It can always be so frustrating and worrisome to see our beloved fur babies uncomfortable and if they seem to be itching a lot, it could be that they have fleas. There are lots of different flea and tick treatment options on the market, and sometimes the range can be overwhelming. And it doesn’t help that there’s not a simple answer to which flea or tick treatment is best — it depends on your area, the pest pressure, and your dog.
That's why we spoke to vets and pet experts about the best flea & tick products for your dog. Whether it's shampoos, collars, oral, or topical treatments, treating your dog for fleas and ticks should be a priority. Check out our vet recommendations for each type below.
Talk to a vet to find the best choice of flea treatment depending on what works in your area, whether you also need protection from lice, mites, lungworm, heartworm, or ticks, and what your dog’s looks and temperament will allow.
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Topical treatments are often recommended for dogs with digestive issues. "For most vets, topical treatments work best because they prevent the dog from getting bitten because they have this chemical on their skin that ticks and fleas hate," explains Dr. Georgina Ushi DVM, veterinary writer at WeLoveDoodles. In this category, flea collars are also considered topical treatments; they work by expelling chemicals that are carried by the dog's skin, oils, and hair.
Topical medications work by being absorbed into the upper layers of the skin and spread across the whole body by the natural oils from the skin. "They can be very effective and have been a staple of flea and tick treatment for decades," says Dr. Joanna Woodnutt, BVM BVS BVMedSci MRCVS, Veterinarian Writer for SeniorTailWaggers.com.
A lot of different drugs can be used for these topical treatments, but the most common to kill both fleas and ticks is fipronil. "It’s a non-prescription treatment, which means it’s been popular for years – but that may be its downfall, as vets and owners are reporting that it’s becoming less effective," says Dr. Woodnutt.
The main drawbacks with topical flea medications is that they won’t work if the dog has recently been bathed (i.e. in the last few days) or is bathed for a few days after application, as this washes off the skin oils that help these products to spread. “I don’t consider topical flea treatments suitable for dogs that like to swim, due to the possible environmentally toxic effects of these products,” says Dr. Woodnutt.
These are prescribed meds that contain poisonous substances for insects — but are totally safe for dogs! "These substances are absorbed by the digestive system and then carried through the blood, so when a tick bites the dog, the tick dies," says Dr. Ushi. They are safe for dogs, but vets won't prescribe them to dogs with digestive issues. The best of these kinds are the Bravecto chews for dogs.
For her own dog, Dr. Woodnutt chooses oral meds. "I know she’s had the whole dose, and I know that — as long as she doesn’t throw up immediately – the meds are in her system and will work," says Dr. Woodnutt. If you're choosing to use collars, which work best on short-coated dogs, it's a good idea to use oral medications alongside them to provide more complete coverage.
Modern oral flea/tick medications are isooxazoline-based and include drugs like Bravecto, Simparica, Nexguard, and Credelio. "They target the insect nervous system to provide a quick kill. They’re generally considered safe, but it's thought that these drugs might lower the seizure threshold in dogs prone to seizures," says Dr. Woodnutt. In other words, dogs that would likely have gone on to have seizures anyway, or who are being treated for epilepsy, will be more likely to have seizures if given these drugs.
Whilst collars have their place, especially for repelling ticks, spot-on and oral medications are generally best at providing a quick kill. "Spot-ons can be fine – but bear in mind that they’re less effective in dogs that swim or get bathed regularly,” says Dr. Woodnutt.
"They also often contain imidacloprid, a pesticide thought to be responsible for bee decline, and there’s some concern that it might wash into rivers and seas, or even spread on the grass if your dog rolls around," says Dr. Woodnutt.
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Flea and tick shampoo works by killing the insects that are already on the dog. Unfortunately, they have very little effectiveness for keeping those fleas & ticks off your dog. "In the long run because they don't leave any chemical to keep repelling," explains Dr. Ushi. "Most contain no active ingredients, and depend on leaving a scent to repel fleas," says Dr. Woodnutt, so it's better to use flea & tick shampoos in conjunction with some of the other treatments below.
And, whilst shampoo will indeed kill fleas it comes into contact with, it only treats the fleas currently living on your pet – which is a very small proportion of the population. “95% of an infestation is in your house in the form of eggs, larvae, and the cocoon-like pupae – and the shampoo can’t do anything about these,” says Dr. Woodnutt. Make sure flea & tick shampoo isn't the only treatment you're using.