Our dogs love to be outside, roam, roll on the ground and sneak through long grass. This puts them at risk for all kinds of parasites, not the least of which are fleas. Fleas can be one of the most irritating and persistent parasites for your dog. They multiply quickly and are difficult to get rid of. While there are many preventative treatments available, sometimes our dog can wind up with fleas despite our best efforts. Especially during the hot and humid summer, flea populations rise, and when we’re out with our dogs often, it increases their risk of attracting fleas.
In this article, you will learn what can you do to get rid of those pesky fleas quickly, safely, and with minimal stress to your dog.
But first, let’s talk about what fleas are, why they’re bad for your dog and why regular shampoo just won’t cut it if your dog has fleas.
What are fleas, and why are they so bad?
Fleas are tiny brown insects, measuring up to 2 millimeters, that are parasites – they feed on their host, which in many cases are our furry pets. They can’t fly, but they can jump incredibly high given their small size, and they burrow into your dog’s fur where they can’t be seen.
Fleas only live for one to two weeks. However, during that time, females can lay up to 40 eggs in a day! A flea population can explode on your dog and quickly become an unmanageable and itchy condition, causing discomfort and potentially even allergies – not to mention fleas can also take up residence anywhere your dog likes to relax, including their bed, the carpet, your furniture, or even your bed.
How can I tell if my dog has fleas?
Fleas burrow deep in your dog’s fur, so it can be hard to know if they are there. It can be especially difficult to tell on dogs with darker fur as the fleas blend in better. However, your dog will be sure to tell you, as they can get very uncomfortable!
You will know your dog has fleas when they:
- Become restless
- Scratch, chew on or lick their body much more than usual
- Shake their head often
- Scratch their ears incessantly
If it’s a particularly bad flea infestation, you may be even able to see the fleas jumping around on your dog.
If you suspect your dog has fleas, you should check the warmest and darkest spots where they like to hide – the armpits and the groin. You can also run a flea comb through your dog’s fur to see if there are any fleas present. A flea comb is a special comb that goes deep into your dog’s fur and can pull out fleas or anything else hiding deep in your dog’s coat. If your dog has fleas, it will pull them out, as well as “flea dirt,” which is actually flea poop – yuck!
This video will show you in more detail how to check your dog for fleas.
Why do you need special shampoo to get rid of fleas from your dog?
Flea shampoo is different from regular dog shampoo and other natural remedies because it contains ingredients that will kill adult fleas, and some have ingredients that will also kill their eggs. Some also have essential oils and other ingredients meant to repel fleas to avoid them from jumping onto your dog in the future. Whether it’s a more natural product or a strongly medicated one, shampoos for the eradication and prevention of fleas have stronger ingredients than regular shampoos for dogs.
It’s important to kill the eggs, either through using a medicated product that kills them or by washing your dog often for up to two weeks. If you don’t, you risk repeating the same flea cycle all over again, since some eggs may still be hiding in your dog’s fur when you bathe them!
How to choose a shampoo that effectively kill fleas?
Unfortunately, the only way to kill fleas on your dog is to poison the fleas. Many choose a shampoo with an insecticide in the ingredients – the most common are permethrin or pyrethrin. However, some have concerns about using such strong chemicals on their pets and opt for more natural options.
If you choose a shampoo that also kills eggs and/or larvae, this can make it so you only have to shampoo once, which can be easier on your dog (and on you!). However, these shampoos can be strong smelling and potentially irritating to your dog’s skin, and you need to be more careful to avoid the eyes and other sensitive areas.
Whatever you do, just make sure that the shampoo says on its label or in its description that it is for fleas. Regular dog shampoos may kill a flea or two during the wash, but they will not do the trick if your dog is dealing with an infestation.
How often should I wash my dog with flea shampoo?
Many people choose to wash their dog with flea shampoo every couple of weeks, especially in the hot and humid summer months – or maybe even year-round in some locations such as the southern United States. Some of the shampoos listed here are mainly for prevention, and can be used often to ward off fleas and other pests, as well as freshen and soften your dog’s fur.
However, your dog’s skin is sensitive and can dry out from repeated baths. If you’re not concerned about fleas or other pests, consider other flea prevention measures such as topically applied medications to avoid having to bathe your dog too often.
What’s the best flea shampoo for dogs?
When choosing a flea shampoo for your dog, you’ll have to consider what it’s for (prevention or intervention?), what your goals are (kill one or two fleas, or deal with a bug infestation including eggs?), how old your dog is, how sensitive or dry their skin is, and your tolerance for harsh chemicals.
See below for our top picks overall, as well as more natural options, dry shampoos, and options for puppies and dogs with sensitive skin. Note: While many of these shampoos are also used to kill ticks, the best thing you can do if you notice a tick attached to your dog is to go to the vet to have it removed. There is a specific way to properly remove a tick, plus your vet can send the tick to a lab to see if it is a carrier of Lyme disease.
Our editor’s pick: Best flea shampoo for dogs
Adams Plus Flea & Tick Shampoo with Precor For Dogs
“It feels so good to see him laying comfortably without scratching, and even better to comb him and have NO fleas on the comb. Yes, YES I would recommend this to anyone. And I will never go without it ever again.”
Fleas, flea eggs, flea larvae, even lice… this shampoo will do it all! Whether you’re trying to prevent fleas from jumping on your dog or dealing with a full-on infestation, this is the shampoo that will help you and your itchy dog! Even though it will kill fleas at all stages of their life, this product does a good job of including ingredients to minimize irritation to your dog’s skin. It has aloe, lanolin, coconut extract, and oatmeal to soothe itchy skin and neutralize the effects of using such strong medication. It also contains an Insect Growth Regulator (IGR) – this is what stops flea eggs from developing, and makes it so you will only have to shampoo one time to protect your dog for several weeks. Buyers liked the smell of the product, how soft it made their dog’s fur, and considered it to be a good value for the money.
Our runner up pick
Vet-Kem Ovitrol Plus Flea and Tick Shampoo for Pets
“I could literally see dead fleas in the bath water and all over my counter after I blowdried her fur.”
This shampoo kills adult fleas, lice and ticks on contact, and also has an ingredient to stop flea eggs from developing further. It also acts as a conditioner, softening and freshening your dog’s coat.
Make sure to leave it on for a few minutes after you lather – check the manufacturer’s directions for how long to leave it on to kill every last flea! Note that this shampoo is a very strong formula and should only be used on older dogs.
The Best Natural Flea Shampoo for Dogs
TropiClean Natural Flea and Tick Shampoo for Dogs and Puppies
“Natural remedy that actually works”
This shampoo has no harsh chemicals, instead using essential oils to kill and repel fleas. It can be used on puppies 12 weeks and older. It also has cocoa butter to moisturize and soothe skin, which can feel extra good for dogs who are suffering from flea bites!
This shampoo is safe for regular bathing and won’t irritate your dog’s skin with repeated use.
Best budget pick shampoo to get rid of fleas
Sentry Flea & Tick Shampoo with Oatmeal for Dogs and Puppies
“I saw those dang pesky critters running away from the shampoo.”
Made with oatmeal, this shampoo cleans and freshens up your dog’s coat with Hawaiian ginger. It’s extremely efficient but doesn’t have the same overpowering artificial scent that many flea shampoos have. At this price point, it’s a bargain – and it works quickly and efficiently, so you should only have to buy it once!
Best dry flea shampoo for dogs
Hartz Ultraguard Aloe Flea & Tick Dry Shampoo Spray
“Great product that feels gentle to my buddy. I purchased some other brands before which made my hands irritated.”
Dry shampoos can be a great option if you don’t have time to bathe your dog, are between flea treatments, or are outdoors hiking or camping. This one from Hartz does the job – one buyer noted they could see the fleas crawling out of their dog’s fur as soon as they sprayed it on.
Make sure to follow the directions to make sure you spray a sufficient amount on your dog, and leave it on for the recommended amount of time.
Best flea shampoo for puppies
Paws & Pals Flea and Tick Shampoo-Conditioner Scrub
“You really need to take your time and lather it up, don’t rinse right away. Fleas were jumping from my dog into the tub during the wash.”
This shampoo’s natural formula is full of essential oils and other all-natural ingredients, and is safe for puppies. Those who have tried it love the long-lasting scent and how gentle it is on their dog’s skin.
Best flea shampoo for dogs with sensitive skin
Bio Spot Active Flea & Tick Dog Shampoo
“This seems to help my dog’s sensitive skin as she scratches less with this shampoo. The fresh smell may fade after a couple of weeks, but they don’t start needing another bath for the full month (sometimes longer).”
This shampoo has a great and long-lasting scent while still being gentle and soothing on your dog’s skin. While it’s pricey compared to other shampoos, it doesn’t just have to be for flea baths – it’s gentle enough to be used as a regular shampoo.
With long, hot and humid summers where our dogs are outside more often than other times of the year, sometimes your dog will bring home some uninvited guests. Flea shampoos can be extremely effective in controlling infestations and preventing future outbreaks. However, they are just one part of a bigger picture when it comes to parasite control for your dog.
Consider the following tools in addition to shampoos:
- A flea comb is a must. It’s an easy way to tell if your dog is dealing with fleas, and it’s a great tool to use during a flea bath. Before and after you lather and rinse your dog, use a flea comb to draw the fleas out of your dog’s fur. It can help you make sure you’ve gotten every last one!
- No matter which product you choose, any bath to rid your dog of fleas should be accompanied by a preventative treatment such as Advantage Multi or Frontline Plus when possible.
We hope this article helped you find just the right flea shampoo for your dog. No matter your preferences or your dog’s needs, there is a shampoo that will help you safely and effectively rid your dog of fleas once and for all!