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Flea Control for Dogs

Flea prevention is an important part of dog care.

There are thousands of species of flea but only one, Ctenocephalides felis, affects dogs and cats.

Fleas have long been a thorn in the side of dogs and their owners.

Conditions Caused by Flea Infestation in Dogs

Fleas are more than just a nuisance; they can cause serious health problems in dogs, such as the following:

  • Anemia can be caused by severe flea infestation. Anemia is a condition where there are not enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to all of the body's tissues. It can result in death, especially in very small, young, or debilitated dogs.
  • Flea allergy dermatitis is a skin condition that occurs when a dog is allergic to flea saliva. This condition causes intense scratching and can lead to hair loss and skin infections.
  • Tapeworm infection with dipylidium caninum can be transmitted to dogs when they ingest fleas during self-grooming. While not harmful to the dog in most cases, it is not a pleasant condition for owners, as tapeworm segments will drop out of the dog's rectum onto his bedding or the floor-covering.

Flea Life Cycle

In order to control flea infestations, it's important to understand the flea life cycle:

  • Eggs: Eggs are laid on the dog by adult fleas. They fall off into the environment, where they incubate in the carpet, the pet's bedding, your bedding, the furniture, or the yard.
  • Larvae: The flea eggs hatch to reveal small, crawling larvae. The food source for the larvae is the stool of adult fleas, which has also fallen off of the dog. The larvae go through three molts, then they spin a cocoon and become pupae.
  • Pupae: Inside the cocoon, the pupae develop into adult fleas. At this stage, they are very hard to kill. Pupae can stay dormant inside the cocoon for up to a year. They do not emerge until they sense a host nearby that can serve as a food source. They perceive this through vibrations, sound, light, and carbon dioxide variations.
  • Adult fleas: Adult fleas aggressively search for a host in order to take their first blood meal. Once she has fed, the female flea will begin to lay eggs within two days, and she will lay eggs until she dies. Fleas can live for four to six weeks, but they are often groomed off by the host dog before that.

Flea Control Products for Dogs

There are a wide variety of flea control products for dogs. Some are over-the-counter and some are prescription products. Following are the most common prescription products and their actions:

When choosing over-the-counter flea products, it is critical that you read the label carefully. Choose the appropriate product for your dog's weight and age. There are many products that are highly toxic to cats. These can be dangerous even to cats living in a home with a dog treated with them.

  • Lufenuron is a chemical that sterilizes female fleas when they bite a treated dog. They are monthly pills that should be given with a full meal. These products do not kill adult fleas. For this reason, used alone, they are not effective treatments for dogs with flea allergy dermatitis. However, used together with a product that kills adult fleas, they can be very effective at decreasing the general flea population in your home. Products containing lufenuron include:

    • Program® is a flea sterilization product alone. Another product that controls adult fleas will be necessary in most dogs with flea allergy dermatitis.
    • Sentinel® contains lufenuron for flea sterilization, milbemycin oxime for heartworm preventative, and praziquantal for the control of some intestinal parasites. This product also contains no adult flea control, so allergic dogs may need an additional product.
  • Imidacloprid is a chemical that is a very effective adult flea killer. It is present in the Advantage line of products, as follows:

    • Advantage®II: This spot-on product is imidacloprid with the addition of pyriproxyfen, which expands its kill range to all of the flea life cycles. Advantage®II is also waterproof.
    • K9 Advantix®II is a spot-on product that contains imidacloprid, permethrin, and pyriproxyfen. It is labeled for use in killing all stages of the flea life cycle, as well as ticks. It also repels and kills mosquitoes, and repels chewing lice and biting flies. K9 Advantix®II is ONLY for use in dogs, and death is possible if it is used on or in the vicinity of cats.
    • Advantage Multi® is a spot-on treatment that contains imidacloprid with the addition of the chemical moxidectin, allowing it to be used for heartworm preventative as well as flea preventative (adult fleas only).
    • Seresto is a flea and tick collar that contains imidacloprid and the chemical flumethrin. It kills adult fleas and repels and kills ticks. The collar has a sustained release mechanism that allows the chemicals to spread from the site of contact with the collar over the rest of the dog's skin. The collar works for eight months.
    • Imidacloprid also comes in a wide range of Advantage® products for killing fleas, such as shampoos, direct sprays for the dog, carpet spray, yard spray, and a household fogger.
  • Fipronil is a chemical that kills adult fleas and ticks. It is present in the Frontline® products.

    • Frontline® Plus contains fipronil to kill adult fleas and ticks and (S)-methoprene to kill flea eggs and larvae. It is a spot-on product that controls fleas and ticks for around thirty days. It is waterproof.
    • Frontline® Tritak contains fipronil and cyphenothrin for killing adult fleas very quickly. It also contains (S)-methoprene for killing flea eggs and larvae.
    • Frontline® Spray is a product that can be applied directly to your dog, so it can start working immediately.
  • Selamectin is the chemical in Revolution®.

    • Revolution® is a spot-on product that kills adult fleas, sterilizes female fleas, prevents heartworm, and kills ticks, ear mites, and scabies.
  • Nitenpyrim is the chemical in Capstar®.

    • Capstar® is an oral tablet that kills the fleas that are on your dog, usually within thirty to sixty minutes. It can be repeated up to once a day as needed. Capstar® can be useful if your dog has been at a kennel or another environment with fleas and you would like to remove the fleas before you take your dog home. It can also help give relief to flea allergic dogs while you wait for another product to begin working.
  • Spinosad® is a new class of chemical, present in Comfortis® products, which come in the form of monthly oral tablets.

    • Comfortis® kills adult fleas very rapidly, so it is useful for flea allergic dogs.
    • Trifexis® contains spinosad to kill adult fleas and milbemycin oxime for heartworm preventative.
  • Dinotefuran is a fast-acting adult flea killer, present in Vectra® products.

    • Vectra 3-D for Dogs contains dinotefuran to kill fleas quickly. It is helpful in flea allergic dogs. It also contains permethrin to kill ticks and repel ticks, fleas, and mosquitoes. The third ingredient is pyriproxifen, an insect growth inhibitor to control the egg stage. This product should never be used on or in the vicinity of cats, as it may result in death.
  • Fluralaner is a chemical that kills adult fleas and three common types of ticks.

    • Bravecto® contains fluralaner, and is given as a chewable tablet every twelve weeks.
  • Afoxolaner is a chemical that is given to dogs orally to kill fleas and ticks.

    • Nexgard® contains afoxolaner and is given to dogs as a monthly chewable tablet.

This is not an exhaustive list of products. Your veterinarian can help you choose the product or combination of products that best suits your dog's lifestyle and situation.

Flea Prevention Product Resistance

Flea populations may be seen to develop some resistance to a product over time. While this has not been seen in the widespread flea population, it may happen on a small scale such as in a home. Your veterinarian may recommend that you alternate the product that you use periodically. This will make it harder for the flea population to develop resistance to any single product.

Flea Infestation

Prevention is the best medicine, but if you already have a flea infestation in your home, these products can help you control and eliminate it. You may also need to use a product that treats your home and/or your yard. Your veterinarian can help you determine the product or product combination that will help you get rid of the fleas the fastest. It's important to stick with the treatment. It may take several months to break the flea life cycle, and you may continue to see some fleas during that time.

If you’re not sure if your dog has fleas, you can use these tips and video to find out. If you're not sure if your dog has fleas, you can use these tips and video to find out. If your dog is scratching or has skin sores or hair loss, visit your veterinarian right away for a diagnosis and treatment plan.

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