Flea and tick prevention for dogs

Few dog owners are fortunate enough to avoid an eventual run-in with fleas, the most common dog parasites. Even with regular bathing and grooming, the tireless critters can find their way to the tender flesh of unsuspecting dogs (and dog owners). The bloodsuckers not only don’t pay rent, they cause itching and can transmit diseases to their hosts.

Happily, controlling fleas has become much simpler, safer, and more effective in the last few years. New products that break the flea’s reproductive cycle make it possible to keep the little biters at bay without exposing your dog to toxic chemicals.


Your dog’s continuous itching and scratching will probably be your first clue that he’s got fleas. If you look closely, you may actually see the little dark brown bugs. More likely, though, you’ll see what look like black and white specks. The black specks are “flea dirt,” or flea feces. The white specks are flea eggs. If you do see actual fleas, they won’t be easy to catch because they move fast and can jump farther than you’d think their tiny legs could take them.

If you think you’ve spotted some but aren’t quite sure, run a flea comb (a fine-toothed comb) over your dog’s back, groin area, haunches, and tail. These are the places fleas like most.

While some dogs experience nothing more than itching, others can develop flea allergy dermatitis. Heavy infestations can be serious enough to cause anemia. Some fleas carry diseases, such as typhus and tapeworm infections, that can be transmitted to your dog.

Flea basics

To really get rid of fleas, you have to disrupt their life cycle. Fleas thrive in moist, humid environments — that’s why they’re a much bigger problem in the summer than in winter.

An adult flea can live for four months on the body of a dog, but it’ll die in a couple of days without its canine host. After a nice meal of blood, fleas mate on the dog’s skin. The female can produce as many as 2,000 eggs during her short lifespan.

Those eggs fall off and hatch all over the house — in the carpet, on the couch, under the covers. Eventually those newly hatched fleas will need to find a host of their own, and the whole cycle starts all over again. So it’s not enough to kill the adult fleas; you have to get rid of all the eggs and larvae, too.

How to prevent fleas

New products are less toxic than older remedies and have made it easier to protect your dog from fleas. Some of these options can be pricey, but the upside is that they work.

Widely used products

If it’s not working

If, despite your best efforts, your dog’s still a flea magnet, here’s what you need to know to get rid of the infestation.

When to go with the pros

Some of the effective flea control products are only available at a veterinarian‘s office. Those that are combined with heartworm preventive require a prescription.

Bottom line: Fleas are not only annoying, they can harm your dog’s health. By sticking to a regular flea control routine using the newest products, you can keep your dog comfortable and safe from most flea troubles.

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