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Let's Talk About Fleas - A Personal Account

Updated: Apr 25, 2018

We'll start with a personal story from someone who is not a veterinarian. Official advice follows the personal story. You can also go HERE for an informational blog post.

I've had fleas... er... my dogs have had fleas. It was an informative, albeit terrible time period in my home. My story is especially interesting because we contracted what I like to call second-hand fleas. We did not have direct contact with an animal who had fleas. In fact, the flea-infested animals had vacated the space (my in-laws home) THREE MONTHS prior to our arrival. Turns out fleas can go dormant until a suitable host returns. Enter suitable hosts: George and Berny.

Before you ask: Yes, the dogs were being treated with a widely used topical flea & tick preventative. In this case, it didn't help (though I've been advised that it did not work because we purchased it from a big-box hardware store, where shipping and storage regulations are different than when purchasing from your veterinarian). Our pups were being devoured. We didn't realize they had fleas until we returned home {and brought the fleas into our house and yard}. We tried an at-home flea bath {if you do this, start by getting the neck fully wet -- down to the skin. Leave the rest of the body dry at this point. Apply shampoo and lather thoroughly around the neck. This prevents fleas from gathering at the ears, eyes, and face, where it is difficult to shampoo safely.}, flea powder for the carpet, professional flea bath, and finally a trip to the vet's office for an anti-inflammatory prescription, and a chew-able flea and tick preventative.

The Solution

The chew-able preventative worked well, and I will never go back to the topical option (mostly because we did not like how greasy the dogs were after applying it). After hours of google research, we learned that vacuuming at least four times per day {immediately emptying the canister into a sealed baggie}, along with the use of {Food Grade} Diatomaceous Earth inside the vacuum canister, and on our hardwood floors was our best bet.

At night we set flea traps in multiple places around the house to monitor the population of our unwanted guests. The flea traps consisted of a thin layer of water mixed with a hefty amount of dish soap (mixture should be fairly thick) on a white plate. We set the traps under desk lamps on the floor. The fleas are attracted to the light -- but when they jump toward the light, they get trapped in the soapy water and cannot escape. To our delight, the population slowly {but steadily} dwindled each night. We lived like this for four weeks.

The following information has been taken from the Companion Animal Parasite Council website:

1. Fleas are the most common external parasite found on dogs and cats.

2. Fleas are more likely to be a problem during warmer weather, however, they can cause problems during the cooler months due to their ability to continue their life-cycle indoors.

3. YEAR-ROUND Prevention is the key to a flea-free pet -- especially if there are animals visiting from a state with a warmer climate.

How will fleas affect my pet?

You will first notice the effects of fleas when your pet repeatedly scratches and chews. On occasion, you may see tiny brown fleas moving quickly through your pet's hair-coat. Your pet's constant scratching may lead to visible patches of hair loss and reddened, irritated skin. Fleas may also cause skin allergies and can transmit other parasites, such as tapeworms, to your pet.

How do I check my pet for fleas?

Although your pet may be infested with fleas, they are not always easy to find. One of the best methods for checking your pet for fleas is to look for flea dirt (flea feces) in your pet's hair-coat.

To check for flea dirt, briskly comb or rub a section of the hair on your pet's back while they are sitting or lying on a white piece of paper (or old bed sheet). If your pet has fleas, black flecks that look like dirt (“flea dirt”) will fall onto the paper. If you transfer these black flecks to a damp piece of paper, in a short time they will appear red or rust-colored. The red color is dried blood that has been sucked from your pet, then passed into the flea’s feces. If the dirt specks do not turn red, then they are probably regular dirt.

How do I prevent my pet from getting fleas?


To control fleas, you must stop them from reproducing. Carpets, pet bedding, furniture, and other indoor areas where your pet spends time will contain the highest number of developing fleas (see video). Frequent vacuuming of these areas (throw the vacuum cleaner bag away afterwards), and frequent washing of your pet's bedding can greatly reduce the number of fleas developing inside your home.


Fleas develop in shady, protected outdoor areas. These outdoor spots can easily be identified as the places where your dog likes to rest and relax. Remember, if your dog does not feel comfortable spending time in a particular area, then neither will fleas.

Dogs and fleas typically like the same locations.

Steps to Take

Both indoor and outdoor areas can be sprayed with insecticides to eliminate fleas, if necessary. Treatment of your home or yard is best performed by a trained pest control expert. Consult with your veterinarian as to which flea products will break the flea life-cycle in your environment.

Most flea problems can be managed by treating and preventing fleas on your pet. It is important to keep in mind that flea problems may be different from pet to pet or between households, and each problem may require a special method of control.

Talk to your veterinarian for advice on your specific situation. Your veterinarian can recommend safe and effective products for controlling fleas and can determine exactly what you need. Your veterinarian can also determine whether you should consult with a pest control specialist about treating your home and yard.

Dr. Emilee and her team of care-providers at Shoreview North Oaks Animal Hospital will advise you on the best preventative and treatment plan for your pet.

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