In my neck of the woods, its flea season once again! Not only that, but I have a friend that just moved into a house with acreage that just found out the previous owners had feral everything on the acreage and their dogs are now being overwhelmed by ravenous fleas.
Because most of the United States had such a mild winter, there is little doubt that the flea population (and ticks) will be of epic proportions. Cold winters will usually kill off a lot of the dormant fleas and ticks, but when the winters don't cooperate, we have to be extra vigilant to make sure our pets are safe from these annoying little... beasts.
The biggest thing that people have to get over is that their dogs have fleas. I don't care if your dog lives in a hermetically sealed bubble, odds are its picked up fleas from somewhere, or you have carried them into your house. Its nature, they're parasites, they'll hitch a ride on anything to get a meal, so don't be defensive if your vet asks if you have fleas because they'll just whip out a flea comb and show you that you do, especially if your dog is allergic to them. Denying a possible flea allergy only prolongs a diagnosis, and puts your dog in danger of receiving treatment that may harm rather than help.
Another concept that you have to get out of your head is that fleas live on dogs... they don't. Let me repeat that: FLEAS DON'T LIVE ON DOGS. You can bathe your dog until its fur falls off and still have fleas because fleas only jump on its 4-legged meal plate to eat, then jump off. If you find 1 flea on your dog, that means there's 99 fleas in your environment (environment = house or yard). Only 1% of fleas will be on your dog at any one time, that means the more fleas you find on your dog, the gazillion more are living happy lives in your house and yard.
Fleas lay about a gazillion eggs a day in your carpet, couch, bed, yard. Every 10 days those eggs hatch and those fleas start laying eggs, so unless you get a handle on treating the environment really quick, you will be swarmed by fleas in no time. Believe me, I've been there and done it.
So, how do you get rid of them? There's a zillion ways to do it, but it all depends on how you want to do it.
Flea and tick preventative is readily available from your vet. I will say that most stuff you can buy in grocery stores or pet stores is dubious and has a reputation for being not very pet friendly. Flea collars are worthless, don't waste your money. I'll let you Google flea collar poisonings (both pets and family members), and there are still claims about a certain grocery store available pet flea preventative product's toxicity (I just don't feel like getting sued, so I'm not naming it). Just avoid them.
Get your flea and tick preventative from your vet. Yes, I know is expensive, but the stuff that you get from the cut-rate places are dubious at best. The reason they are cheaper is because they get them from countries that really don't give a rat's behind about copyrights, ingredients, or the safety of your pet... they are knock-offs at best, and criminal at worst. They may look exactly the same as the product your vet sells, but I can assure you they aren't.
There are also flea shampoos and sprays that you can buy, but consult your vet especially about the sprays and ESPECIALLY if your pet is on medication. You don't want to introduce anything to their system if it may react with medications, or if your pet as a weakened immune system, kidney or liver issues. Remember, even if it says "organic" or "natural" pyrethrin is made from chrysanthemum, which is a plant... but long term use can allow the toxins to build up and that's not good.
There are chemical sprays that are approved for indoor and outdoor treatment of the environment. Once again, follow the label instructions exactly so that you are using it correctly and lower the risk of contaminating or poisoning your dog. Its my experience that the yard sprays will pretty much kill every insect in your yard whether you want it to or not, so if you are really attached to a yard insect... kiss it goodbye.
That pretty much covers how to use poison to kill fleas, but you may be asking yourself if there is a way to do it without creating a toxic dump in your house and yard... yes there is!
Once again, flea and tick preventative for your dog (such as Frontline, etc.) and treating your environment with regular household or natural products that affect the life cycle of fleas.
Even though this could be considered a toxic product, I've had great success with Raid Flea Carpet and Room Spray, and its safe to spray pet bedding and carpet with it (read the directions). This isn't a bug bomb, its a carpet fog that you can spray on carpet, furniture, dog beds, human beds, etc. It actually smells pretty good too, which is an added bonus. Spray it on your carpet, between your mattresses, under beds, under couch cushions, everywhere a flea can and will hide. Not only does it kill the adult fleas, but it destroys the flea eggs so they can't hatch. Its easy to use, and typically every 10 days while you are treating a flea infestation, you simply go through the house and spray everything before going to bed, that way it has a chance to dry before anyone has a chance to walk around or sit in it. Its a very light fog, so its not like everything is drenched, but like most products they advise you to allow it to dry before walking on it.
Borax! Yep, the olde 20 mule team borax will help get rid of fleas by drying out the shells of the eggs. Its not a quick solution, but it does help control the emergence of new fleas into the environment. Simply sprinkle it into your carpets and rake it deep into the fibers. When you vacuum, simple sprinkle more and rake again.
Vacuum a LOT. Its possible to suck up as many of the little monsters as possible by vacuuming your carpets, beds, bedding, between the couch cushions, etc. as much as possible. The important thing to remember is if you have a vacuum that uses bags, take the bag outside and spray it down with flea spray, but it into a garbage bag and tie it tight and put it into a garbage container with a lid. If you have a bagless vacuum, dump the canister contents into a garbage bag and take it outside, spray it, put it in garbage container with a lid. The fleas will just jump out out the bag, or out of your trash in your house and all of that vacuuming was for nothing.
For outside, use Diatomaceous Earth (also known as DE). Get FOOD GRADE DE!!!! (The link is only to show you a resource for food grade DE and is not meant to compel you to buy it from that seller).
Sprinkle it around the yard and do the happy dance. You can even feed it to your dog (consult your vet first).
Here is THE MOST IMPORTANT PART:
YOU HAVE TO TREAT YOUR ENVIRONMENT EVERY 10 DAYS FOR AT LEAST A MONTH!!!!
Most people treat once or twice and when they either don't get immediate results, or they seem to get rid of the pests for a week, then they come back they declare the treatments were a failure. You have to make sure that you keep treating until every single egg is dead. If you stop treating and some eggs remain viable, you will end up having the same problem in a week or two. For really nasty infestations, treat for 2 months.
So, in a nutshell: treating the environment is more important than treating your dog... but you have to treat all factors in order to win the war on fleas. Treat for a month or two to ensure you have eradicated all eggs and pests. Work with your vet to ensure your method of treatment will not have an adverse affect on your pet especially if they have medical conditions or suppressed immune systems.
Fleas can actually kill, pass disease, and cause skin conditions. They are not to be treated lightly and must be addressed quickly to stop infestation.
Links to Flea related stuff:
Pet WebMD resources
Flea contact dermatitis