There are a lot of things that make dog parents shudder and think “yuck,” but we’re willing to bet dog fleas are at the top of that list. Preventing dog fleas is important for the health of your dog and your family, as this parasite can quickly wreak havoc on the home.
To spare you and your dog the suffering, here are the best tips for preventing dog fleas, based on expert advice and science.
Dog Flea Prevention: Why It’s Important
There are several reasons why you should take measures to prevent fleas on your dog.
Fleas Can Cause Allergies and Disease
Fleas can cause flea allergy dermatitis in some pets. That’s when a dog has an allergic reaction from the proteins found in flea saliva, making them scratch at itchy skin. Flea allergies in dogs can result in a lot of discomfort for your canine companion. Severe scratching can also cause permanent hair loss.
“Fleas are a common cause of allergies that can lead to major skin issues, but also can transmit diseases to pets and their owners,” says Dr. Beth Towning, co-owner of Lakeside Animal Hospital in Plantation, Florida.
Although fleas don’t live on humans, they can bite us, causing itchy skin. In rare cases, they can even cause diseases like the plague, bartonellosis, and murine typhus.
It’s wise to get your dog treated for fleas as soon as possible if you suspect they have them.
Fleas Can Infest Your Home
Another big reason why preventing dog fleas is important is because they can be a huge pain to remove from your home.
“Once there is a flea infestation in someone’s house, it can be very difficult to resolve because most products only kill adult fleas,” says California-based veterinarian, Dr. Gary Richter, author of The Ultimate Pet Health Guide. “The eggs and larvae survive in carpets, furniture, bedding, and fabrics, and become adults and the cycle starts again. It can take months to work through all the life cycles and kill them as they become adults.”
Preventing Dog Fleas: 5 Methods to Try
When it comes to preventing dog fleas, there’s a lot you can do, both at home and while out with your pup, to help minimize flea exposure.
Keep Your Dog Clean
Routinely bathing your dog with soap and warm water, in addition to a prescription flea control regimen, can help keep fleas at bay. Sometimes dogs scratch because they’re dirty and itchy, which can look like scratching due to fleas. Bathing your dog every few weeks (depending on their breed) or when they’re very dirty can also give you an excuse to closely check their coat for fleas or ticks.
Clean Their Bedding
You probably have a regular cleaning schedule for your linens and bedding, and the same should go for your pup. Wash their bedding in hot water every two to three weeks to reduce the chances of fleas and other critters using it for rent-free living.
Avoid Known Flea Hangouts
Keep your dog away from places where they might be more likely to get fleas, like high-grass areas and the woods. Maintaining your lawn can help, too. “Sometimes treating the yard or house in addition to monthly prevention is necessary if there is a large flea burden,” notes Dr. Towning.
Prepare Before Exposure to Other Furry Friends
Make sure your dog has a flea preventative (more on that below) before you take them to places where they’ll be close to other dogs who might have fleas, like a dog park, doggy daycare, or on a dog playdate with a friend. Ask any boarding or daycare institutions what they require from dogs who are staying there —like flea and tick prevention and vaccinations — and inquire about their policies for sick dogs.
Maintain a Tidy Home
One of the best ways to help prevent pests from infesting your home is to clean regularly. Make sure you’re vacuuming (including the furniture) and sweeping, washing fabrics, and doing your best to keep uninvited pests at bay. Pro tip: don’t forget to empty the vacuum outside in case you sucked up any flea eggs!
Flea Preventatives for Dogs: 5 Options to Consider
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There are hundreds of flea prevention products available to protect your dog from flea bites  — ranging from oral pills and chews to collars, sprays, dips, powders, shampoos, and “spot-on” products you squeeze onto your pet’s skin between their shoulder blades. Some of these require a prescription from your veterinarian, while others can be purchased over the counter.
“I recommend monthly products that target all the stages of the flea life cycle,” says Dr. Towning. “Speak with your veterinarian about your pet’s and the family’s lifestyle and which prevention may be right for your pet.”
Oral flea preventives are available from your veterinarian in the form of pills, tablets, or chews. These products are a simple way to help keep flea problems away, as long as you remember to give this medication to your dog on the brand-recommended schedule. Remember to choose pills that target the entire flea life cycle. Some options protect against fleas and common species of ticks. If you’re looking for a combination parasite protection product that covers both external and internal parasites, ask your vet about a monthly chew like NexGard PLUS.
Your veterinarian might recommend flea drops for dogs to prevent flea infestations. These drops are typically applied to your dog’s skin once a month. Topical flea solutions, such as Revolution, may offer protection against other parasites, such as heartworms, the American dog tick, ear mites, and canine sarcoptic mange.
There are varying forms of dog flea sprays out there. Some are meant to be applied to your pet, while others are designed to be used in the home or yard.
Essential Oil Products
If you’re looking to avoid chemicals, certain essential oils are reported to act as natural flea repellents. However, it’s important to note that essential oils won’t actually kill fleas. Options include essential oils like peppermint, rosemary, citronella, and eucalyptus, properly diluted and sprayed onto your dog’s coat. Be sure to ask your veterinarian before using essential oils on or around your pup, as some can be toxic to dogs.
Since you only had to change them every few months, flea collars used to be a popular option for preventing dog fleas. They contain active ingredients that spread across the surface of your pet’s skin in low concentrations over the course of a few months. However, some flea collars that contain carbaryl, tetrachlorvinphos, and propoxur are being phased out of production due to concerns about the health threat to pets and humans. Tetrachlorvinphos (TCVP) in particular is a chemical found in flea prevention products that may be hazardous to pets and humans, particularly pregnant women and children. 
Seresto collars, which are popular among many pet owners for flea and tick prevention, made headlines in 2021 due to reports of potential adverse reactions. However, both the EPA and most veterinary experts agree with proper use, these collars are safe for pets. Since they can be very effective and were deemed safe, your veterinarian may recommend a Seresto flea collar (or something similar) as an easy dog flea preventative. The collar contains two active ingredients — imidacloprid to control flea infestations and flumethrin to repel and kill ticks — that are slowly released over eight months.
Flea Preventatives: Safety and Things to Consider
- Talk to your veterinarian before administering any flea preventative
- Make sure you’re using EPA-registered pesticides or FDA-approved medicines
- Always administer products according to the package directions
- Wear gloves and/or wash your hands after applying a product
- Speak with your veterinarian about safe preventatives if your pet is very young, old, pregnant, nursing, or on medication
- Use medications and products before their expiration date
- Make sure you’re using dog flea prevention products that are specifically designated for your pet’s weight/size
- Save the packaging and materials to reference later
- Watch your dog for any adverse reactions including dizziness, poor appetite, depression, vomiting, diarrhea, or excess saliva. Even if a product is deemed safe, every dog is different. Discuss any symptoms and side effects with your veterinarian
What to Do if You Find a Flea On Your Dog
If you find a flea on your dog, “don’t freak out!” advises Dr. Towning. “Visit your veterinarian to purchase a preventative, and discuss further with your veterinarian if in-home treatment or yard treatment is recommended.”
With this in mind, remember that controlling fleas involves making sure they are removed from your dog and your home. Consider an effective flea control option immediately before an infestation gets established at home, suggests Dr. Richter.
Some recommendations the veterinarian might have for addressing dog fleas (many of which are similar to the ways in which you can prevent fleas) include :
- Give your dog topical or oral flea medicine
- Use a flea comb to remove fleas and flea eggs
- Bathe your dog with a flea shampoo
- Clean your house to prevent fleas from laying eggs
- Wash your dog’s bedding, your bedding, and any fabrics the dog lays on
- Use a “flea bomb” or “flea fogger” that will kill fleas in the home while humans and pets vacate the premises
The good news is that there are so many dog flea prevention options out there, so one of them is likely to be a good fit for your family. Always talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s health, medications they’re on, and your family’s concerns surrounding dog flea prevention products. They can help you choose the option that suits your needs best.
- “Flea Infestation.” ScienceDirect. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/pharmacology-toxicology-and-pharmaceutical-science/flea-infestation
- “Safe use of flea and tick products in pets.” FDA. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/safe-use-flea-and-tick-products-pets
- “CONSUMER ALERT: Flea and Tick Prevention Pet Products Containing Dangerous TCVP.” Office of the Attorney General of the District of Columbia https://oag.dc.gov/release/consumer-alert-flea-and-tick-prevention-pet
- “Safe use of flea and tick prevention.” AVMA.org. https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/petcare/safe-use-flea-and-tick-preventive-products