Your trusty guide to dog skin problems

Fleas On Dogs, Part Two: Dog Treatments

In the first of this two-part series, which can be found here, we briefly discussed the flea: their life cycles, how they jump aboard your dog in the first place and how to tell if they’re the ones making your dog miserable and itchy. That’s okay though, because in this second part we’ll be talking about how these bugs can be forcibly removed from the premises. In other words, I’m going to tell you what to do to kill those fleas and save your dog.

There are a ton of options available when deciding to treat your dog in regards to fleas. On one hand, that’s a good thing because we can choose the method we want to use. Then again, the prospect of too many choices usually forces us into undertake endless research to find out which one out of the lot is the best for our needs.

Therefore, I’m going to describe what I’ve discovered about each remedy for the rest of this article, to help you understand how each of them function, and their general performance in regards to cleaning out those fleas.

Flea Collars

Let’s start with the cheapest and most accessible option in the market: flea collars. These are worn like normal collars, and if the advertisements are true, just fasten them around the neck, and the fleas will start dying. It’s safe, easy to use, and effective too!

But is it?

There are three types of flea collars, each with a different mechanism for dealing with fleas. Collar #1 relies on the traditional way of releasing a poisonous gas, harmful only to fleas and ticks. These seem to be pretty good, but what you should be aware of is that the radius of the gas is pretty small – I would say that it probably takes care of the head and neck area rather well, but is ineffective for all other parts of the body. This is pretty helpful if you have ticks, since they usually concentrate on the head and neck regions, but useless for fleas living the life on the dog’s lower body otherwise.

Collar #2 also produces poisonous substances that can be absorbed into the fat layer of the dog, which will slowly kill the fleas. Again, it doesn’t spread down to the rest of the body other than the head and neck, so the fleas would just move out of those places and settle somewhere else. Besides, who’s to know if it’s harmless to humans, especially when there’s a toddler around? I wouldn’t know, but it doesn’t seem safe to me. I won’t comment on scattered reports about these being highly poisonous to your dog as I’m truly not sure about the effects, but try and weigh your options carefully with this one.

Collar #3 apparently uses a kind of ‘ultrasonic anti-flea wave’ to kill the bugs. I have no idea how this works, and from what I’ve read, nobody seems to take these collars seriously, so feel free to laugh at them.

I think it’s pretty clear that flea collars aren’t exactly the method of choice I would use to clear the fleas off my dog, and it’s definitely not the best by far. I guess if you’re pretty hard up for money, you could give these a try – most of them usually retail for less than $10 – but I would suggest looking for other forms of remedies. Speaking of which, it’s now time to delve into another option.

Flea Shampoo

This is pretty logical: a shampoo product that also has anti-flea benefits. Pretty good, right? Most people do agree that flea shampoos have their uses, but they start to get argumentative when it comes to how useful these are for the long term.

For the most part, a flea shampoo acts like a normal shampoo; you use the formula to wash your dog as clean as you can, and the fleas will get poisoned, die, and roll off your dog’s back or get washed away by rinsing water. Usually they’ll all be gone by the time your dog has had his bath. Success!

Ah, but here’s the catch: They kill fleas, but they don’t prevent them from coming back. It’s like chasing a seagull away from your food – they’ll leave, fly around for bit, and wait until you’re gone before they start getting at the leftovers. Similarly, the fleas on the dog would be killed and washed away, but there are always new ones looking to hop on. Remember that only 5% of the entire flea population in the area live on your dog; the rest of them are just hanging around waiting for a free spot.

This is not to say that they’re ultimately useless – flea shampoos are pretty useful! What you need to do is to follow up past the first shampooing, and prevent more fleas from landing on your dog. More about this part later, though.

And then there are the side-effects of using flea shampoos. Some people think they’re pretty harmless, while others are convinced that the chemical residue used to poison the fleas will still linger after the bath, and would pose a problem when your dog licks himself. In my opinion, if there’s residue on your dog it probably means you haven’t rinsed him well enough. Like I said, fleas can and will start to reappear if you don’t do anything else after that initial wash, so the supposed presence of residue doesn’t make sense, or they wouldn’t be able to climb aboard so soon otherwise.

But of course, the pet industry has this well covered. Here’s another one of their inventions.

Flea Dips

To me, the concept of a flea dip is pretty similar to dousing your dog in insecticide. They smell, they have strange-sounding chemicals and they obviously don’t look safe for licking. But do they prevent fleas? Oh yes, they do.

Flea dips work by coating a dog’s skin in chemicals that are harmful to fleas, killing them gradually upon contact. This sounds pretty good on paper, but not so much when it comes to sloshing chemicals all over your dog. It’s not very good for him in the long run, is it?

This is another dilemma that dog owners face – do I want to give my dog a flea dip and be reassured that they won’t come jumping back, or forgo the potentially poisonous treatment and look for another way? It pretty much depends on your opinion on the subject, and how severe the problem is.

The good thing about a flea dip is that if you really, really want fleas to get lost, you can turn up the potency as much as you want. The bad thing is, of course, the risk you take in your dog’s overall health if you decide to press on. What I recommend is a dip with one of the milder versions of the product once a week or less, and reinforce with another, less toxic method. In this case, there is such a thing as ‘too much of a good thing’.

Flea dips are meant to be used on the entire body of the dog, which makes sense – you don’t hose the kitchen down and call it a day while the rest of the house is burning down, do you? However, people are increasingly ditching this method of treatment in favour of another that’s easier to apply and more effective in the long run, which will be the last one for this article…

Topical ‘Spot-on’ Treatment

In my opinion, this is the ‘silver bullet’ of the whole anti-flea market. The spot-on treatment has seen widespread use and is highly recommended by some people, with decent sales statistics to show for it. However, others aren’t that convinced that this is the treatment of choice for fleas on dogs, and I’ll explain why.

Here’s how it works: The medicine comes in a little tube, similar to a bottle of eye-drop solution or travel-sized toothpaste. The furs of the dog are parted in order to expose the skin, and the contents – an oily liquid substance – are emptied onto a single spot on the dog, preferably on the shoulder-blades or another part where he can’t reach by licking.

The active ingredients found in the liquid will slowly be worked into the natural oil that the dog skin secretes, and the substance will slowly spread throughout the entire skin area. This substance is, of course, poisonous to fleas, and after a while those that have been on the dog soon end up dead.

Easy enough, isn’t it? You just unscrew the bottle cap, squeeze out everything on one spot, and the medicine takes care of the rest. No wonder people are scrambling to buy these once they get hit with a flea problem.

The effectiveness of this method has been vouched for by many people online. What I’ve gathered is that most prefer either Advantage® or Frontline®, two brands of spot-on remedies, and they seem to deliver results consistently on dogs that have severe cases of fleas. Therefore, it’s probably safe to say that they’re proven to be effective in getting rid of the pests.

But just how safe are they? As you can tell, this question is a majorly thorny issue. Many people have spoken out about the poisonous effects of the spot-on treatment, usually highlighting the chemical contents of the medicine as well as raising doubts about its delivery mechanism.

As a case in point, a few are rather vocal about a brand called Bio Spot®, which sells the medicine at a significantly lower price. Apparently, it’s proving to be more trouble than it’s worth, as reports have surfaced about dogs having severe reactions to the medicine after it was administered. Regardless of its validity, I personally think it’s enough to steer clear from the brand, at least.

In Conclusion…

We’ve covered at least four methods of flea treatment in this article in detail: the flea collar, the shampoo, the dip and the spot-on. We’ve gone through the pros and cons for each method, and in so doing I hope you have some idea of what to choose in regards to treating your dog.

But what did we really learn from this analysis? To tell the truth, it’s probably the fact that all methods of flea treatment carry a certain risk in them. This could be due to the nature of the remedy itself – they’re all designed to be pesticides, and their primary aim is to eradicate the bugs first and foremost. This doesn’t mean that they don’t take the dog’s health and safety into consideration, but it most definitely means that whatever rubbing or spraying on your dog isn’t exactly healthy for him.

In closing, I highly suggest that you take your time to think seriously about which method you will eventually employ. Some are more suitable in some situations than others, as well as for the severity of the problem. Whatever you choose, I hope that it’ll help with your fight against the fleas.

The next part of this series will focus on the next phase of flea treatment: Cleaning up the home and surroundings, where 95% of the little parasites live. If you want them out of your life permanently, I recommend taking notes for this one.

Related posts:

  1. Fleas On Dogs, Part One: Where, Why, How

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