Nobody has to tell you how much of a nuisance fleas can be – if you’ve owned a dog for any length of time, you probably know first-hand how those little bloodsuckers can cause so much trouble for your four-legged friend.
Fleas are parasites, which means that they “make their living” by feeding on the blood of a warm-blooded host, and many times that host can be your household pet. It can be heart-wrenching to see a dog scratching themselves raw trying to deal with flea bites; not only does it make their fur look bad, but it’s dangerous for their health as well.
I remember when my dog Juno had a bad (and I mean BAD) case of fleas – it was really tough for me to see her suffering like that, scratching and picking at those sore spots almost incessantly just to find some kind of relief. Not only are the flea bites themselves a source of pain and discomfort, but they can become infected, which can lead to other maladies that may end up bad enough for your dog to have to pay a visit to the veterinarian.
So what can you about these pesky parasites? Below are some important facts and tips to help you learn how to treat flea bites on dogs.
What Happens When A Flea Bites A Dog?
This seems to be a basic question, but understanding more about how those little parasites do what they do will give you a greater understanding of why flea bites can be so bothersome – and even dangerous – to your pup.
Fleas have two distinct mouth parts that serve a dual function of sorts, so that when they bite a dog, two main things are happening: First of all, one of the mouth parts actually begins extracting blood from your dog, while another mouth part begins to inject saliva and some of the digested blood back into the animal. As completely repulsive as that sounds, that’s exactly what happens. The saliva that the flea injects into their host is part of what makes the bite itch so much.
This dual suction/injection action is part of the reason why fleas were the primary transferring agents of the bubonic plague back in the mid-1300’s – they would bite infected black rats that traveled on the merchant ships, and then eventually they would switch to human hosts as well. The fleas would then inject some of the infected blood from the black rats into their human hosts, transferring the pathogen into their victims’ bloodstreams. As absolutely crazy as this sounds, this deadly plague spread across Europe at breakneck speed due to the activities of those infected fleas, killing an estimated 75 to 200 million people.
To be so small, fleas can cause untold amounts of damage! Now my intent was not to scare you with the whole bubonic plague scenario (it’s very rare in this day and time), but just to illustrate how fleas do their dirty work. So since we have a better understanding of that now, let’s talk about what you can do to treat those pesky flea bites on your dog. We’ll start with some reliable home remedies first.
Best 9 Home Remedies For Flea Bites On Dogs
Itching, incessant scratching, and inflammation are common symptoms of flea bites on dogs, and while some dogs seem virtually immune to flea bites, others have what’s known as flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), which is a hypersensitivity of the skin to flea bites.
If your dog has FAD, not only will your poor pup constantly scratch themselves to try and get some relief, but if the reaction is bad enough, your dog can even suffer with behavioral problems due to the effect of the allergy on their nervous system. Fortunately, there are several natural, highly affordable remedies you can use to bring some much-needed relief to your four-legged friend.
Here are some of my top picks:
1. Cold Bath
A nice cold bath will always bring relief to your pup from the itching and swelling associated with flea bites. Keep in mind that cold water will automatically cool down those hot spots, which will reduce the itching. Don’t use hot water, as this can cause more swelling and further irritate the inflamed areas, causing even more itching.
2. Baking Soda Paste
You can create a paste made from baking soda and water, and then apply it to the areas where bites are present. This will relieve itching and bring much-needed repair to your pup’s skin.
3. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is an awesome household remedy for all kinds of maladies, and it’s no slouch when it comes to treating flea bites, either. Dilute a small amount of apple cider vinegar with some water, and dampen a soft cloth with the solution. Then, wipe your dog’s coat with the cloth. Not only does apple cider vinegar act as a natural flea repellent, but it also has strong antiseptic properties that can help stave off the infections that sometimes come from flea bites.
4. Calendula ointment
Calendula ointment can bring soothing relief to your dog’s sore spots as well. Calendula comes from the marigold plant, and is revered for its healing properties, possessing tonic, andispasmodic and anti-inflammatory agents that can address itchy, sore and inflamed skin.
5. Aloe vera gel
Aloe vera gel is another excellent anti-inflammatory agent you can use to counteract the itching, pain and swelling that your dog might experience from flea bites. You can either purchase aloe vera gel from the store, or if you have an aloe plant, you can break open its thick, puffy leaves and squeeze the rich aloe gel directly onto the dog’s sore spots. This will provide cool, soothing relief to your pup, and bring healing to the affected areas.
6. Cornstarch bath
Try a cornstarch bath for your dog. Run some lukewarm water in a bathtub or basin (the amount you would normally use for your dog), and then sprinkle a generous amount of cornstarch into the water. Make sure to thoroughly stir the cornstarch into the water, and then let your pup sit in it for a while, bathing him/her as you normally do. The cornstarch will act as a healing agent for those sore spots and irritating bites. You can also sprinkle dry cornstarch on flea bites to help bring some relief.
Aspirin can also be helpful for treating flea bites. Just dissolve two regular aspirin tablets in 1 tablespoon of rubbing alcohol, and combine that mixture with one cup of warm tea (it can be any flavor). Allow this mixture to completely cool down, and then apply it with a cotton ball to any areas on your dog where flea bites may be present. If your dog has long hair, you might need to clip or shave the affected area in order to properly apply the mixture.
8. Epsom salt
Epsom salt is a classic home remedy that is used for all kinds of purposes. You can give your dog an Epsom salt bath to take care of those pesky flea bites around their paws and ankles. Run enough water in a tub or basin to cover your dog’s lower legs, and then add at least 6 tablespoons of Epsom salt to the water. Stir it up well, and then allow your dog to soak in the bath for about 15 minutes. Keep a close watch on your dog to make sure that they don’t drink the water, as this could make them sick.
9. Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil (a.k.a. melaleuca) is widely hailed for its medicinal properties, being a strong antiseptic as well as a powerful bactericide. You can make a homemade flea spray using tea tree oil diluted with water to keep those fleas at bay. Using a 9:1 ratio of water to tea tree oil, fill a spray bottle with the mixture and then spray it all over your dog’s coat. Make sure to avoid your dog’s eyes and ears, and especially their highly sensitive nose. This will relieve itching from flea bites, typically for a period of between 8 to 10 hours.
Medicine For Flea Bites On Dogs
Okay, now that we’ve covered a good number of home remedies, what about the medicines that are available for treating flea bites? Here are some of the most common medicines that pet owners use to relieve itching, soreness and inflammation associated with those annoying bites.
1. Anti-flea shampoo
Anti-flea shampoo is one of the most popular choices for dog owners looking to provide some relief to their beleaguered pets. You can give your dog a bath in a mild anti-flea shampoo to not only kill the fleas themselves, but to help soothe and repair the areas of your dog’s skin that have been affected by bites.
Just remember that you should only use a shampoo that is specifically for pets, and not for babies or humans, as we homo sapiens have a different pH balance for our skin than dogs do, and what may be an okay treatment for us could be harmful to our furry friends. Just remember to start with your dog’s head and work your way down (avoiding the eyes and ears, of course), so that you can be thorough in terms of killing all of the fleas that might be present.
2. Anti-allergy medication
Anti-allergy medication is an often-overlooked option that can really help your pup find some relief from the inflammation and itching that can come from being riddled with flea bites. You can give your dog an antihistamine such as Benadryl, which is often used to treat environmental allergies, vaccine reactions, and of course, allergic reactions to insect stings or bites.
Antihistamines work by blocking what are known as “H1 receptors”, which are proteins that help bind histamine to an area of the body that is affected by an allergen of some kind. The standard dosage for giving your dog Benadryl orally is 1 mg of the medicine per pound of your dog’s body weight, typically administered 2 to 3 times a day.
As an added precaution, you should always double-check the amount of the dosage you plan to administer just to be on the safe side. Most drug stores sell diphenhydramine (an antihistamine tablet) in 25 mg dosages, which would be the appropriate dosage size for a 25-pound dog. It should be noted, however, that if your dog is suffering from an acute (i.e., more severe) allergic reaction such as difficulty breathing or facial swelling, skip the over-the-counter medicines altogether and see the vet as soon as possible.
3. Over-the-counter antibiotic
Over-the-counter antibiotic or antiseptic creams are also a popular option for treating flea bites. Topical antiseptic and antibiotic creams can help to reduce the possibility of infections when applied to the areas where fleas have bitten your dog. Not only that, but these creams can serve as a nice, soothing relief to your pet’s ravaged skin if there are any sore spots from the bites.
4. Flea powder
Flea powder is a great treatment that can help you stave off the ill effects of flea bites on your dog. When you sprinkle the flea powder on your dog, be sure to part its hair so that the powder makes direct contact with its skin, as this is much more effective than just sprinkling it on their fur. Please note that some flea powders can make your dog’s coat dry or itchy, so be on the lookout for any type of reactions to the powder that your dog might have.
Don’t Forget to Treat Your Dog’s Environment!
While all of the treatments and remedies above can definitely be helpful, it can all be for nought if you don’t treat your dog’s environment as well. After all, what good does it do to get rid of fleas on your dog when practically everywhere your pup hangs out is a hotbed of flea activity?
So with preventative maintenance in mind, below are some key steps you can take to treat your dog’s environment for fleas as well.
- Wash your dog’s bedding using hot water and a mild bleach. Try to do this on a regular basis, e.g., once per week at a minimum. If your dog is a little more “messy” than most, try twice a week.
- Sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth (a powder made from fossilized aquatic organisms) or Borax powder under furniture, rugs, and in carpet to help kill flea eggs and larvae. Three days after you have applied the powder, vacuum these areas thoroughly to ensure that the fleas will be gone.
- Try using an anti-flea fogger or other spray to treat carpets, rugs, etc., for fleas, and then thoroughly vacuum the house afterwards to ensure that those pesky parasites have been eliminated!
Alright, looks like you’re all set! Use the tips and strategies outlined above to treat those cumbersome flea bites, so that you can give your beloved four-legged friend some much-needed peace of mind!