If your dog or cat has been outdoors, is itchy, and has not been treated with a flea preventative, there's a good chance your pet has been infested with fleas. These tiny insects are tough to manage, but a flea bath is the start of a good flea-control program.
Before You Begin
Not every itchy dog or cat has fleas. You can check for fleas by looking at your pet's bedding to see if there are black grains left behind; these are "flea dirt," and are a telltale sign of active fleas. You can also part your pet's fur and look closely; in some cases, you can see fleas moving around on the animal's skin.
Before starting treatment or doing a flea bath, you should consult with your veterinarian if your pet is itching and scratching, especially if you do not see any fleas or if your pet has inflamed skin. You'll also want to plan a full flea eradication program, not only on your pet but throughout the house.
What You Need
There are several steps to bathing your pet, from the purchase of the correct shampoo to drying your pet. Read through the instructions and make sure you have everything you need to get started, including:
- Water source (hose or sprayer, preferred)
- Appropriate flea shampoo
- Plenty of towels
The water temperature should be slightly warm or even cool. Dogs can overheat easily, and temperatures used for most human baths are too warm. As for where to wash your dog or cat, you can use a tub, sink, or outdoor space (leashed would be easiest if you are outside). If you are outdoors, then a hose with a trigger or an on and off switch would be the obvious choice. In general, it's wisest to wash a cat indoors; a sink is usually easier to manage than a tub.
Use the Proper Flea Shampoo
The first step is to use a flea shampoo recommended by your vet or local pet supply store. Dosing and proper usage may be different for the size and species of animal.
Before you buy it, read the instructions carefully, and use the shampoo only on the type of animal(s) that the product is intended for. For example, some dog products are considered toxic to cats. Do keep flea shampoos and other pest-control treatments out of the reach of children and other pets.
Technique for Washing
Start by getting the neck fully wet, down to the skin. Leave the rest of the body dry at this point. Apply shampoo and lather thoroughly around the neck. This prevents fleas from gathering at the ears, eyes, and face, where it is difficult to shampoo safely. Get the rest of the body wet, shampoo thoroughly, and let the shampoo sit for a few minutes.
Rinse and Condition
Rinse out the flea shampoo very well. Flea shampoo can be very drying to the skin and coat. If you are washing a dog and it does not have existing skin problems, then follow up with a flea control conditioner or normal conditioner. Make sure you have large towels to help your pet dry off. You can expect that your dog or cat may do a few shake-offs, but, if you are inside, a good towel drying may help reduce the amount of wetness a wet pet can spread around your home.
How to Prevent a Recurrence of Fleas on Your Pet
Do not depend on shampooing to get rid of fleas permanently. A flea bath is only one in a multistep process of flea eradication. If you bathe your pet and do nothing else to change the situation, chances are that your home is still infested.
Fleas live in the environment, and control must be aimed at getting rid of fleas where they live. Talk to your vet about an appropriate method of flea control for your pet, its bedding, and your home. This can include any combination of a spray, powder, collar, or spot-on treatment.
Other methods of control are environmental insecticides, such as foggers or yard sprays, medications given to the pet to break the flea life cycle, and daily vacuuming.
Preventing Problems With a Flea Bath
Carefully read all product warnings and follow instructions closely. Do not use more product than recommended, as it can react and be dangerous to you and your pet. As usual, keep all products away from children, and wash your hands thoroughly after shampooing your pets.
For anxious pets, it's often helpful to wrap the animal securely in towels and spend some time cuddling and calming after the bath. Baths are not "natural" experiences for pets, and some pets find the experience terrifying.
If your dog or cat is nervous, it may be a good idea to get a second person involved with the process. One person can hold and calm the animal while the other does the actual washing. It's also a good idea to work in an enclosed space, particularly with a cat. Even if your pet wriggles away, it won't be able to run through the house or yard covered with soap.