I Found A Flea On My Dog… What Do I Do??

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When I spotted a flea crawling around on Matilda’s belly, I knew to act fast.

I knew what to do because we’ve had fleas before.

Sometimes I share things on my blog that I’m a little embarrassed about.

The fact that this is the second “flea happening” of Matilda’s lifetime makes me feel like a member of the McPoyle clan from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.

Ew. Are we a gross family?

But I know that sharing these things can make you feel better if you’ve experienced them too. They’re nothing to be embarrassed about.

As a good dog parent, you know that these things happen, it’s all in what you do about them.

Table of Contents

Should My Dog Be On A Monthly Flea Treatment?

The first time we had fleas, Matilda was actually on a monthly flea treatment. This more recent time, though, she wasn’t.

We were flea-free without any regular spot-on flea treatments for about three years.

For a while, I wasn’t using them because I was concerned about potential side effects. So many people in the natural pet health circles feel that conventional flea and tick preventatives are dangerous. We didn’t seem to have fleas present in our neighborhood where we take most of our walks, and I was using a natural flea and tick spray anytime we’d go to a park or wooded area.

I’m not sure why, seemingly out of nowhere this past August, we started to see fleas when we’ve been staying home due to COVID, and nothing else had changed in our environment.

But now that we had fleas, I had do some actual research to find out:

  • If natural flea products would help us
  • If not, if conventional flea products were safe
  • And if so, which ones would put us at the least risk of side effects

Natural Flea Treatments – Do They Work?

There are many natural alternatives to chemical flea treatments available. I like them. Unlike chemicals, it doesn’t seem as though fleas can develop a resistance to them. But there are some downsides.

  • You have to remember to apply them every 3-5 days, and whenever you take your dog to a buggy area
  • Some products only repel and do not kill pests. Those that DO kill pests tend to only do so while wet; once they dry on your dog’s skin and coat, they only repel
  • Some people are sensitive to the strong scents. I happen to love woodsy cedar scents, clove, and some of these products even smell like Froot Loops to me. But if you’re sensitive to strong smells, they might give you a headache, especially if you’re using a lot of them at once

During our three-week-long flea infestation, I learned a lot about natural flea treatments… because they weren’t totally eliminating the fleas.

Vet’s Best smells like clove and peppermint oil, and applied both around your home and on your dog. It’s one of the cheaper options at (check current price on Amazon).

Now, you can’t expect flea treatments to work instantly because fleas can hide in the fibers of your carpet, on fabrics, and close to your dog’s skin.

But it seemed like they were reappearing when we came inside from walks, which meant they were still hopping onto my dogs from outside.

Our natural flea sprays, as well as our flea collars, just didn’t seem to be working.

We used TropiClean home spray, which smells like Froot Loops. It wasn’t effective on its own, but seemed to help when combined with other products. (Available on Amazon) I like to use it in areas like bedding, where I don’t want myself or my dogs to breathe in potentially toxic chemicals.

Are Conventional Flea And Tick Products Dangerous?

I found out that the FDA put out a warning about chewable flea and tick products: Bravecto, Credelio, Nexgard, and Simparica.

Those were the ones that were found to cause seizures.

I have found no evidence that spot-on, over-the-counter products like Frontline Plus were causing seizures. They do have other potential side effects such as drooling and vomiting.

Yes, on Facebook, there are people saying all kinds of things about every possible product.

But without substantiated evidence that the products I wanted to try were dangerous, and the very real fleas hopping all over my miserable, itchy dogs, I decided to use Frontline Plus on both Matilda and Cow.

And guess what?

Within three days, I never saw another flea again.

Fleas outside were repelled by the medication. Fleas inside were starving.

I continued to vacuum and treat my home with both natural and chemical sprays. The chemical sprays typically contain Insect Growth Regulators (IGRs) that prevent flea larvae from maturing and reproducing.

The chemical spray I used was Pet Armor, an affordable option (see current price on Amazon). After saturating the furniture, I kept my dogs away for 12 hours. So, I’d spray the bedroom during the day, and the living room at night. I like having the natural spray for spontaneous treatment, then the chemical spray to use sparingly.

Any fleas that were hiding in my home were unable to make babies, so our population was finally killed off for good.

Can Fleas Make Me Or My Dog Sick?

Fleas can carry tapeworm, but your dog will only get infected if they eat the flea. If your dog takes a monthly heartworm medication like Interceptor Plus, they shouldn’t get tapeworms even if they do eat fleas. Your dog should have a fecal test at least yearly to check for parasites.

Fortunately, fleas don’t really like humans. They typically bite your feet and ankles, rather than hang out in your hair. But knowing that I had fleas in my house gave me a creepy-crawly feeling of paranoia all day long.

There are some diseases you can get from flea bites, so you definitely do not want to coexist with them in your home.

Fleas happen, and if you nip the problem in the bud when you see that first flea, you and your family will probably be fine, but check with your family physician just in case.

Can I Use Dawn Dish Soap To Kill Fleas?

Okay, here’s a hot topic. Can you, should you use Dawn Dish Soap to kill fleas?

It works really well. Fleas are hard to kill, even if you bathe your pet in warm, soapy water with their usual dog shampoo.

You’ve probably seen those Dawn commercials where they use the popular dish soap to bathe animals rescued from oil spills. The soap is so effective that you can even use it to clean oil stains off of concrete.

Dawn dries out the fleas’ exoskeleton, but it also dries out your dog’s skin. Your dog’s skin acts as a barrier against bacteria, and stripping their skin and coat of oils can leave them prone to dry skin, flaking, and even skin infection.

But when you have fleas, time is of the essence because they start to lay eggs soon after a blood meal, within 24 hours of entering your home.

So, while it’s better to use flea shampoo, if dish soap is what you have, that’s what you might end up using, even though you know it’s not good for your dog’s skin. It’s okay in a pinch for an emergency situation.

I couldn’t bear the thought of bugs crawling all over Matilda, Cow, and my home while I stepped out to find a proper flea shampoo, so I used Dawn. I later bought some real flea shampoo to have on hand.

When you lather your dog up with dish soap, let it work for about ten minutes. It shouldn’t be long before you start to see dead fleas start to surface. You might be surprised at how many fleas your dog actually has.

If you have doggy conditioner, condition their skin and coat after a Dawn treatment. You can also use coconut oil.

Well… What Should I Do?

I know that I seem to waffle between ideas. I am not profoundly attached to the idea of using natural solutions for everything, nor do I always use conventional chemical products. Both have a place in our lives, in my opinion.

I think it’s important to understand as much as you can about your options, and I collect information to help you make a decision on your own.

Here’s what conclusions I’ve come to:

  • Use monthly spot-on flea treatments if you won’t remember to apply a natural spray every three days (raises hand) AND if you live in an area that has fleas and ticks (most do). If there are foxes, raccoons, and skunks in your area, they might bring fleas to your property. Not all wild animals carry dog fleas. Squirrels and mice, for example, do not.
  • Monitor after using any flea treatment. But keep in mind that if your dog does not have a history of bad reactions or seizures, the risk of adverse effects is lower than the risk of diseases from parasites.
  • Use a natural spray treatment like TropiClean because fleas are becoming resistant to spot-on flea treatments. You can use both TropiClean AND spot-on flea treatments. Just don’t use them all at once, because if your pet has an adverse reaction, it won’t be clear what caused it. Yes, essential oils can cause adverse reactions in some dogs, just like anything else.
  • Protect your dog daily AND spray them again before you go on a hike or otherwise expect to be exposed to nasty critters.
  • Use flea shampoo if you can, but if you only have Dawn dish soap, in most cases, occasional use shouldn’t harm your dog. Condition and protect their skin afterwards if you must use it.
  • Don’t panic, but act fast. Fleas lay eggs within 24 hours, so once you see one, kill it, and look for its friends.
  • Launder fabrics your dog has been around. Spray-treat anything you can’t wash.
  • Always read the label. Some essential oils, in certain concentrations, can be toxic to your dog. Products formulated specifically for dogs should be safe, but always research first.
  • Try to use a home spray that’s safe to spray on your dog. If it is not, allow it to dry before letting your dog near the sprayed area.

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Lindsay Pevny
Lindsay Pevny lives to help pet parents make the very best choices for their pets by providing actionable, science-based training and care tips and insightful pet product reviews.

She also uses her pet copywriting business to make sure the best pet products and services get found online through catchy copy and fun, informative blog posts. She also provides product description writing services for ecommerce companies.

As a dog mom to Matilda and Cow, she spends most of her days taking long walks and practicing new tricks, and most nights trying to make the best of a very modest portion of her bed.

You’ll also find her baking bread and making homemade pizza, laughing, painting and shopping.

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