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Dog has fleas? Guaranteed Help here 4U!

 Reviewed 13 June 2019 share-a-picture Or go to discussion?join-the-discussion dogphoto
 
dog-has-fleas-we-have-solution

==> Seeing dog fleas symptoms?

Or suspecting your dog has 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 dog pests like fleas, and those who seek biological solutions ("natural remedies" or "home remedies").

flea deathThis Periodical is meant to help both groups: The first group to reconsider, and the second group to reassess. mrgreen

As always, report your own experiences here. Whether or not you believe you found the best flea treatment for dogs or the best flea control for dogs (hint: it's not the same, no).

In this MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL:

fleas

A lot to find out! Let's start.

What is a flea?

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? wink

(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).

fleas!more fleas!

 

Types of fleas

This is important to understand right from the start to appreciate the differences in the reported efficacy of flea remedies further below:

1

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.

2

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.

3

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. bootyshake

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:

You may have to try out different flea remedies until you find the one (or several) that work for you in your geography.

And those exact remedies may not work over the entire life of your dog. Then you have to try out new flea remedies. This is why the flea remedies table is lengthy (and will become even lengthier over time).

Sorry, but this seems to be the inevitable truth for flea remedies!

4In addition, some dog owners misapply a particular flea remedy (because they don't know enough).

But you will in just a moment. wink

5A 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:

For example, 10% of German Shepherd dogs (and even 70% of Collies!) have the MDR-1 gene mutation. This means these dogs do not tolerate macrocyclic lactones like Selamectin - the flea pesticide in Revolution (not on Amazon) and in Stronghold (its cheaper generic).

These dogs can suffer serious adverse effects even if the flea remedy is administered correctly! The only way to be sure that your dog would not suffer after being given these very potent flea remedies is to have the dog tested for the gene mutation.

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:

For example, the manufacturers of spot-on for dogs admit that "about 1%" of dogs will suffer adverse reactions, even if the flea remedy is administered correctly.

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?

What do fleas look like?

Not handsome! See these:

Flea pictures!

flea portraitflea diagram

flea colored diagramflea close-up

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!

Mo FarahThese 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.

Do fleas fly?

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?

flea flyingAnd 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).

How do dogs get fleas?

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

dogs waitingThus, 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.

Are fleas attracted to light?

Or: Are fleas attracted to white German Shepherds more than to black German Shepherds?

Black German Shepherd Figurine


White German Shepherd Figurine


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".

flea light trapIt 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. smile

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!


How fast do fleas feed on dogs?

flea feed speedFleas 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.

Flea life cycle!

flea life cycleThe 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).

house for rentThis 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.

Do fleas bite?

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).

fleas!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)!

Do flea bites hurt?

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.

Flea bites pictures!

Dog has fleas

fleas biting flea bites

What do fleas do to dogs?

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...

dog hot spotThus, 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!

Dog fleas on humans?

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).

Human flea bites?

baby flea biteIt 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. wink

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.

Flea diseases!

In addition to the chain reaction mentioned above, fleas can also directly cause and transmit diseases: When the dog has fleas and 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.

human 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!

human plague US

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.

human plague Worldwide

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.

Signs of fleas on dogs?

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.

fleas foundIf 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.

What to do if your dog has fleas

Options:

  1. Do nothing (BAD!)
  2. Tell a family member to take action (yeah!)
  3. Study this Periodical from beginning to end (OMG!)
  4. Visit the vet (and swap the fleas for an invoice)
  5. Get rid of the fleas (SOMEHOW)
  6. KILL the fleas (you know how?)

Where needed (5 and 6), we discuss this subsequently.

How to get rid of fleas?

Capstar label

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?).

LCD labelYou 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:

Advantage 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!

Flea treatment for dogs

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 medication 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.

How to kill fleas?

flea death symbolYeah 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 wink ) 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?

guns no roses

  • 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 wink

None of this (and much else) will work with fleas!

Flea tablets for dogs?

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, and me neither.

hot dogBUT: 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.

Flea spray for dogs?

flea sprayFirst 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.

Flea bath for dogs?

dog bathWhat 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. lol

For the actual flea bath remedies see Flea Remedies IN A NUTSHELL further below.

Flea shampoo for dogs?

dog showerEven 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 powder for dogs?

flea and tick powderFlea 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:

Even the reputed TOP chemical flea powder, Zodiac Flea & Tick Powder, uses an active ingredient that is known to be carcinogenic - and thus the EPA prohibits its use in pet products!

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?

Don't trade the remote chance of catching flea diseases for the likelihood of insecticide-mediated diseases!

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).

Flea control for dogs

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).

flea life cycle IGRIGR 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)

Adulticidal Pesticides

Adulticidal PesticidesNote 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.


pesticide warning

 

Chemical flea control for dogs has been wonderfully summarized by a customer of the (very potent) Ultracide Flea and Tick Professional Pest Control:

 

"The downside of using all these chemicals to deal with flea problems is that they make you feel as sick as the fleas."

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. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after handling."

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?

Are "spot-ons" or "drop-ons" any wise for dog owners? No. Read on to find out why, after an initial explanation what spot-ons are.

spot-ons for dogsProbably 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.

Why? Because:

  • 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!)

Once again:

All chemical pesticides have high oral toxicity!

Thus, for the first two days after administering a spot-on, be extremely vigilant and prevent direct or indirect licking off the pesticide!

How does a spot-on for dogs work?

spot on for dogsDog 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, like with the Seresto collar. More on that subsequently.

Do not ever administer a spot-on when the dog has a skin irritation (hot spot, infection, dermatitis, lesion,...)

 

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).

adverse reactionSo 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

  1. Be able to have a half-full bath of lukewarm water ready within 5 minutes
  2. Add a tiny squirt of Dawn or any other rather gentle dishwasher detergent
  3. 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)
  4. 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?)
  5. 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)
  6. Now gently wash your dog with a different washcloth and some extra shampoo on it
  7. Do not massage it in - neither the Dawn nor the Furminator shampoo (this would stimulate the sebaceous glands with the toxins still there)
  8. 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)
  9. Continue this step for about 10 min, and then gently dab your dog dry
  10. Avoid exercise, let your dog lie down and rest
  11. 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)
  12. 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.

Do flea collars work?

So what about those flea collars? Do flea collars work?

flea collar fitting

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?

dog bandanaDon'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):

  1. Fill a bowl with lukewarm water
  2. Open up a bottle of Curealia Flea and Tick Repellent Spray and give 3 or 4 squirts into the water
  3. Sway your hand through the mixture for say 10 seconds
  4. Now drown a beautiful (washed) bandana in the bowl, and put some weight on it (but don't cover it up)
  5. An hour later take the bandana out, gently wring it, and shake it out
  6. You can wait till it's dry or immediately tie it around your dog's neck (instead of the commercial/chemical flea collar)
  7. 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.

Continous intoxication

flea collar risksMore 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. smile

Flea repellent for dogs

So far we briefly(?) discussed Flea treatment for dogs and Flea control for dogs. Now on to the final category of flea remedies: Flea repellent for dogs.

flea repellentSome 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:

  • Sound
  • Smell
  • Heat
  • Cold
  • Using specific chemical compounds
  • Releasing fleas' natural predators, parasitoids, or pathogens

But let's stick to dogs here.

How to repel fleas

  • 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!?

no fleasFlea 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).

Natural flea repellent

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.

Instead, under Natural flea remedies further below you get a table with natural flea repellents: Insecticidal Plants - complete with application guidance and application risk! grin

What to do if you have fleas in your house

If you found a single flea on your dog, you can be pretty sure that you have fleas in your house as well (for why see Flea life cycle).

Here's what to do if you have fleas in your house:

  • Go back up to see How to get rid of fleas and its subsequent chapters about specific flea remedies
  • Then make sure that you don't lose focus of the general flea management - easy to remember as "3 times 3":
  • combine dog flea treatment with yard flea treatment and with home flea treatment
  • and combine flea treatment with flea control and flea repellents
  • Only if you consider all "3 times 3", you can kill existing fleas and prevent their offspring to develop into more fleas, and repel new fleas - and all on-the-dog and indoors and outdoors!

Clear? Just remember "3 times 3" - and you can successfully get rid of any flea infestation! I just thought I squeeze this into this chapter so that in the heat of the moment you don't lose focus. wink

Home remedies for fleas

If home remedies for fleas to you means natural flea remedies, then please see that chapter.

Here in home remedies for fleas I want to list flea remedies that don't cost anything (or next to nothing), so to say non-commercial flea remedies:

  • Feed a natural and balanced diet - homemade food, not commercial kibble or such (ha, fits! non-commercial remedies here), because the healthier your dog the less appealing (s)he is to parasites (not just fleas)
  • Avoid high humidity in the house (from showering, cooking and such - close the door if you can), because fleas love moist breeding places
  • Vacuum-clean all: floors, carpets, rugs and under rugs, corners, cracks, along the walls, dog crate area, on and around all resting places, and around the dog dining area (at least every other day), because that's where fleas deposit most eggs and where larvae spin their cocoons
  • After a walk, before you let the dog back inside, perform a quick but thorough coat check (you probably own a flea comb anyway, so just deposit it next to the door)
  • In addition, have frequent coat care sessions so that you can spot any coat or skin abnormalities on your dog
  • Frequently wash all bedding of dog and other pets - and if you let the dog in your bed, then your bedding too
  • Wash the dog every couple of days, ideally under a shower with moderate water pressure (else bathe the dog once a week)
  • Outdoors, where possible, particularly in the summer, avoid favored flea breeding places: high grass with foliage, moist sandy soil, gravel, proximity of livestock, and embankments (river, lake, pond, trench & Co - near saltwater is fine though)
  • If you suspect a flea infestation in your home, take the most fine-grained kitchen salt you have, sprinkle it in the suspected areas and gently blow it out all over (obviously keep your dog's paws away until hoovered off after a day or so)

Don't use vinegar on your dog (like you can read on some websites), it is far too acidic for German Shepherd dog skin (any dog skin) and GI tract!

Vacuuming fleas?

This is another area where you can read wrong or outright dangerous "advice" online:

  • Wrong: "When you hoover up Diatomaceous Earth you mess up the vacuum cleaner"
  • Dangerous: "Put a flea collar in the hoover bag before you start vacuum-cleaning. It will kill the fleas in the bag"

Right:

  • Diatomaceous Earth (DE) makes no more mess in the vacuum cleaner than when you hoover up say flour, ashes, sawdust, or other fine particles. If you hate doing that, then yes, don't hoover up DE either. Else you are fine, and the vacuum cleaner is fine too. Like with flour etc, just wait a few minutes before you open the cylinder bin or bag, let it settle.
  • The pupose of a (commercial) flea collar is to release pesticides upon friction. If you place such flea collar in the hoover cylinder or bag and then vacuum-clean, all the rattling of the motor will release pesticide fumes - in such a fine composition that no hepa filter is going to stop them from being blown back out into your room where you breathe them straight in!
  • Likewise, the related 'advice': "Put rosemary, thyme, lavender, peppermint in your vacuum bag" - NO, don't: These are flea repellents, not flea killers. Thus if you add these to the hoover bag, the only thing they'll do is make the fleas find any exit routes they can, and when you take the cylinder or bag out of the hoover, the fleas will be the first to jump out!

What to do instead:

  • You can distribute some fine-grade kitchen salt before you hoover (for how see Home remedies for fleas)
  • The velocity of the inflowing salt particles will prevent that any fleas can hold on to brush, nozzle, tube, hose, or joints inside the vacuum cleaner unit (ie they will land in the cylinder/bag)
  • The salt-flea mix inside the cylinder/bag will dehydrate the fleas
  • If you have Diatomaceous Earth (DE), even better, it will kill the fleas instantly when they move (which they will in the cylinder/bag)
  • With DE, you can open and empty the cylinder bin (outdoors!) after 2 or 3 minutes, with salt wait at least 10 to 15 min (if it's a bag I would seal it and throw it away)
  • Vacuum-clean as usual, but pay particular attention to floor cracks, corners, along the walls, under the rugs(!), and at the dog's crate, resting places, and feeding place - ie around the eat-slow bowl (attractive for hungry larvae!) and drinking bowls (moist enough for flea eggs and pupae!)
  • Don't forget to vacuum-clean upholstery first, lift all cushions and folds, hoover all textiles everywhere (fleas do not linger on leather or wooden furniture)

The add-on of the above procedure for vacuuming fleas is that you can do this regardless of the type of vacuum cleaner you have (you don't need one with bag).

Flea spray?

This is about flea room spray (for Flea spray for dogs click the link).

This type of flea spray must NOT be used on the dog, it is NOT a topical remedy. The concentrations used could easily chemically burn the dog's skin!

An example of such a flea spray for indoor use is Siphotrol. Another very potent flea spray for indoor use is Ultracide.

However, note that all such flea sprays are aerosols, thus by all means do wear a respirator when you use them so that you don't get the pesticides into your lungs!

And after application, do open the windows (even in winter, yes) and leave the room for at least 3 hours. Many inert ingredients in flea room sprays are suspected carcinogens (and some active ingredients too).

Don't trade flea removal from house for long-term diseases for your family or your dog

Flea bomb?

Flea bombs or flea foggers are a cool idea - but with potentially devastating consequences:

flea bombWith flea bombs you literally BOMB the fleas (and ANY other insects & Co) into death. You place the unit ideally in the center of a room, set the trigger, leave the room, and BANG! Now you can give a cocktail party.

Why? Because you will have a delicious chemical pesticide cocktail EVERYWHERE. Only a very thin layer, yes, but that's the problem with a flea bomb or flea fogger: You don't see where it deposited neurotoxins for you, for your family, and for your dog. But you can be sure: EVERYWHERE.

HOWEVER: There are only very few people in the world who will really thoroughly wash all surfaces, walls, furniture, rugs, door handles, curtain rails, etc after fogging their house (as the label requires!). Thus, for months the people who flea-bomb their house will touch any of the above (and everything else), and then put their fingers in the face or even lick them, touch food and drink (like we all do).

They will ingest and breathe the pesticides for months. That's why I will always classify foggers as high-risk flea remedies, and you better see them as the very last resort.

 

Flea treatment for yard

The yard or garden is something natural, right? Therefore I'd suggest to go for natural flea remedies.

These are discussed subsequently, hence here just some application tips:

  • Fleas love to lay their eggs in moist sandy soil, tall grass with foliage, and gravel driveways - thus pay particular attention to those spots
  • If you choose to use an insect spray, determine the "corridor" frequented by people and pets, and spray ca. 20 feet beyond this "corridor" (that's how far fleas stray)
  • Avoid flea remedies that are based on carbamates (carbaryl, propoxur, etc) or pyrethroids (natural: Pyrethrin; or synthetic: Cyphenothrin, Cypermethrin, Permethrin, Phenothrin, Flumethrin, etc) - there is widespread global resistance amongst dog fleas and cat fleas against all of these!
  • And if you think "they aren't resistant here", then avoid them anyway: If your dog licks it off, (s)he may suffer anything from tremors to death (carbamates: carcinogen(!), prohibited in all pet products; pyrethroids: read this)
  • Best is to perform the garden or yard flea treatment early morning or late afternoon on overcast days (not in sunlight because of UV rays)
  • If you can, let the dog run around beforehand - may sound crazy, but will stimulate any existing pupae to emerge from their (almost impenetrable) cocoons!
  • Then of course, before you let the dog back inside, perform a thorough coat check for fleas, such that you don't bring any fleas inside the house (see How do dogs get fleas)

Now on to natural flea remedies - which you can all use for yard flea control as well!

 

Natural flea remedies

Natural Flea Remedies

Today, natural flea remedies are no longer restricted to extracts of insecticidal plants (eucalyptus, neem, tobacco, etc). Meanwhile we know of at least four more natural remedies for fleas:

  • plant-based individual chemical molecules (Pyrethrins, Rotenone, Linalool, etc)
  • Spinosyns
  • Nematodes for fleas
  • Diatomaceous Earth

All of these natural flea remedies are new unique ways to combat fleas (and other parasites). The first class give the active ingredient in some modern flea remedies (flea tablets, flea drops, flea sprays, flea shampoos, etc), thus they appear in the Flea Remedies summary table, and the last three classes we will briefly look at below.

Spinosad?

You may have come across "Spinosad" being marketed as natural flea control or even general natural pest control.

What is Spinosad?

Spinosad was the first chemical compound derived from combining two metabolic by-products of S. Spinosa, a naturally occuring microorganism (only discovered as recently as 1982!). Today, Spinosad is the best-known representative of this new class of insecticides: Spinosyns.

SpinosadSpinosad and other Spinosyns have proven to be very effective insecticides against multiple pests, incl. fleas, however the molecular mechanism of action is not yet completely understood.

The natural insecticide Spinosad is highly effective as flea treatment for yard/garden (see Spinosad Garden) and as flea tablets for dogs (see Comfortis). One of its derivatives, the semi-synthetic Spinetoram, is available as topical flea treatment for pets (primarily cats though).

Please note that Spinosad and other Spinosyns are not yet available in all international markets (but in the USA and UK they are even available online, on Amazon).

Nematodes for fleas

Nematode Nematodes

Nematodes are omnipresent microscopic worms, and the most numerous multicellular animals on earth! Nematodes basically exist in every ounce of soil you might touch, in most plants, animals, and us humans too.

nematode attacking larvaMany of the 20,000 so far classified species of nematodes are beneficial to us, eg some feed on bacteria or fungi, others feed on insects, their eggs or larvae.

This is where nematodes come handy for our topic here, flea control (and other pests too). Because you can buy these beneficial nematodes in the supermarket, garden center, or online (yes, what a developed world we are!). For individual natural pest control in your garden or yard, three particular nematode species are relevant:

  • Heterohabditis bacteriophora (hb) are the "handyman" - 'regardless' of climate they kill with reasonable efficiency 200+ armies of insects (incl. some flea species) that could otherwise harm your plants, yourself, and your dog!
  • Steinernema feltiae (sf) are specialized warriers that kill very efficiently 250+ armies of insects (incl. many flea species!) in warm climates (soil up to 28C/83F)
  • Steinernema carpocapsae (sc) are specialized warriers that kill very efficiently 200+ armies of insects (incl. many flea species!) in cooler climates (soil down to 15C/59F)

nematode inside larvaNote that all the above nematodes are natural 'predators' of a whole array of insects: They seek out and then kill the eggs, larvae, and pupae eg of fleas. This means, nematodes are not pesticides in the customary sense of the word (chemicals), they are a genuinely natural solution to pest infestations in garden, yard, on farms, etc.

And since they are natural pest control remedies, nematodes are self-limiting: When they've killed their 'prey', obviously they try to find more 'prey' nearby. If they can't, they die.

So it's not that say, they would wander from your garden to the local school's playground, or even from Europe to Australia or such thing. No need to worry.

Also note that since nematodes are living organisms, you must not expose them to sunlight before you release them. Indeed, don't even let them get warm: Without food (in the package from the garden center or Amazon it's only them, no cheese-platter or sth like that), so without food they only survive in "hibernation", ie they need to be cooled.

Release them as fresh as you get them. Early morning or evening. Then irrigate the area (but not so much as to drown them). And done! Lean back and relax. The fleas around your house will be gone in 1 to 10 days - depending on your environment and if your nematodes are "fit for purpose". smile

Please note that, again, beneficial nematodes are not yet available in all international markets (but in the USA and UK they are even available online, on Amazon, see above!).

 

Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous Earth harvestingDiatomaceous Earth (DE) is not a chemical compound (although it does look like it, that's why its discoverer added 'Earth', ha!). Instead it is fossilized algae.

Fossilized means: It's millions of years old. But DE has some properties that are highly useful today. For us. And for flea treatment and flea control!

Diatomaceous Earth groundDiatomaceous Earth is being harvested from ancient sea beds that have been dry for millions of years. It is ground into a fine powder-like substance of microscopic particles, looking a bit like flour.

Under the miscroscope however you can see how Diatomaceous Earth works, for fleas or any other purpose: The powder-like substance DE are microscopic sharp-edged particles of the fossilized algae, which cut into anything that moves past it. No move, no cut!

Diatomaceous Earth microscopic

Some people say it dehydrates the flea when cut open, but that gives the impression you'll have to wait for the fleas' death - you don't: When passing, the flea is cut open. When cut open, the flea stops moving (doh!). When it can't move, the flea stops sucking blood (oh!).

If you sprinkle out some DE, adult fleas and larvae will move past it (eggs and pupae don't move). This is how Diatomaceous Earth helps for flea treatment and flea control.

Thus, the mechanism of killing is of physical nature, not of chemical nature. This is important to understand. Fleas and other exoskeleton insects can be killed with Diatomaceous Earth, but they cannot develop resistance to DE, because there is no chemical compound that enters the flea's body and would allow it to adapt over time (building resistance).

However: The above makes also clear that Diatomaceous Earth only works well in dry environments. Mixing DE with water (or coffee, lemonade, or any other fluid) to apply it as a spray, or for yard irrigation, or to drink it (like Larry Smith does in his promotional video on earthworkshealth.com) appears to negate the mechanism how DE works. Maybe it dissolves, in any case, once DE loses its sharp edges, it cannot work. I am not sure why Larry drinks it, but possibly because it sells.

online research(I know that many people consume DE; I have to do more research to find out how DE could possibly be beneficial when consumed (you cannot possibly consume it dry). Until I know how, as scientist I have to doubt its efficacy for say gastrointestinal parasites, "cleaning the GI walls", or whatever, sorry)

Quality: As with everything, there are different qualities of Diatomaceous Earth available, in particular (countless grades of) food-grade Diatomaceous Earth, and non-food-grade Diatomaceous Earth. The first DE (food-grade) is often stretched (mixed with other components) - like most foods we can buy these days! sad

The latter DE (non-food-grade) has been chemically(!) modified to benefit purposes like cleaning swimming pools. It would be poisonous if you or your dog consume it (hence called non-food-grade!), and it appears that such DE has lost its properties for pest control as well (it won't help).

Diatomaceous EarthThus be sure to only buy food-grade Diatomaceous Earth, and (whether you plan to eat it or not) I would get the top quality Diatomaceous Earth because this package actually is cheaper per pound than other, stretched DE!

No need for fancy packaging, think you're buying some flour.

How to use Diatomaceous Earth for flea treatment and flea control

You can use dry DE inhouse, in the garden/yard, and as topical (straight on the dog's coat).

No dog owner has reported that it "cut open the skin" or such thing, so no need to wait for me to find out why it doesn't (my thinking was that the skin would rub against DE when the dog lies down, but apparently dogs not even get a sore skin - while the DE does indeed kill the fleas). So all seems good with topical application too.

Thus here's how to use Diatomaceous Earth for fleas:

  1. Observe the areas where your dog lingers (indoors and outdoors)
  2. Get a package or more of pure DE and sprinkle a tiny amount in those areas (indoors and outdoors - unless it's raining or a hurricane approaching)
  3. Give particular attention to the dog's crate and all dog resting places and around the eat-slow bowl and drinking bowls
  4. If you have a cat, apply DE to her places as well (cats are more prone to fleas than dogs!)
  5. If you know (or assume) you've got flea eggs in the house already (because you found one flea on your dog), use a quality duster to apply a microscopic coating of DE to typical "egg spots": along walls, in corners, cracks, and all dark and moist locations
  6. If you've got carpet or rugs, dust a "line" of DE onto them, and use a TPR broom or whatever to spread it out over the entire carpet or rug, then dust a "line" around the rugs, lift them, and gently blow it underneath (cool eh?)
  7. Now don't hoover for at least a day (so that all adult fleas and all larvae will move through it and die, yeah!
  8. If you notice that your dog has a present flea infestation in the coat, take the dog outside to a non-windy spot, and use the quality duster to get a tiny amount of DE into the coat everywhere
  9. Always dust away from the dog's head so that nothing gets in eyes, ears, nose, or mouth (it's too dry!)
  10. Consider the flea life cycle explained above, thus reapply DE to also kill larvae that hatched later, and pupae that emerge from the cocoons!
  11. Larvae hatch quickest at room temperature and relative humidity >60%, so turn off the (otherwise highly useful!) dessicant dehumidifier for 3 or 4 days
  12. Pupae emerge from their cocoons when they sense proximity of a suitable host (study the Flea life cycle for more detail), so by all means keep your dog inside the house during your flea control exercise (or rather all the time, see House Training Dogs to Behave Well in a High Value Home) - your dog will not eat the DE (too dry), but if (s)he does lick it, no harm done!

Clear? Good.

go and saveIf instead of buying flea drops, tablets, sprays, powders, shampoos and whatever (that contain chemical pesticides and cost you a LOT of money, again and again!) you simply apply the above 12 easy steps, you should be able to completely rid your premises of any flea infestation once all eggs hatched and all pupae emerged from the cocoons!

Note that with the chemical pesticides - even together with an IGR(!) - you cannot rid yourself and your dog of fleas any quicker either. Instead you would trade the flea relief for long-term health risks, for your dog and yourself and children.

Once again: As far as I know, if you make Diatomaceous Earth wet, it stops working (once I have a chance I will conduct tests). Thus, keep it dry. Accordingly, for yard flea control (and treatment), when it rained, reapply.

Please note that... You know what's comin', eh? Yes, Diatomaceous Earth too is not yet available in all international markets (but in the USA and UK it is even available online, on Amazon!).

Insecticidal Plants

The final group of remedies for natural flea control that we want to consider here are insecticidal plants, normally meaning plants that kill insects, here FLEAS, however we also accept a repellent effect: Because, when fleas are successfully repelled, they won't bite your dog! wink

Plants fighting FleasApplicationWarnings
Artemisia absinthium (Absinthium, Wormwood, Green Ginger,...)Infusion of leaves topically appliedcontains eucalyptol (fine) and thujone (toxic), prevent ingestion
Mammea americana fruits (Mamey, Mammee, Mammee Apple,...)Infusion of fruits, or ground seeds topically applied-
Melia azedarach (Chinaberry Tree, Bead-tree,...)Infusion of leaves, or ground seeds topically appliedfruit is toxic, prevent ingestion
Mentha pulegium (Pennyroyal, Mosquito Plant, Pudding Grass, Squaw Mint,...)Infusion of leaves, or ground dried leaves topically appliedas essential oil highly toxic, prevent ingestion
Pimenta dioica (Jamaica Pepper, Myrtle Pepper, Newspice, Pimienta,...)Infusion of fruits, or ground dried fruit topically applied-
Ricinus communis (Castor Bean Plant)Ground dried leaves and stems topically appliedseeds highly toxic, prevent ingestion
Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary)Essential oil, or ground dried leaves topically applied-
Tanacetum vulgare (Tansy, Bitter-buttons, Parsley Fern)Infusion of leaves topically appliedoil contains tannins and thujone (highly toxic), prevent ingestion

As the table clearly says, the above are plants that are particularly effective against fleas. There exist of course many more insecticidal plants, ie plants with properties that kill (or repel) insects in general, but not with ascertained specific efficacy against fleas.

For the other natural flea remedies often mentioned on the internet (citronella, garlic, brewer's yeast, apple cider, etc) I could not find any reliable (scientific) documentation confirming their efficacy against fleas, and I have no personal success to report either.

Have you had success with those?

IMPORTANT: "Plant-based", "natural", or "homemade" does not necessarily mean it's safe for the dog and us!

flowersFor example, Pyrethrin (which itself or one of its many derivatives is in many commercial flea remedies, see Flea Remedies IN A NUTSHELL) is a botanical insecticide derived from the harmless looking Chrysanthemum and Daisy flowers. Its insecticidal properties derive from being a contact neurotoxin - and while primarily for insects, it is toxic for dogs and humans too!

Some plants or their derivatives are even more toxic than "mid-range" synthetic chemicals. Thus always apply common sense before you use any natural flea remedies (or indeed any other remedies) that are being marketed as "plant-based", or "natural", or "homemade"!

Start by trying out a small amount first, of whatever remedy. Think: It doesn't have to be effective immediately, rather make sure that it is safe immediately. Efficacy you can always improve later, by applying more or in a different form.

Clear? Good.

Best flea control for dogs?

dog shakingSo, what is the overall best flea control for dogs?

In other words, the best flea prevention for dogs, or the best flea protection for dogs?

If you've reached this chapter not by simply clicking on its headline on the content page at the top, but rather consciously read all the above (puuh!), then you'll probably agree that using Diatomaceous Earth the way described above is worth a serious try first! Right?

You can always go back to the vastly popular and expensive flea drops for dogs or flea tablets for dogs (if you're coming from there?), but since both those types of flea remedies are full of chemical pesticides that act as neurotoxins it seems common sense to consider those as last resort, no?

Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is not a flea repellent (it doesn't emit a smell or whatever that would repel insects), and DE is not a chemical Insect Growth Regulator (IGR) or Insect Development Inhibitor (IDI), but DE kills all existing adult fleas (flea treatment) and all larvae once they hatch from the eggs (flea control).

flea remediesThus in terms of efficacy, apart from the lack of a repellent effect, Diatomaceous Earth is on par with the best flea tablets, best flea drops, best flea spray, best flea shampoo, best flea powder, and best flea bomb.

And in terms of toxicity, DE is way better: because it isn't toxic at all, it is fossilized algae.

As flea repellent you can try the curealiaed bandana described under Do flea collars work, or whatever else you prefer.

The lack of repellent effect of Diatomaceous Earth can actually be seen as positive, because it makes DE entirely immune against the build-up of resistance. What a pun!

Since DE is physically effective, fleas and other exoskeletons have no chance to "learn" how to avoid it. To avoid death they have only one chance: Freeze, don't move!

But if they don't move, they can't feed on the dog's blood, thus they would die as well.

Cool solution to the big flea problem, hm?

Yes, using the duster and having to reapply DE after a rainshower or bathing the dog, and having to apply DE to many places in the house and the garden/yard, all this is a bit less convenient (it takes more effort). But hey, it's safe and fun, let the kids do it! wink

The good news: The dog won't have an adverse reaction, and (s)he isn't going to be poisoned long-term(!), and (s)he doesn't smell of some nasty chemical cocktail, and the kids' and our own health won't be affected either.

Oh, and you save loads of money! Because effective flea tablets and flea drops are fairly expensive, and you probably need to buy them each month.

Conversely, the tiniest amount of Diatomaceous Earth is sufficient: it works on the microscopic level anyway! Thus one of the 5 pound bags probably lasts several months, all around the house and outdoors (and you get two bags).

You can also use DE for yard flea control, however when it rains or is windy, Diatomaceous Earth loses its efficacy, or is blown away. For such conditions the right Nematodes for fleas for your environment should be more effective, and more convenient too.

But note that both Diatomaceous Earth and Nematodes for fleas have to be applied the right way (as shown above), or you'll end up being one of the customers who express resentment (whether on Amazon or elsewhere).

 

Flea Remedies IN A NUTSHELL!

This is the second part of this sudorific and itchy Periodical. Before you look at the subsequent table of remedies, take note of the conclusion after all my research and analysis of dog owners' individual success stories about flea remedies:

It seems that no remedy is successful for everyone

Why? - See Types of fleas!

Also note: This Periodical on fleas is the first in a row of Periodicals on dog pests in our current health series (which started with the crucially important MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL on Vaccinations).

Therefore, in the subsequent table you may already see some information relevant for the other dog pests, which we will discuss in detail later. This way, we can refer to the same table in future, and you will have all in one place.

How nice! smile

Please don't forget: Flea remedies are constantly evolving.

Notes

  • T - Treat flea infestation: These remedies kill fleas (typically but not always after they have bitten)
  • C - Control flea population: These remedies kill fleas and life stages (before or after they have bitten)
  • R - Repellent: These remedies repel fleas, ie they do not reduce flea population
  • E - Electronic: These remedies use some electric or electromagnetic components to kill or repel fleas
  • N - Natural: These remedies are herbal or other natural flea solutions
  • P - Pesticide: These remedies are chemical flea solutions ("Pesticides" in the customary sense)
  • a - adulticidal: These remedies kill the living adults of the named insects
  • o - ovicidal: These remedies kill the eggs of the named insects (where applicable)
  • l - larvicidal: These remedies kill the larvae of the named insects (where applicable)
  • p - pupicidal: These remedies kill the pupae of the named insects (where applicable)
  • Efficacy is summarized based on the median of reported dog owners' experiences - and based on my knowledge of resistance of dog flea and cat flea against the active ingredient!
  • Risk is assessed based on the long-term effects of inhalation toxicity, dermal toxicity, neurotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, ecotoxicity, and oncogenicity - and it assumes that dog owners apply common sense!

For example: The chemical flea sprays get a "medium risk" applied only because you can (and should!) use a simple respirator and leave the sprayed room for at least 4 hrs with windows open (thus longer than the label may suggest).

While with the topical spot-on for dogs and the oral flea tablets for dogs (like Advantage, Biospot, Capstar & Co) you cannot reduce your dog's exposure to the pesticides (their whole purpose is to be absorbed into the dog's bloodstream)!

So why do the flea bombs get a "high risk" applied if they are neither topical nor oral? Because, human common sense ends where laziness starts: We just don't "clean all surfaces thoroughly before reusing the home" as required on the labels on all those foggers. Most people will just wipe a bit here and a bit there, and that's it, right?

Clear? Good.

Generic means it is cheaper than the brand remedy (but typically of similar quality, you just don't pay for the brand name, their research, their marketing).

CRUCIAL

  • The higher the application risk (see eg the spot-on for dogs), the less the price should play a role
  • Because, particularly the (pricey) flea drops and flea tablets are such a HUGE business for the vendors (on Amazon less than elsewhere) that there is a certain degree of RISK if you order such remedies online on a discount basis. While 99 orders may give you perfect quality, 1 order could be a "fake" product. No retailer can prevent this (nor the fake reviews!!)
  • A frequent administration error in dogs is partial administration to small dogs of spot-ons approved for large dogs: Often the concentration is much higher for large dogs, other times the Active Ingredients and Inert Ingredients have different weightings!
  • Thus, do NOT administer a split of say a remedy labeled "55 Pound and over" to your dog that weighs say 45 Pound
  • Equally, do NOT administer a split of that remedy to a younger dog than the label allows (say, to a puppy)
  • Application and dosage advice must be strictly adhered to, eg don't ever give a topical drop orally, or use a room remedy on the dog's skin, or such nonsense
  • Be utmost careful in the handling of each flea, tick, worm, etc remedy
  • Separate multiple pets after administration of the remedy, such that they cannot lick off and ingest the chemical cocktails of one another!

The only reason why dog owners are legally allowed to administer pest treatment and pest control remedies to their pets themselves is that the government assumes that dog owners can apply common sense.

This hint shall also serve as a reminder: Dog owners are not allowed to administer vaccinations themselves (see the linked Periodical why).

Back to our topic here: The ideal flea remedies are of course those that kill all flea life stages. However, it is not necessarily helpful if a flea remedy also kills ticks, mosquitoes, worms, and lice: If those pests are not endemic in your geography or your dog's living environment, why subject your dog to additional pesticides?

Only get what is relevant in your geography (or travel destinations) and for your dog's particular living environment (eg roaming the woods, is on a farm, is near a lake, pure couch dog?...). - What?? A German Shepherd must not be a couch dog! Have him or her exercise like a shepherd's dog, okay? wink

Let's end this Periodical on this funny note, because it still itches me everywhere, oh dear! (only wondering if it itches you now too?)

Information Resources

Although the subsequent resources are primarily USA-based, all these websites do provide useful information much of which is relevant to dog owners all over the world (though not all info is up-to-date).

 

Personal note: I've never had as much itching as during the preparation of this Periodical. When my leg or whatever itched, I inspected it for fleas. lol This topic clearly affected my nervous system. Or was it a neurotoxin??

Or was it a tick? wink

 


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