How to flea comb pets

Tips on flea combing dogs and cats

Fleas are an ongoing nuisance and headache for pet owners. One way to help get fleas off of pets, in particular, cats and dogs is to use a flea comb. It is natural and requires no chemicals. If a pet is really infested, and even if you are planning on using a topical or other flea treatment, flea combing is a quick and efficient way to start getting some of the fleas off of your pet immediately.

Choosing a flea comb

Flea combs are special combs that you can purchase at a local pet store or veterinary office. The teeth are designed very close together to pull fleas and dander out of the pet's coat. There are different types with various handle sizes. Flea combs are usually plastic or metal. Personally, I have found the combs with metal teeth to be much more effective. The plastic combs, though they can pull out some fleas, tend to pull up the dander and leave most of it on the pet's coat or it gets stuck within the plastic teeth. The metal combs grab the fleas and keep them in the place while combing through the pet's coat.

Preparation

Before flea combing, get a bucket of water, preferably hot water from sink (not boiling water) and mix with a few squirts of dish soap (approximately 1/2 tsp). You want the water to be steaming a little and to have enough suds in the bucket. Only fill the bucket about halfway, to make sure the fleas drop in deep enough and cannot jump out. I use a bottom of a soda bottle for flea combing. It is a good size and allows the fleas to drop in deep enough. Once you have your bucket and flea comb ready, it is time to bring your pet over to you. It is best to flea comb outside, so any loose fleas, dander, and eggs do not fall all over the floors in your home. However, if you must flea comb indoors, be sure to vacuum up or clean the area where your pet was during flea combing, to eliminate the fleas, dander, and eggs left behind.

WARNING: If your pet cannot tolerate being flea combed and will scratch, snap, or bite causing harm or injury to you or anyone around you, do not use this flea comb method. Please find a safer flea removal method instead!!

How to flea comb

Fleas are pretty smart when it comes to combing. It is as if they can sense the comb and then they go and hide in places on the pet's coat that are not easy to reach. Sometimes it seems as if they have completely disappeared. When flea combing, it is best to start on the ears and head of the pet. Gently brush the flea comb through the pet's fur and you will start to see fleas come right up. Once you start to gather fleas on the comb take your fingers and push them off the comb right over and into the bucket. Some people will dip the entire comb into the suds, but then only half the fleas come out and it makes it harder to grab the fleas when the comb is wet as you continue to comb. I find it is easier to pull the fleas, dander, and eggs off with a dry comb and get them right into the bucket. As you go along, make sure to swirl the water in the bucket so that all the fleas fall into the suds and water, and do not have the opportunity to jump out of the bucket back onto your pet or even you.

After starting with the head and ears on the pet, a good spot where fleas love to hide is underneath the chin. Go over this area a few times because sometimes you won't grab many when you first comb there, but then they begin to come to the surface after a few times. Next, start combing down from the back of the head and neck to the shoulders and along the entire back. Go over the back a few times as well. Each time you comb you may grab some of the fleas that are hiding. Next comb the sides of the pet, going down towards the chest. Repeat a few times here as well.

Continue flea combing, and if you can go along the pet's legs and paws, do so. This is a tricky area to get the fleas off of, especially if your pet does not like to be combed, they may not tolerate their legs being combed too well. And since there is less hair to comb through, the fleas stay very close to the skin and can be difficult to pull off here.

Next, focus on combing the back of the pet. Comb through starting on the back before the tail and along the backside. The fleas love to stay on tails! So comb the area all around the tail a few times over and over, if your pet can tolerate it. Pets can be sensitive when combing their tails-so be very careful!

After combing around the pet, you can go back over areas that you feel still have many fleas. Sometimes if you wait a few minutes, the fleas that are hiding begin to move around to different areas on the pet. So if the fleas are in an area that is difficult to comb, sometimes if you re-comb they may end up on an easier part of the pet to reach.

Finishing up

Depending on how many fleas are on your pet, how much time you spend combing them and how much your pet can tolerate will determine how successful you are with removing fleas from your pet. Once done flea combing give your pet a reward or treat for their patience and cooperation. Once done with the flea bucket, first make sure all fleas are in the suds and water. Let it sit for about 10 minutes or so, to make sure the fleas drown. You can discard the dead fleas down a toilet, only if the bucket has no hair in it. For buckets that also have pet hair in it, you can strain the hair out of the bucket and then flush fleas down toilet. Put the hair into a plastic bag and seal tight and throw in the garbage immediately. As long as the fleas were left in the water for 10-15 minutes, they should all have drowned and be dead. If the fleas did not drown and you throw the hair into an open garbage pail, the fleas will begin jumping all over the place. So make sure they are sealed and discard! Rinse out the bucket well to make sure no eggs or fleas are left behind and clean out any fleas left in the flea comb. Running hot water on the fleas left on flea comb for a minute or so, should kill the fleas immediately.

To finalize, clean the area where you flea combed. If you combed on a patio or deck, hose the area off to remove any dander left behind. If you flea combed on a carpet or rug, vacuum the area, seal the vacuum bag and discard. Or if you flea combed on a bare floor, go over the area with vacuum and/or floor cleaner. Lastly, if you flea combed on a blanket or sheet, remove and place into washer. Where ever you flea combed, you do not want to leave behind more fleas, eggs and/or dander.

Follow-up

For best results, especially when dealing with infested pets, flea comb as often as possible and needed. I would recommend once or even twice a day on heavily infested pets. The more fleas you can get off the pet, the fewer fleas and their eggs will be left behind to hatch even more fleas. Getting the fleas off of your pet is only one part of removing the fleas from your household. You will also need to remove the fleas and eggs around your house as well. And flea combing alone may not be enough to help remove all of the fleas from an infested pet. Flea combing works best when other methods of flea removal are used as well.

Tips and Warnings

  • Not all pets can tolerate being flea combed. If it is too stressful for them or your pet will injure or hurt you while combing, please do not use this method, and find an alternative safe method for you and your pet.
  • Flea comb at least one time daily and vacuum daily for better results.
  • Discard flea water (as suggested above) when it starts to get too many fleas and/or hair. Start with fresh water and soap to make sure the fleas have enough water and suds covering them to drown and kill them.
  • Flea comb your pet in a comfortable environment. It is better if your pet is comfortable while combing.
  • Make sure you reward your pet so they don't mind being flea combed.
  • You can try breaking up a treat and hold in front of pet or give small pieces while flea combing to distract your pet and keep them focused on the treat rather than you combing them.

Comments 13 comments

Steve 4 years ago

Nice article. Thanks.


Jason 4 years ago

Well done and very informative for the hard-core flea comber.


angie carey 4 years ago

Hello.My cat is one years old in may..and she does scratch and bite sometimes when i use the flea comb and sometimes doesn't.i have started giving her treats..but do not want to try anything different..is there a way i can help calm her down so i can be successful more often?would using flea shampoo and flea comb in the bath be a good idea/thanks..ling ling is infested so any tips will help:)


sandy 4 years ago

no it is the tail were that are manly


MarleneB profile image

MarleneB 4 years ago from Northern California, USA

This is a thoroughly written article. You cover all the basics and then some. Thank you for the information and for sharing your experience.


BonnieV 4 years ago

I like to use a soda bottle with rubbing alcohol in it for flea combing. It kills the fleas much quicker. I give my cats catnip before and after I comb them, and have never had a problem with being scratched or nipped at!


Pharmd314 4 years ago

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Pharmk398 4 years ago

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Japanese Chin owner 3 years ago

Excellent advice to get rid of these pesky fleas from my Molly and Charley. Thank you.


Daphne 3 years ago

Thank you! This is very helpful! :)


Alan Severn profile image

Alan Severn 3 years ago from Newark Upon Trent, Nottingham, United Kingdom

Used Program tablets for years but swapped to Frontline. This product has not worked and caused serious problems. Gone back to Program but having to battle what Frontline did not prevent.


Anna 19 months ago

It takes up to 24 hours to drown a flea in a cup, unless you put the cup into the freezer. A flea can revive after as long as 16 hours in water, so your blog is wrong about '10 mins to drown them'. Freezing them kills them for good, or leaving them in the water for at least 24 hours


vann 14 months ago

Great advice! I kill each flea manually to make sure it is dead. (With my fingernail against the comb) I wipe each dead flea on a towel or washcloth and when I'm done I flush the dead fleas.

Anna, don't you think you're a little harsh? "So your blog is wrong"...

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