How to treat fleas in puppies

Article by Dr Ivana Crnec

Dr Ivana Crnec is a licensed doctor of veterinary medicine, a passionate writer, and a devoted pet parent.

Fleas are not the most pleasant topic to discuss. In fact, let’s be honest, they’re pretty disgusting.

However, being a responsible puppy parent means dealing with the bad as well as the good.

Don’t be fooled by their small size: fleas can be dangerous. They can carry a plethora of diseases, with flea allergy dermatitis (or flea saliva sensitivity) the number one flea-related problem in dogs. Flea bites can also trigger bacterial skin infections. A heavy flea infestation in a young puppy can cause anaemia (a reduced number of red blood cells). Last but not least, fleas can carry tapeworms.

How can I tell if my puppy has fleas?

Puppy with fleas

A pup with fleas will consistently scratch her body. You should take a close look all over her coat for white and black specks, about the size of a grain of sand. The white particles are flea eggs and the black particles are faeces.

Fleas, eggs, and faeces can be hard to notice on heavily-coated and dark-coloured puppies. If you suspect your puppy has fleas but can’t see any, brush her coat over a white surface and then crush the fallen grains. Since fleas are blood-sucking creatures, the crushed grains will leave red marks.

How should I treat a puppy with fleas?

There are numerous anti-flea products on the market and you might assume that having so many options would make a flea infestation easy to handle.

However, when choosing the ideal anti-flea treatment, your dog’s age is a determining factor. Importantly, the most popular anti-flea treatments are not suitable for young puppies.

This is for two main reasons:

  • The active anti-flea ingredient is too strong for fragile youngsters.
  • Puppies love licking themselves, so anything you put on them will eventually end up inside them.

If you have a flea-infested puppy younger than six weeks old, you will need to do two separate things:

  1. First, use a flea comb to remove most of the fleas, larvae, eggs and faeces, and then a pair of regular tweezers to pick off any remaining fleas.
  2. Next, use an anti-flea shampoo formulated specifically for young and sensitive puppies.

Taking both of these steps will provide the most effective care. While the shampoo will alleviate skin irritation associated with the flea activity, it won’t remove flea eggs. Skipping combing and tweezering will mean the problem remains.

Which flea medication should I buy for an older puppy?

If your puppy is older than six weeks, it can be safely treated with regular flea medications.

The best choice for six-week-old puppies is Stronghold, because it has no minimum weight requirement. Puppies that are seven weeks old can be treated with the topical treatments Advantage II (if heavier than 1.5 Kg) or K9 Advantix II (if heavier than 1.8 Kg). Another option for small dogs is a Seresto collar.

For puppies aged 8-13 weeks, you can choose between topical treatments (such as Activyl and Endectrid) and oral medications (such as NexGard and Easecto). For pups at least 14 weeks old, you can use the chewable Comfortis treatment. Puppies older than six months are also good candidates for the oral treatments Bravecto and Simparica. 

Are shampoos, sprays and dips good at removing fleas?

Generally speaking, shampoos are not as efficient as sprays and dips at removing fleas because they do not leave much residual insecticide on the puppy. At the same time, aerosols in pump sprays can be less practical because the loud sounds they make might be scary for pups. Try to pick the option most suited to your pup. 

And remember to always wear rubber gloves when treating your puppy with shampoos, sprays, and dips.

Do I need to treat my home for fleas?

In cases of heavy flea infestations, chances are fleas will be present not just on your puppy but in your home too. Up to 95% of fleas live in your pet’s environment rather than on your pet’s body. So, it is pointless to treat only the puppy. Your whole environment, including indoor and outdoor spaces, your car, and any other animals your puppy has come into contact with must all be treated.

Use an aerosol such as Indorex to treat yoir house. This should kill any adult fleas present as well as preventing the development of larvae and flea eggs for up to 12 months.

Pay particular attention to pet cats. If cats go outdoors, they can get re-infested with fleas, bringing them back into the treated environment. Note that cats must not be treated with flea products made for dogs.

Does vacuuming prevent fleas?

Robot vacuum for sucking up fleas

The short answer is yes, vacuuming is helpful but it’s not one hundred percent effective. Thorough vacuuming should be combined with applying insecticides to achieve fast and lasting effects.

Vacuuming is helpful because it sucks up different stages of the flea life cycle and also straightens carpet pile, allowing subsequent insecticidal sprays to penetrate deeper.

There’s a surprising additional bonus to vacuuming. Your vacuum cleaner produces mild vibrations and a low level of heat. Both are ideal for encourage flea pupae to develop into adult fleas, which tend to be easier to get rid of.

Just be extra careful when disposing of the vacuum cleaner bag or container contents, since it will be filled with fleas in varying life cycle stages, and you don’t want those pouring into your home. 

Final reminders

When you go to the shops or place an online order, just bear in mind that while there are many efficient anti-flea products out there, not all are suitable for young pups.

It is also important to be aware that many over-the-counter products are not as effective as they once were. Repeated exposure of these products to fleas has led to resistance. If your puppy is still scratching despite treating both her and her environment, then this could be your issue. If in doubt, get a prescription-strength product from your local vet.

Remember, fleas are more than just a nuisance. Fleas can be dangerous and cause life-threatening complications for your pup, so you should keep an eye on her coat and regularly check her for fleas.

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