How Not to Treat for Fleas

I'm sorry for any damage my horrible hair habits of the 80's may have done to our environment . This is me circa 1987 when I got first place in the "Keep Humble Clean" drawing contest. Thinking back, I think I actually used hair spray to quell a termite swarm in the mid-90's so maybe there's something to it...
I’m sorry for any damage my horrible hair habits of the 80’s may have done to our environment . This is me circa 1987 when I got first place in the “Keep Humble Clean” drawing contest. Thinking back, I think I actually used hair spray to quell a termite swarm in the mid-90’s so maybe there’s something to it…


My skin is crawling. I have the heebie jeebies and a mild to moderate case of the willies.

Not so much at the sight of the little buggers themselves, but more at a discussion I just witnessed regarding the tiny bloodsuckers on Facebook.

What better place to seek out advice than social media?

A high school friend implored the internet world at large to help her with her dogs fleas, he’s being eaten alive despite using multiple over the counter flea products, prescription heartworm/flea preventative, yard treatment and house/bedding treatment.

Sounds like a horrible infestation, and I considered her plea for help pretty reasonable.

The thing that has shocked me is the public response.

She has 50 comments and climbing.

I can count on one hand the number of suggestions that I think are effective, proven methods of flea control.

The rest are just hogwash.

I mean, the most common thing recommended was: DISH SOAP!

Apparently, “Blue Dawn” dish soap is the most effective, but there were recommendations for regular Dawn, Dawn + lavender oil, Lemon (Lemon, mind you, not regular! Get it right.) Joy,  and Palmolive (apparently any old Palmolive will do). But the consensus is that the blue stuff is the best.

Folks, dish soap is chemically formulated and very good at stripping grease off plates, pots and pans.  My skin gets dry and itchy just from the thought of washing with that crap.  One person did admonish the commenter to be careful for the dish soap may dry sensitive dog skin. Another said countered:  no way, her dog’s fur was “super soft”. Sigh.

In my professional opinion, you are asking for skin trouble using a harsh soap like that on your pet’s skin (would you wash your hair in that?) Maybe it kills the fleas because it is a highly caustic product, but I can pretty much guarantee there is no residual effect against future fleas.

Years ago, when I worked in East Dallas, about once or twice a year we would see dogs that their owners had slathered in motor oil.  I can’t remember why, maybe it was for flea control or mange treatment.  That, my friends is probably one of the only legitimate indications for bathing pets in Dawn dish soap. We kept it in the office, just for that purpose. Gets that motor oil right off.

By the way, all these remedies are geared toward killing the fleas on the pet. Keep in mind that those big fat juicy fleas you see are just the tip of the iceberg, they just comprise a mere 5-10% of your total flea population.  It’s the environmental infestation you can’t see (90-95% of your flea population consists of eggs, larvae and pupae)  that’s the problem.

Your Dawn dish soap, or your pyrethrin Adam’s flea shampoo will kill what you see, but there are very likely to be hundreds of little baby flea eggs, pupa, and larvae all snuggled up in your carpet, furniture and bedding, and yard, just getting all grown up and quickly reinfest the pet.

I’ve digressed,  let’s get back to our Facebook flea control recommendations…

One person recommended “White Rain Shampoo”.  I have no experience with this product, but I did use an inordinate amount of “White Rain” hairspray in the 80’s.  Some small corner of the depleted ozone layer belongs to me and my giant 80’s hair.

There was a mention of putting salt on the floor.  I’m not even sure how this would work.  What kind of salt? Rock salt? Iodized? Non iodized? Sea salt or Kosher?  Coarse or fine? Fancy pink Himalayan salt that also purifies the environment? Do you put it all over the floor? I can just imagine that being uncomfortable to walk on.

A couple people mentioned slathering the dog with mineral oil and baby oil.  Can you imagine?  I suppose it could suffocate the fleas, but who wants to pet a dog covered in oil? Not to mention the greasy mess on my furniture.  And God forbid you salt the floors too, then you have yourself a salt crusted canine compadre.

It stands to reason, that if you are planning on greasing the dog, to do it AFTER you wash it with Dawn dish soap, or you’re just wasting your mineral oil money.

Just to reiterate, the common thread in all of these cockamamie remedies is that they kill the fleas you see.  The trick is to kill those, plus treat the environment. The house, and the yard. Work with a pest control company or do it yourself, but it takes time to get everything under control. Use a flea control product on the pet that contains a growth regulator that somehow sterilizes the fleas so they stop laying eggs and providing legions of new flea generations.  Yes, I’m a vet and my stuff is expensive, but I do think the name brand products are generally safer and more effective than the off brand cheap stuff from the big box stores.

I can get more into the different flea control products if you are interested, but I’ll save that for later.

Just remember, dish soap is for dishes, not dogs.


5 thoughts on “How Not to Treat for Fleas

  1. Well written! But I gotta say, I started scratching when I was reading this! 🙂 Back when I was a Vet Tech, my biggest personal bugaboo was fleas… Ticks? Disgusting, but no biggie to me. Maggots? Bring ’em on. Vomit, pus, etc – no problem. But fleas… I still have nightmares about the time I was placing a catheter in the leg of a dog so heavily infested that he had life-threatening anemia, and we had to get him stabilized before we could address the fleas. It was 20 years ago but I VIVIDLY remember looking down at my hands while I was threading the catheter in, and saw the fleas jumping ship and swarming up my arms *shudder*

    1. Hahaha!! Yea, I remember cases like that when I was a kid. Flea & hookworm anemia a were my faves bc you got to look like a total hero saving those. The flea & maggot dogs were the ones that got me, I couldn’t sleep at night for imagining fleas/maggots all over me. So gross!!

  2. You just hit on one of my pet peeves (no pun intended).

    Why didn’t this person talk to the vet FIRST? And if they did, I have no doubt the vet said to treat not only the dog, but also the environment. If that had been done first, Fido wouldn’t have had to suffer with fleas for an extended period of time.

    Why oh why do people go to the web instead if working with a good vet?

  3. First of all, I am digging the 1987 hair. I went through a lot of hairspray then too. I was a freshman in college and bought a ton of Sebastian Spritz. Good information it reminds me of the stories of people trying to kill head lice on kids with kerosene. I do think you get what you pay for in terms of the meds that prevent and no one wants their animal suffering with fleas.

  4. i don’t know why you have to call me out like that 😉 that’s just plain wrong and scary advice…and i’m clearly not a licensed medical professional. poor pooch!

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