we should find any fleas that are currently on the dog.
If we find any fleas this way, we know we've got a much bigger flea infestation on the floors (carpets, rugs, wood cracks, etc) where the majority of the fleas will be: in egg, larva, and pupa stage (see Flea life cycle). - If you've got a cat too, you know that checking the cat for fleas is even more important.
You can wet the paper with one of those plant spray bottles, so that the hair doesn't fly around that much. If you do, fleas and flea feces will be seen as dark red-brown dots on the paper, else as black dots. Wetting also helps to see the eggs (but there won't be many on the dog at any point in time).
Obviously, if we notice things moving over the coat of the dog, it's likely to be jumping fleas. To be sure, quick reactions like Michael Jordan (or the high speed camera) would help.
- Do nothing (BAD!)
- Tell a family member to take action (yeah!)
- Study this Periodical from beginning to end (OMG!)
- Visit the vet (and swap the fleas for an invoice)
- Get rid of the fleas (SOMEHOW)
- KILL the fleas (you know how?)
Where needed (5 and 6), we discuss this subsequently.
This is something important to understand (but I assume most dog owners would know it): To kill the present flea population is not enough - but you treat your dog, hence it's called flea treatment (good hook hm?).
You also have to control the development of future flea generations in your house and garden/yard (or else you will have to kill fleas until after you retire...) - this is called flea control, flea prevention, or flea protection.
Don't get confused by the labels of some remedies: Labels (and the Retailer's product descriptions) aren't always accurate. It is the Active Ingredients that determine whether you are buying flea treatment or flea control.
For example Bayer got it wrong with this label:
The label says "Treatment" but then it says "Kills all flea life stages" - which by the way isn't true, it can't kill pupae, hardly anything can (an exception are Methoprene and Pyriproxyfen/Nylar, but they can't kill larvae).
Each means of flea management has its own set of remedies (with some overlaps), because different (biological or chemical) pesticides are needed to kill the different flea life stages. Particularly the flea pupae are as safe in their cocoon as Iron Man in his armoured suit!
First things first: Forget the nonsense that your dog needs antihistamines or steroid creams "to help alleviate your pet's symptoms" - which appears to be widely copied from vet websites. Vets like to add such medicaments to the invoice, or the invoice would look rather "empty" (and then the whole visit would look "unnecessary").
Antihistamines are very rarely (if ever) necessary, and always detrimental: The body has a good reason for producing the histamine, and using an antagonist curtails immune system adaptations which are beneficial (and sometimes necessary).
"What doesn't kill you (or the dog), makes you stronger" - this is a good phrase to remember, because it may be just what you needed to successfully prevent the next allergy (or to become dependent on the drug!).
Likewise: NO, "Pets must [NOT] be treated with an insecticide from the pet shop or a veterinarian". There are other, and often better, Natural flea remedies.
Now let's look at the treatment options for an existing flea infestation. This is all about KILLING (the present adult fleas only).
Yeah right, KILL the beasts! But how? You know how, right?
- When we find fleas in the flea comb during coat care, we submerge the comb for a few seconds in a bowl of dawned water while swaying back and forth (you can use any other detergent, forget the cult; just make sure you produce good suds to expedite the flea's drowning as the suds enter the exoskeleton)
- When we notice some quick movement on top of (or within) the dog's coat, we try to be even quicker (ha!) and catch the flea between thumbnail and index finger nail (don't use any other ) and then squeeze the beast to death (while we say "sorry")
- When we see an adult flea (or a kiddie: egg/larva/pupa) on the floor, we quickly change shoes to some with smooth sole(!), and then step on the beast with force - like when we hit the high striker
- We can also use heat and burn the flea (I have such a gas pen but you may not get it 'cause you might set the house on fire)
- If you like none of these, see the subsequent commercial flea killer.
What not to do?
- No matter how much you love guns, you can trust me on this one: shooting won't help (you will miss, and you might kill someone other than the flea!)
- Grabbing the fleas by their neck and putting them in the bin (they will get out!)
- Hoovering them up and thinking "it's done!" (more on vacuum cleaning fleas further below)
- Giving them a lethal injection to simulate Texas law at home
None of this (and much else) will work with fleas!
Flea tablets for dogs are one of those flea remedies with an overlap (see How to get rid of fleas): Some flea tablets can do both flea treatment and flea control.
We can treat (for fleas, treat equals kill; for dogs treat equals pleasure) an existing flea infestation by giving the dog some flea tablets. Everyone loves tablets, right? NO, dogs don't love tablets (me neither).
BUT: You could hide it in a hot dog (sorry for the pun) - instead(!) of the mustard. Some tablets (capsules) you can open up and sprinkle the content into the dog's ordinary meal.
BUT BUT: Don't open the dog's mouth and force the tablet down the throat. Vets like this method, but then the vet can leave the dog with you - and YOU have to bear the dog behavior consequences. Forcing sth down the dog's throat harms the dog-human relationship! You guessed that, right? But then why are so many people doing just that??
The flea tablets should be clearly labeled for "flea treatment" or "flea control" for a dog of your weight (sorry, your dog's weight) and age (only difference here is puppy/adult). For all see How to get rid of fleas.
For the actual flea tablet remedies see Flea Remedies IN A NUTSHELL further below.
First things first: Always use a (different) spray bottle, not aerosols, for any form of pest control. Because:
- spray bottles produce a larger droplet size which is less likely to end up in your lungs!!
- the output amount and pressure is easier to control (aerosols you can rarely control at all)
- and spray bottles are more economical and last longer
IF you are going to use an aerosol (they seem SO convenient, yes), then at least get a respirator. The right multi-purpose respirator is cheap but nonetheless you can use it both for woodworking & Co as well as for pesticide application.
Second: Do NOT use a flea spray on the dog which is merely labeled "for flea treatment". Most flea sprays are room sprays or upholstery sprays, not on-dog sprays. For clarity, in the Flea Remedies summary table I have clearly classified all flea remedies according to their application (or delivery form) as well.
IF you are going to use a flea spray for dogs (they are convenient, yes), then spare the head and the behind: The flea spray must NOT get in the dog's ears, eyes, nose, mouth, or anus! Obvious, I know. But you'd be surprised to see how many dogs need veterinary treatment after wrong application of flea remedies including flea sprays!
Some flea sprays for dogs can do both flea treatment (killing existing adult fleas) and flea control (preventing their offspring to develop to adult fleas). For the actual flea spray remedies see Flea Remedies IN A NUTSHELL further below.
What about just bathing the dog and all fleas are gone? Nice thought, hm?
Since fleas can't hold breath when they are forced to dive, they drown when the dog's coat gets underwater (particularly if you use a shampoo or lotion that significantly reduces the surface tension of water, explained under Are fleas attracted to light?).
Most German Shepherds love bathing. What I would suggest though is that you first build a "head ring defence" - or else the fleas will sprint to the head (which is above water) and hide in the ears. Fleas aren't dumb, did you notice?
For the "head ring defence" you can use a flea spray for dogs, and you spray once all around the neck (from close-up so that nothing get's in ears or eyes!). Then you lead your dog in the bath (without slipping).
Use the rubber brush to massage some dog flea bath shampoo or lotion into the coat and right onto the skin (again you see why we always recommend the same remedies - they are multi-purpose wherever possible). Such a dog flea bath will get all fleas off your dog - and is a great pleasure for both of you!
For the actual flea bath remedies see Flea Remedies IN A NUTSHELL further below.
Even if for health or behavior reasons your dog cannot be bathed, or you cannot bathe your dog, there is the option to use a flea shampoo for dogs under a quick shower (for differences see the MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL Bath or Shower?).
Some flea shampoos can serve both purposes flea treatment and flea control. To avoid disappointment, be sure to understand what yours can do.
However, even if the flea shampoo doesn't explicitely mention "shower", you can indeed simply shower the dog. Just make sure that you follow the same process as described in Flea bath for dogs (incl. using the rubber brush), and that you give the flea shampoo the recommended time to become effective on your dog.
Flea powders are always a bit messy, but this shouldn't be the problem. There's a much bigger problem with flea powders - that their customers seem to disregard:
I have no idea why such powders are still being sold in the USA but YOU now know that they shouldn't be purchased (anywhere in the world). The Zodiac flea powder uses Carbaryl as active ingredient, and Carbaryl is an old-school pesticide developed in the 1950s(!) for which resistance is now wide-spread (meaning such products tend to be ineffective).
More worryingly, like all carbamate insecticides, Carbaryl affects the nervous system not only of flies, lice, fleas, mosquitoes, ticks, mites, fly maggots etc, but also of birds, fish, and mammals incl. humans and dogs!
Thus I would suggest, if you wish to use a flea powder style remedy, why not something natural like Diatomaceous Earth? Why subject your dog (and yourself!) to flea remedies that are known to be a huge health risk?
Of course, this advice applies to all flea remedies, not just flea powder.
Oh, and by the way, the labels of both above pictured flea powders (and many others) are wrong too: They do not offer flea control (none of them), only flea treatment - ie only the present adult fleas are killed, not all the generations they have already deposited in your house (see Flea life cycle).
Now on to flea control! As explained above, flea control means to control or even prevent the development of future flea generations in your house and garden/yard. This is achieved with Insect Growth Regulators (IGR) or Insect Development Inhibitors (IDI).
IGR are natural or chemical agents that interrupt the development of flea eggs to flea larvae, or flea larvae to flea pupae, or flea pupae to adult fleas (see Flea life cycle).
IGR are available for in-house flea control and garden/yard flea control, as well as dog spot-on flea treatment (incl. squeeze-on and pipette), shampoo, soap, or spray.
Chemical Insect Growth Regulators (IGR):
The most widely used chemical IGR today are Lufenuron, Methoprene (Precor), and Pyriproxyfen (Nylar):
- Lufenuron is a contact and systemic larvicide that is effective as chitin synthesis inhibitor, meaning it prevents molting (egg hatching and larvae cocooning)
- Methoprene is a contact and oral larvicide that is effective against numerous insect species incl. fleas, but it only interferes with the molt from pupae to adults
- Pyriproxyfen is a contact and oral larvicide that is effective against fleas and flies, but again it only interferes with the molt from pupae to adults.
Note that none of these IGR has an effect on ticks or mites.
Natural Insect Growth Regulators (IGR):
Natural IGR or "Biopesticide IGR" work in one of (at least) four different ways:
- they infect or eat up one or more of the flea life stages (see Nematodes)
- or they physically destroy one or more of the flea life stages (see Diatomaceous Earth)
- or they disrupt the hormonal regulation of insect metamorphosis (Biopesticide IGR)
- or they disrupt the synthesis of chitin and thus the development of the exoskeleton (Biopesticide IGR)
Note that for effective flea control for dogs an IGR alone is not enough either: No Chemical IGR and no Biopesticide IGR alone can kill adult fleas too, only their offspring. This is why some flea remedies combine adulticidal pesticides with the IGR, thus that the flea remedy controls the entire flea life cycle and can be marketed as flea control remedy (adulticidal here means "adult flea killer").
Studies have found and confirmed that currently the most potent adulticidal pesticide is Nitenpyram (typically administered orally). Then much behind in efficacy follows Imidacloprid (typically administered topically). Both are neonicotinoids. Then again, much behind follow the other pesticides.
The best-known flea remedy containing Nitenpyram is Novartis' Capstar (but there also exist cheaper generics, see Flea Remedies IN A NUTSHELL), and the best-known flea remedy containing Imidacloprid is Bayer's Advantage.
Note that Nitenpyram was found to absorb into the bloodstream very quickly (within just 10 - 20 min!), but is also very quickly eliminated (excretion half-time in dogs only 2 - 3 hours; after 48 hours all Nitenpyram has left the dog's body). Thus Nitenpyram has no residual effect (it's only effective for about 24 hours!), but likewise it is of significantly lower risk than pesticides with long residual effect - which always means effect on both the fleas and the dog, doh!
Conversely, Imidacloprid does have a residual effect (it stays in the dog's body much longer). However, effective flea control seems to be limited to the first 3 weeks (max) after administration (ie it typically does not protect against fleas for an entire month, as marketed. Still, you may say a 60% flea kill after an entire month is a pretty good result (I just wouldn't call that effective flea control).
It is Advantage 100 that caused me personally quite a headache (no, I have not consumed it in any way): Advantage 100 is marketed with one active ingredient only (Imidacloprid), but nonetheless as larvicidal (killing larvae too, ie an IGR).
There is contradictory information on the internet on the larvicidal properties of Imidacloprid. If its tarsal activity is no different to the other neonicotinoid (Nitenpyram), then the alleged larvicidal properties of Imidacloprid must result from one of the (secret) inert ingredients (non-active ingredients). Hence I have highlighted this "mystery" in the summary table further below.
Note that the newer Advantage II does mention another active ingredient (Pyriproxyfen), which clearly is an IGR.
In the Flea Remedies summary table further below I have clearly shown which flea remedies hold which IGR and which adulticidal pesticide as active ingredients.
Chemical flea control for dogs has been wonderfully summarized by a customer of the (very potent) Ultracide Flea and Tick Professional Pest Control:
Obviously, this applies to flea spray, flea powder, flea bomb and the like. For topical flea remedies like the immensely popular flea drops the safety warning on each package says it all:
Avoid contact with skin. Hmm. How, if I shall put it straight on the dog's skin? Ah, dog skin is not skin? Hmm. I have to think about that...
Spot-ons for dogs?
Probably the most popular flea control and tick control remedy today are the topical spot-on for dogs (whether as flea drops, squeeze-on, per pipette, teaspoon or whatever).
These flea drops for dogs are administered below the dog's neck between the shoulder blades.
- this allows for the quickest absorption through the dog's skin into the bloodstream, and thus rapidly protects the entire body against fleas (and ticks)
- much more importantly though, this helps to prevent that an only dog ingests the chemical by licking it off
- however, if you have two dogs, or a dog and a cat, then you must prevent this yourself!
Why? Because ingesting the chemical is the biggest risk for the dog's health: All chemical pesticides have high oral toxicity!
When you read (whether in Amazon customer reviews or elsewhere) that "after the spot-on administration the dog had seizures" or "the dog fell unconscious" or "the vet had to save the dog's life!!", then every such case was due to either:
- an administration error (an overdose: partial administration to a small dog of a spot-on approved for a large dog, hence of much higher concentration!)
- or the dog ingested (licked off) the chemical (even rubbing the back against a table leg and then licking off the table leg will intoxicate the dog!)
How does a spot-on for dogs work?
Dog skin is thinner than human skin (and German Shepherd skin is even thinner than the skin of most other breeds).
After absorption through the skin, the bloodstream delivers the pesticide across the entire body to protect against fleas (and ticks).
Most spot-on for dogs (but not all) are then deposited in the sebaceous glands of the skin, from where they are slowly released back into the bloodstream. The pesticide is then metabolized in the liver, and finally excreted through urine and feces.
Some spot-ons are supposed to be administered in one spot (between the shoulder blades), others in several spots. Regardless of the size of the dog, there are pros and cons for both! However, best is probably that you would follow the instructions on the package.
However, best is NOT to give spot-ons at all (despite that they are the most popular). Because they are delivered with the bloodstream throughout the entire organism! That's obviously much worse than a remedy that is delivered through the lipid layer only. More on that subsequently.
Note that unless dog owners face significant complications when applying chemical flea remedies ("pesticides"), obviously they do not report adverse reactions to a veterinarian or animal hospital (who would then forward the information to relevant national organizations, such that at some point the flea remedy would possibly be black-listed).
Still, in 2008 alone, no less than 44,000 adverse reactions to flea and tick spot-on remedies (including 600 deaths) were reported in the USA alone!
Although the German Shepherd breed is rarely affected by adverse reactions to these spot-on remedies (because GSDs are fairly large dogs with a strong metabolism), it is wise to follow dosage and application directions to the letter when using any pesticides!
Naturally, the popular chemical flea remedies appear to be harmless (else they wouldn't be popular). But they aren't harmless (else there wouldn't be so many adverse reactions).
So if you feel you "have" to use them, at least be prepared what to do if it is your dog that suffers an adverse reaction after you apply a topical pesticide.
Note that most flea remedies are systemic neurotoxins, meaning they can lead to the broadest variety of adverse reactions! So, I would suggest that if you notice any form of significantly different behavior of your dog after applying flea drops (or flea tablets or whatever), then follow the subsequent 12 steps.
What to do upon an adverse reaction
- Be able to have a half-full bath of lukewarm water ready within 5 minutes
- Add a tiny squirt of Dawn or any other rather gentle dishwasher detergent
- When the bath is half-full, immediately get your dog in and now gently wash your dog with a normal washcloth (to cleanse off the pesticide that can be reached from the outside of the skin)
- After a minute, let the water out and in the meantime use the sprayhead and the washcloth to get all detergent off your dog's skin and coat (you did use a tiny squirt, hm?)
- Immediately refill the bath half-full, and this time add a generous squirt of a premium shampoo or lotion (forget about the deshedding of this one, it's perfect for our purpose here)
- Now gently wash your dog with a different washcloth and some extra shampoo on it
- Do not massage it in - neither the Dawn nor the Furminator shampoo (this would stimulate the sebaceous glands with the toxins still there)
- A premium shampoo like the Fuminator Shampoo above will replenish the sebaceous glands (to cleanse off the pesticide from the inside of the skin, as much as possible)
- Continue this step for about 10 min, and then gently dab your dog dry
- Avoid exercise, let your dog lie down and rest
- If (s)he is going to get any food, if you have, add the maximum allowed dosage of the Linatone Skin Food Supplement (doesn't do much for shedding relief but is great to replenish the sebaceous glands)
- And of course, give your dog ample amounts to drink (tempt with whatever (s)he loves; the water of a few un- or low-salted tuna cans would be great now; the tuna itself you add to the dog's food, voilà!)
The above is the best immediate remedy to dilute the toxicity of the pesticide in the dog's body. But if the adverse reaction of your dog does not immediately and significantly improve after this procedure, visit the vet.
So what about those flea collars? Do flea collars work?
Yes, flea collars work - in general.
BUT: See the crucial chapter at the beginning, Types of fleas. This is particularly true for the cheap flea collars like Adams or Hartz: They rely on old-school pesticides for which widespread resistance globally has been ascertained.
Bayer's Seresto flea and tick collar costs a bit more because it has a newer and far more potent pesticide cocktail as active ingredients. Developing new pesticides of higher efficacy is an expensive undertaking, hence the higher price.
How do flea collars work?
Flea collars work by slowly releasing the pesticide into the dog's coat when the dog moves around: Every bit of friction releases a bit more pesticide (think of "pesticides sewed in"). There is also some dispensing to the air but this is minimal (so yes, you can re-use the collar some months after opening, but it will be slightly less effective).
From the coat, the pesticide is absorbed into the lipid layer of the skin and further distributed from there. This is much safer than distribution via the bloodstream.
If a dog were to be a 24/7 couch potato (small breed and toy breed dogs often come close), then a flea collar would not work well, then it would not protect against fleas (and ticks). But hey!, German Shepherds arent' kept as couch potatoes anyway, right?
Don't forget that you can first try a homemade flea collar, and maybe you then find out that you love this natural flea collar much more - both for its efficacy and for its smell (and it makes the dog look sexy):
- Fill a bowl with lukewarm water
- Open up a bottle of Curealia Flea and Tick Repellent Spray and give 3 or 4 squirts into the water
- Sway your hand through the mixture for say 10 seconds
- Now drown a beautiful (washed) bandana in the bowl, and put some weight on it (but don't cover it up)
- An hour later take the bandana out, gently wring it, and shake it out
- You can wait till it's dry or immediately tie it around your dog's neck (instead of the commercial/chemical flea collar)
- In many cases you will notice: It does repel fleas, ticks, bees, and other insects that annoy your dog!
No need to repeat that such a homemade flea collar won't work on fleas in every geography (because you've read the crucial part of this Periodical right at the start, right?). But the same is true for every chemical flea collar too! For some dog owners it just won't work.
That's why I always say: You have to try it out until you are happy with the results.
More worrying than efficacy and price is that with any such remedies that continuously release the pesticide the dog (and we!) are continuously subjected to the pesticide.
Think: If say you drink too much (alcohol) once, you end up with a hangover, but afterwards you feel fine (until the next binge drinking). Medically your body got a shock, but was able to deal with it (hopefully!).
While if you continually drink too much alcohol, all your body systems, your entire metabolism, hormonal system, everything will adapt. Adapt to being poisoned, and how to cope with that long-term.
You could argue: "But alcohol is different". No, systemically it isn't different, in both cases your body (or the dog's body) experiences a continuous cell-poisoning.
You could argue: "But the amount of pesticide that spot-ons, flea collars etc release is small. Yes, but then why do so many people find help with homeopathic remedies? The amount in those (of whatever agent) is infinitesimal. Now, you wouldn't say that the pesticide amount in these remedies is infinitesimal, right? Because then it wouldn't work from the outset.
Just food for thought.
This was a successful transition to flea repellents.
Some people say: "Insect repellents don't work", or "don't work well". By now you know why those people come to that conclusion, and what to do so that they work for you.
Generally, there are (at least) 6 different ways how to repel fleas:
- Using specific chemical compounds
- Releasing fleas' natural predators, parasitoids, or pathogens
But let's stick to dogs here.
- Sound (ultrahigh-frequency soundwaves) we cannot use as flea repellent for dogs (it gets on their nerves because they can hear it).
- Smell we can use - it's great (but it shouldn't get on their nerves either)
- Heat (> 42C/107F) is perfect to repel fleas (and other insects) - but do you want to burn your house?
- Cold (< 0C/32F) is perfect too as flea repellent - but who wants to live in a freezer?
- Chemical compounds of the synthetic pyrethroid class have a significant repellent effect on certain insects and ticks - but you would need to agree to use chemicals!?
Flea remedies on the market that include synthetic pyrethroids and thus also serve as flea repellent for dogs:
Advantix, Parastar Plus, Sentry, Biospot, Seresto Collar, Ovitrol Shampoo, Siphotrol, Precor Spray, Ultracide Spray - for all see Flea Remedies IN A NUTSHELL.
So now let's stick to smell as a top flea repellent for dogs - and we seek natural solutions (I am getting ever more brief now, I know, this Periodical is exhausting).
Commonly mentioned as natural flea repellent:
Eucalyptus, rosemary, lavender, mint, garlic, sweet woodruff, apple cider, brewer's yeast, etc.
However: I could not confirm all of these, neither based on research nor based on field studies with the dogs.
==> Next edition: Ticks, of course <==