Here is a guide to flea and tick prevention for dogs. It will help you decide which method is best for your dog and works for you too! Read more below
As a pet owner, I am quite often faced with endless choices and a headache-inducing number of options. I decided to help fellow pet owners make their own decisions by putting all the facts together in one place for future reference.
This is not veterinary advice. Consult your veterinarian before buying any prescription treatment, if you have a less than 8-week-old puppy or your dog is old, pregnant, or nursing.
This is what this post will look at:
Read below to find out more details.
Flea and tick prevention and control methods
Chewable flea and tick prevention tablets are sold on prescription. These contain insecticides that work by killing the existing live fleas or ticks as soon as they bite your dog and prevent your dog from catching more fleas and ticks in the future. One dose per month is required.
There are also non-prescription chewable tablets containing insecticides, that need to be given to your dog daily.
Non-chewable tablets are available without a prescription, but you will need to disguise them with food to ensure your dog eats a tablet.
Topical drops are mostly sold without a prescription, some are prescription only. Like oral medications, these contain insecticides but are absorbed through your dog’s skin rather than the stomach and intestine. They also work by killing the existing live fleas or ticks as soon as they bite your dog, and prevent your dog from catching more fleas and ticks in the future. When applying a topical treatment make sure you apply it to the spot your dog can’t reach and lick off. Also, make sure you part the hair to make the skin visible then apply the liquid slowly to give it enough time to absorb and not run off. One dose per month is needed.
Flea and tick collars
Dog flea and tick collars work as flea and tick repellents, but efficacy will depend on which product you choose. Some over-the-counter flea collars contain flea repellents that deter but do not kill fleas, making them suitable as preventatives but not good for infestations. Other insecticidal collars may kill fleas near the neck but leave other areas prone to fleas. The most effective dog flea and tick collars work much like topical flea preventatives, dispensing a long-acting flea control chemical that absorbs and spreads over the skin to kill fleas on contact. Depending on the product these will work for 3 months upwards.
The best flea and tick shampoo for a dog will kill pests on contact and wash away flea debris, eggs, and larvae. Look for non-irritating formulas with soothing ingredients like oatmeal. Pets with flea allergy dermatitis may enjoy the relief of an anti-itch or skin-calming formula. You can also find canine flea and tick shampoos with all-natural ingredients, and many of these also contain botanicals that repel fleas and ticks. Shampoos are not best suited for long-term flea and tick prevention for dogs.
Sprays and wipes
Dog sprays contain either insecticides or natural insect repellents: cedarwood oil, rosemary oil, lemongrass oil, geraniol, peppermint oil, and cinnamon oil. These will work as long-term prevention, but will not be suitable during an active infestation.
Yard and home treatments
If you suspect that your dog may have caught fleas in your yard, you need to eradicate fleas or your dog will get infested again. There are specific insecticide treatments in liquid or granules form that can be used in your yard. You can also use natural products such as cedarwood chips (sold in garden centers) or diatomaceous earth. Cedarwood oil is a natural flea-repellent and diatomaceous earth dries out the flea and tick larvae.
Home treatments are either powders to treat carpets or sprays that can be used on any surface. Look for long-lasting sprays that can protect your home for up to 6 months.
How to choose the best flea and tick prevention for your dog
When deciding what prevention method to use, consider the following:
How often it needs to be applied?
Some flea and tick collars can last up to 8 months but need to be kept on your dog at all times. Chewable prescription tablets and topical drops need to be applied once a month. Shampoos, sprays, and wipes need to be applied before or straight after your dog may have had contact with fleas or ticks.
Does your dog’s condition allow her to tolerate treatment?
Oral and topical medications are suitable only for puppies older than 8 weeks. You must also be careful if your dog is old, pregnant, or nursing. Consult your vet, who will be best placed to advise you.
How well it prevents infestation?
Both oral medication and topical drops get absorbed into your dog’s bloodstream and work on her entire body. Flea and tick collars work best on your dog’s head, neck, and back and may leave the hind part unprotected. Sprays will only work on the areas you have managed to apply them to.
Does it work on other parasites?
Some oral medications can treat and control roundworms and hookworm infestations and kill black-legged ticks that can transmit Lyme disease in addition to flea and tick prevention. Some others also work against heartworms and whipworms.
Do you have other pets it may be toxic to?
If you have a cat and a dog, make sure you check if the medication you buy is suitable for both. Some types of medications are only for flea and tick prevention for dogs and are toxic to cats.
Natural commercial and homemade flea and tick repellents
If you prefer to limit the use of pesticides and insecticides in your dog, you can opt for ready-made repellents containing only natural ingredients. Check the active ingredients list and look for the following: cedarwood oil, rosemary oil, lemongrass oil, geraniol, peppermint oil, and cinnamon oil.
You can also make your own water-based flea and tick-repellent sprays. Check out our guide how to get rid of fleas to find out how to make lemon water spray. To make rosemary water spray take a teaspoon of dried rosemary and add to 1 pint of boiling water. Simmer for 10 minutes, turn off the heat and let cool to room temperature. Strain through a sieve to a clean bowl and add ¼ cup apple cider vinegar. Mix well, then pour into a clean spray bottle.
Another type of natural flea and tick repellent is yeast extract. These are commercially available in the form of chews.
Make sure you keep your dog safe by following the dog safety rules:
Your dog’s age, condition, and weight
Oral and topical medications are suitable only for puppies older than 8 weeks. You must also be careful if your dog is old, pregnant, or nursing. Oral medication, topical drops, and flea&tick collars have dosages based on your dog’s weight. Make sure you weigh your dog before requesting a prescription (unless you visit the vet, who can weigh your dog for you).
Is the medication suitable for your pet?
Check the label before you use medication for your dog on your cat. Some types of medication for dogs are toxic to cats.
Follow the directions on the label
Read the label before you administer the product and always follow label directions! Apply or give the product as and when directed. Never apply more or less than the recommended dose.
Is the treatment safe for your dog?
Only buy EPA-registered pesticides or FDA-approved medicines. Be aware that certain flea and tick preventives are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while others are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It can seem confusing at first to figure out which agency regulates the product you’re using, but it’s actually pretty straightforward: if the product is regulated by the EPA, there’s an EPA number clearly listed on the package. If the FDA regulates it, there should be a NADA or ANADA number clearly listed on the package. Check the label for either an EPA or an FDA approval statement and number. If you see neither, check with your veterinarian before purchasing and especially before using the product.
Monitor your dog’s behavior
One pet may react differently to a product than another pet. When using these products, monitor your pet for any signs of an adverse reaction, including anxiousness, excessive itching or scratching, skin redness or swelling, vomiting, or any abnormal behavior. If you see any of these signs, contact your veterinarian.
What to do next?
Contact your vet if your pet has any unusual symptoms or develops unexpected symptoms after topical or oral flea treatment. If your dog already caught fleas, check out our guide how to get rid of fleas. And if you got rid of fleas but your dog is still itchy, read our guide to itchy dog skin home remedy.