How to Fight Fleas and Address Flea Dermatitis

Healthy Dogs |  September 20, 2019

Fleas are a fact of life in the Pacific Northwest, but that doesn’t mean that your dog or cat should be infested or miserable during the summer months. Keeping everyone healthy and happy depends on finding the right blend of flea preventatives and treatments, and we talked to Keely Bredahl to get the best tips for your pets

Keely is a Mud Bay manager in our Happy Valley store, so she already knew a lot about fleas. But when she bought a house that was infested with fleas, they quickly started to multiply on her two dogs. Unfortunately, one of her dogs had flea dermatitis, so it was particularly important that she treated her house and dogs to get rid of the fleas permanently.

We asked Keely about what worked to end her own flea problem, how you know if your animal has flea dermatitis, and when to use natural versus pesticide-based products.

MB: What’s the difference between flea dermatitis and your dog or cat getting fleas?

KB: I have two dogs, and my older dog, Bo, had flea dermatitis. While fleas irritated my younger dog, Bo was truly miserable every single time he was bitten by a flea.

We went to a vet who diagnosed Bo. Bo was so itchy, he would chew himself balk and bloody on the base of his tail, the back part of his legs, and a few other areas. He had to wear a cone for six weeks, because he was always sneaking off to chew on his skin, and he had to go on steroids to help heal.

My vet explained to me that the skin is so sensitive that when they get bit a single time, it triggers a residual itchiness feeling that doesn’t go away for a long time. It truly is an allergy to fleas, which is why it made it so important to make sure we eliminated the fleas in our house.

MB: How did you eventually eliminate the fleas?

KB: I talked to Dr. Katy at Mud Bay, who suggested switching to a specific monthly pesticide-based topical treatment to eliminate fleas on Bo and our other dog. But a single monthly treatment wasn’t enough to eliminate an infestation.

I applied diatomaceous earth to the carpets, and then vacuumed them several times every week. I cleaned all the dogs’ bedding and areas where they slept. I also used a natural flea repelling spray that contained cedar oil to keep fleas away.

But the biggest thing we started to do was we treated our yard with flea repelling spray. We have a big backyard that borders a forest with a lot of wildlife. We’ve seen everything from deer to coyotes to possums to mice, which all carry fleas. When our dogs went outside, they were getting reinfected, so treating the yard with natural flea repellant also helped.

I also applied a natural flea repellant on both dogs as well, in addition to the topical treatment. I talked to a veterinarian, so I knew it was the right choice to break the flea cycle.

MB: What do you recommend to people who want to start with natural flea products?

KB: I always ask questions, such as: Have you seen fleas or flea grit? And if so, I tell them to bathe all the animals in the house and comb out any flea eggs. And then, the moment you’re done, start treating the environment by washing all the bedding and vacuuming every inch of your house.

You’ll also want to spray any areas that your dog like to sleep with a natural flea repellant. And you’ll have to make plans for what happens when your animal goes outside because the fleas will continuously reinfect your dog without using a natural repellant every time you go outside.

When you’re battling fleas in your home, it’s important to keep in mind that you’ll need to do this several times for several weeks, so the flea’s lifecycle is broken. Otherwise, eggs will hatch, and you’ll start seeing fleas again.

Mud Bay has several great natural flea products, but they work best if you’re going to reapply every few days and every single time your animal visits a high flea-risk area. So, if you’re hiking, camping, visiting a dog park or coming into contact with other animals, your animal will need to be treated with a natural flea repellant every time, because they do wear off.

Also, it makes sense to try different products if you’re not getting the results that you want. We have a natural spray that is cedar based, while another contains neem oil, and a third contains geranium, cedar and citronella oils. People shouldn’t be afraid to try different solutions; Mud Bay will accept returns if you’ve used something for a while, but it doesn’t work.

Ultimately, you have to prioritize reapply natural products on a regular schedule. You must be committed to keeping the environment inhospitable to fleas to prevent an infestation or other problems.

Also, if you have a house with cats, it’s important to make sure you’re using cat-safe flea treatments in your home. Many flea treatments that are made for dogs are toxic to cats, so be sure to read the labels to keep everyone safe. Also, never apply a topical flea treatment made for dogs on a cat—it could make them very sick.

MB: At what point would you want to consider a pesticide-based monthly topical treatment?

KB: If your animal has flea dermatitis or you’re not seeing the results you need with natural products, it makes sense to talk to your vet about using a monthly topical treatment. Your vet is going to help you find the best option: different options have different active ingredients, so it’s helpful to have a vet discuss what will work.

Also, some dogs and cats will be sensitive to these types of treatments, so it makes sense to discuss with your vet about the best options for your specific environment and animals. Keep in mind, for the comfort of one animal with flea dermatitis, you might need to treat all the animals in your house. So, once again, it makes sense to discuss the pros and cons of your treatment plan with your vet.***

Cat gazing at a panting black and white dog

Mud Bay interviewee Keely Bradahl is the manager of our Happy Valley store in Oregon. When she’s not at work, she hangs out with her two dogs, Bennie and Bo, and spends time with her husband.

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