How to Give a Flea Bath to Your Dog

Man giving his pet dog a bath
Sally Anscombe / Getty Images

If you find fleas on your dog, the first thing you'll probably want to do is get rid of them. If your dog is on an effective flea control medication, then you may never have this problem. However, if you find your dog with a flea infestation, you may want to start tackling the problem with a flea bath.

Keep in mind that a flea bath will remove the fleas from your dog, but it will not keep fleas from returning to your dog. It will still be necessary for you to begin treating your dog regularly with an effective flea control medication.

Does Your Dog Need a Flea Bath?

If you see one or two fleas and your dog is on flea control, then a flea bath may not actually be necessary. If you think your dog has a flea problem, check for evidence of fleas on your dog and your dog's bedding. This will give you a better idea of how bad the infestation is.

In addition to actual fleas, you will also be looking for black specks called flea dirt. This is actually dried blood from flea feces. If you are not sure whether or not it is flea dirt, put the specks on a damp paper towel. You should see rust-colored areas where the specks on the paper towel have gotten wet. This is digested blood left by the fleas.

To look for fleas and flea dirt on your dog's coat, use a flea comb or part sections of the coat to look at your dog's skin. Focus on the lower back and base of the tail as this is where fleas are often found. If you see fleas or flea dirt, then a flea bath can help remove them from your dog.

Flea burrowing in an animal's skin.
George D. Lepp / Getty Images

When to Call the Vet

If you see little or no evidence of fleas, but your dog is itchy, then there may be an unrelated skin issue that requires a vet's attention. Or, if you notice your dog's skin is red, irritated, or very flaky, you will need a vet's advice. Do not proceed with a flea bath if your dog's skin is abnormal, even if you see fleas. The chemicals in flea shampoo can cause further irritation.

What You Need Before Giving Your Dog a Flea Bath

Before giving your dog a flea bath, you will need to gather a few things.

  • Water source (faucet in tub/sink or a hose if outdoors)
  • Tub or basin (unless bathing outside)
  • Towels
  • Leash/collar or a slip leash
  • Flea shampoo
  • Eye lubricant
  • Gloves, if desired

As with any dog bath, you will need a place with a water source to bathe your dog along with plenty of towels depending on the size of your dog.

Find a flea shampoo that is appropriate for your dog. When in doubt, ask your vet for recommendations. Read the bottle and make sure it is labeled for dogs. If you have a puppy, make sure there is not a minimum age recommended. If your dog has allergies, check the ingredients to make sure there are no allergens in the shampoo. Look for unbiased reviews about flea shampoos to see how well they worked for others. Before using the shampoo, read the label and follow the instructions for proper dosage and usage.

Be sure to get some basic eye lubricant ointment or mineral oil to put in your dog's eyes. This will help protect the eyes from the chemicals in the shampoo. Eye protection is important for all baths, but it is essential during a flea bath as flea shampoo is harsher than regular dog shampoo.

Use gloves you wish to protect your hands from chemicals that may cause drying or irritation.

How to Give Your Dog a Flea Bath

It's relatively easy to give your dog a flea bath. In fact, it's much like giving your dog a regular bath.

  1. If using a tub or basin, place your dog inside it. It's usually helpful to leash your dog to something so he cannot run away.
  2. If indoors, lay down a towel at the edge of the tub or basin to soak up water.
  3. Apply a thin strip of eye ointment or a few drops of mineral oil to both of your dog's eyes.
  4. Use warm to lukewarm water to gently and thoroughly soak your dog's coat. Make sure the water is not hot or too warm to the touch. Hot water may burn your dog. In addition, dogs can overheat easily, so hot or very warm water can cause heat exhaustion.
  5. Apply the recommended amount of shampoo to your dog's coat and massage it into your dog's skin, creating a lather.
  6. Follow directions on the bottle. Many flea shampoos recommend leaving it on the dog's coat for a certain amount of time.
  7. Thoroughly rinse your dog's coat with lukewarm water.
  8. Allow your dog to shake off the excess water from his coat. Dry your dog off thoroughly with towels.
  9. Give your dog a treat!

Remember that a flea bath removes fleas and flea dirt from your dog, but not from the environment. Wash all pet bedding and vacuum your home thoroughly. Be sure to follow up with an effective form of flea control medication to prevent reinfestation. Talk to your veterinarian about the best options for your dog.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.