One of the very first things new dog parents have to decide (besides what to name your adorable pup) is what the best flea and tick prevention is for your four-legged family member. And it’s pretty obvious why, too—you really, really don’t want these pests in your home or on your pooch.
For one thing, fleas aren’t just an itchy nuisance (though they’re also that). Both fleas and ticks can make your fur baby sick. Dogs can get Lyme and other tick-borne diseases that can give them fevers, swollen joints and even kidney disease. Dogs also can get skin allergies from flea saliva, as well as tapeworms and anemia from the bites. OK, we’re all in agreement that fleas and ticks are just plain bad news, right? So, what’s a dog mom or dad to do?
Flea and tick prevention for dogs is the best way to go. Depending on the type you use, tick and flea meds for dogs can kill existing creepy crawlies and stop these pests from latching on in the first place. Luckily, there’s a wide range available, from over-the-counter methods to prescription-only options that require a visit to the vet.
Ready to start the search for the best flea and tick prevention for dogs? Let us guide you to the perfect pick for your pup.
What’s Your Dog Like?
Before you get too far in your search and certainly before applying any medication, have a conversation with the vet, recommends Carly Fox, DVM, a staff doctor at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. That way you can avoid giving your pup something that can be harmful or ineffective. So here’s what to consider:
- Your dog’s age: “In general, most products are not safe until about 7 to 8 weeks of age. So, you just want to make sure what the back of the product says before administering it to puppies under 2 months [old],” says Dr. Fox, who specializes in emergency and critical care. Very old dogs may also have adverse reactions to some preventatives too, even if they’ve used it for years. Talk to your vet once your pet gets older to see if you need to change it out.
- Your dog’s overall health: You also have to take care with dogs who have allergies or other underlying health conditions, Dr. Fox advises. For instance, if your dog has sensitive skin, a topical gel might not be the best choice. Or if your dog is allergic to chicken or beef (which is rare, but happens), then oral preventatives may be off the table as they can contain beef flavorings. If your dog has a history of seizures, you may want to be careful with some types of oral meds. And if your dog is pregnant or nursing, you want to be careful what you give her, too.
- Is your dog on other medications? If your dog is on other medications, like a dewormer, it’s important to discuss this with your vet to make sure the flea and tick prevention you choose is safe to use with whatever else your pet is taking, Dr. Fox notes.
- Your dog’s weight: Any product aimed at preventing or treating fleas and ticks on dogs specifies the size of pup on its label. For instance, if you’re considering a Nexgard chewable tablet for your 6-pound Chihuahua, you want to get the one formulated for dogs in the 4-10 pound weight range. Otherwise, your pup could get more of these chemicals than they need. “The biggest toxicities that I see as an emergency clinician all have to do with administering a product that's meant for a larger animal to a smaller animal,” Dr. Fox says.
- Your dog’s routines: If your dog spends a lot of time hiking in the woods with you in areas known for ticks, then you might want to consider more than one preventative, Dr. Fox suggests. “So not just a topical or not just a pill, but maybe either a topical plus a collar or a pill plus a collar." Or say your dog loves to swim and your walks in the country include a dip in a pond (or you have one in your backyard). Then topical treatments, which require you to keep your dog dry for at least 24 to 48 hours, may not be the best choice.
- Does your dog need immediate relief? If your pup has fleas, you have to do something about that right away. So you’ll need a flea-killing treatment followed by one that prevents these critters. “And make sure that the product you’re using is going to target the pest that you’re trying to get rid of,” Dr. Fox notes. Some combination treatments will protect for more types of ticks than others as well as other parasites.
- Your personal preferences and home life: OK, so this has less to do about what your dog is like and more to do about you. As a pet parent, you need to consider things that are important to you, like your budget. Or maybe getting your dog to stand still while you apply a topical isn’t worth the hassle—or giving a pill to a finicky eater isn’t either. If you have small children or other animals, base your decision on the likelihood of accidental poisonings. “If you put a topical on, is your toddler going to stick his hand right in it? Is the other dog in the house going to lick it off your other dog’s back?” Dr. Fox asks. Little kids might also be able to slip off a collar and stick it in their mouths, which is another accident you want to prevent.
Ready to shop? Start by browsing your options below.
Oral Flea and Tick Treatments for Dogs
You can use oral meds to treat a dog with fleas, or to prevent fleas and ticks from doing damage. If your dog has a flea infestation and doesn’t take preventative medication, use an oral flea treatment for dogs like Capstar Flea Tablets. This OTC medication is formulated to kill adult fleas within 30 minutes (and continue for another 24 hours). Then follow the treatment with a monthly flea-prevention chaser, so that your dog doesn’t get them again. There are also prescription options, like NexGard Chewable Tablets. Oral preventives are generally easy to give—they’re flavored so most dogs are happy to eat them. Once your dog has swallowed an oral medication, the ingredients work to kill fleas and ticks if they latch on and bite.
Perfect for: Dogs who need to be treated for fleas right away; for preventing fleas and ticks; most dogs, except for those with a history of seizures
Topical Flea and Tick Treatments for Dogs
The great thing about topical liquids and gels is that they not only kill fleas and ticks but repel them too, so you’re way less likely to find something crawling around on your pup. Topical flea and tick treatments for dogs come in a tube, and you squeeze the liquid beneath the fur on your dog’s body. OTC topicals, like K9 Advantix II, are a great option for people who want to get a flea and tick treatment but don’t have access to routine vet care, says Dr. Fox. Prescription topical treatments usually target more pests than just flea and ticks. For instance, Revolution Topical Solution for Dogs is formulated to prevent heartworms (a mosquito-borne disease) as well as ear mites and the parasites that cause mange.
Perfect for: Most dogs, except for those with allergy-prone sensitive skin or who can’t stay out of the water
Remembering to give separate medications for different disease-causing parasites can be tricky. That’s where prescription-only combo medications come in. They help control fleas and protect against heartworms and intestinal worms. Simparica Trio all-in-one chewable tablets, for example, kills fleas and five types of ticks, prevents fleas from laying eggs, prevents heartworm and treats roundworms and hookworms. “Just make sure that your pet has a negative heartworm test before starting this type of medication,” notes Dr. Fox. Of course, your vet will probably double-check this before writing a prescription!
Perfect for: Dogs who are at high risk for getting heartworms, especially those who live in the South and other areas of the country with lots of mosquitos
Flea Collars for Dogs
If you’re looking for protection that you don’t have to think about for months, you may want to consider a collar. Many flea collars for dogs, like the Seresto 8-Month Flea and Tick collar, repel pests for half a year or more. All you have to do is attach the collar snugly around your dog’s neck and the flea-and-tick killing ingredients in the collar will spread from the site of direct contact over the skin’s surface of your dog. Many flea collars for dogs are also waterproof. If your dog really is in the woods a lot or in areas where there are lots of tick-carrying deer, a collar can offer additional protection alongside a topical or oral medication, Dr. Fox says.
Perfect for: Most dogs, especially those who need extra protection
Flea Shampoo for Dogs
If you can’t get your hands on an oral treatment to kill off fleas, then giving your pup a bath with a flea shampoo for dogs can bring about the fast relief they need before you start your preventative treatment. While these shampoos are specially formulated to kill fleas and ticks, they can also wash away flea dirt (AKA flea poop), which can cause allergies. If you’re worried about ingredients, then try this gentle flea shampoo by Richard’s Organics, which contains natural oils from peppermint, cloves and other plants.
Perfect for: Dogs who have a flea infestation
Flea Combs and Other Tools
After you’ve given your dog a bath or oral treatment, combing your pup with a specially designed flea comb like this one from Hartz can remove dead fleas and eggs. It’s also a great diagnostic tool, says Dr. Fox. “Sometimes it’s really hard to tell if animals have fleas, but if you comb them, you’ll catch a flea eventually.” They’re also good for puppies that are too young to get an oral or topical flea treatment. Other tools you might need are tweezers, for pulling out the ticks that have latched onto your dog. TickEase Tick Removal Tweezer Tool works on pups and humans alike!
Perfect for: Most dogs, especially really young ones
Home and Yard Prevention
Even if you’re scrupulous about keeping pests away from your pet, it’s always a good idea to practice good hygiene to prevent things from getting out of control in your environment, says Dr. Fox. “When you treat the animal, you also need to treat the environment.” So clean regularly: Vacuum carpets and wash your bedding as well your pet’s sleeping areas (and yes, that means the sofa and chairs). For an extra layer of protection, try spraying your home and yard with products that kill fleas to prevent reinfestation. Adams Plus Flea & Tick Yard Spray, for example, is formulated to kill and repel a number of pests in addition to fleas and ticks, including mosquitos, termites, ants and crickets. (Just remember these sprays are for your yard, and should not be sprayed on your pet unless clearly stated by the manufacturer.)
Perfect for: Just about all dog owners, who don’t want fleas or other pests inside their homes and yards
As you can see, there are lots of methods for preventing and treating fleas and ticks on dogs. Be sure you talk to your vet to make sure you pick the best method for your fur baby.