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Particularly if your dog spends a lot of time outdoors, it's important to make sure that they're protected from fleas and ticks (and the various diseases that they carry). But flea and tick prevention products aren’t just important for your dog’s comfort and health—they can also prevent you and your family from getting Lyme disease or another tick-borne illness.
"When I am looking for effective flea prevention, one of the most important aspects that I am looking for is a very fast speed of kill of the fleas. We want to kill the fleas before they can take several blood meals and before they start reproducing and laying eggs," says Dr. Melissa Hall, Dutch vet specialist and board certified veterinary dermatologist. "This will help avoid the itching associated with the flea bites for flea allergic dogs and reduce the environmental load of the fleas but reducing re-infestation."
From pills and chews to ointments and shampoos, there are plenty of options to choose from to keep your dog healthy. These treatments vary in delivery method and application frequency, so you'll want to consider what's best for both your pet and your schedule. It's always a good idea to check in with your veterinarian about your specific dog's needs, based on medical history and the pests in your region. No matter which tick prevention product you choose, you should still check your dog for ticks after time outdoors.
Read on for the best tick and flea prevention products on the market today.
Best Overall: NexGard Soft Chew for Dogs
Safe to use around other pets and children
Effective against ticks and fleas
Your pup will like NexGard as much as you do because each month he'll get his medicine as a tasty beef-flavored treat. From there, the main ingredient afoxolaner kicks in to kill fleas before they’ve had a chance to lay eggs, and ticks, including the Lone Star, black-legged, American dog, and brown dog varieties.
Nexgard is also FDA-approved to help prevent infections that cause Lyme disease. In addition to effectiveness, because the drug is delivered through your pet’s bloodstream, other benefits include that your dog can get wet immediately and it is safe for puppies as young as eight weeks. It’s available by prescription only.
Best Oral: Bravecto Chews for Dogs
Provides protection for up to 12 weeks
Kills fleas quickly
Doesn't kill ticks on contact
Not all dogs like the taste
An oral chew is a particularly good option for breeds with thick or long coats (including collies and Shih Tzus), where topicals are harder to apply correctly. Each of Bravecto's prescription-only chews provides up to 12 weeks of protection against fleas and ticks, and starts to kill fleas in just two hours. They control four tick species: black-legged ticks, American dog ticks, brown dog ticks, and Lone Star ticks. If Lone Star ticks are a concern where you live, you may want to give your pet a chew every eight weeks.
The one downside to chews is that they don’t kill parasites on contact, rather your dog must get bitten first. You also need a prescription for this product. If Lyme disease is prevalent in your area, you should talk to your vet about having your dog vaccinated.
Best Shampoo: Adams Plus Flea & Tick Shampoo
Gentle, nourishing formula
Good for current infestations
Formula is toxic to cats
Needs to be reapplied frequently
Kill fleas and ticks and get your dog squeaky clean at the same time with this dog shampoo from Adams. With a formula containing aloe, lanolin, coconut extract, and oatmeal, it’s gentle on both you and your pup's skin—and it smells good, too. A little goes a long way, so the bottle should last you for some time.
The shampoo contains an insect growth regulator (IGR), which the manufacturer claims can kill and prevent flea development for up to 28 days. However, according to Dr. Hall, it's worth noting that the shampoo is "good for current infestation but will not be an effective preventative." It's best when used in combination with another treatment, otherwise you'll need to reapply this product frequently.
A word of caution: the shampoo contains pyrethrin, which can be toxic to cats.
Best Natural: Wondercide Flea & Tick Spray for Pets + Home
Mostly plant-based formula
Can be used on pets or household surfaces
Must be reapplied frequently
Some pets are afraid of spray nozzle
Avoid the peppermint scent version
If you prefer to use more natural ingredients, Wondercide spray’s main active ingredients are lemongrass and cederwood oil, which are naturally repelling to a variety of insect pests. This spray can be used directly on your dog, or used as a room spray to kill fleas and ticks on furniture and carpet. It comes in a number of different scents, but we don’t recommend the peppermint scent, because peppermint essential oils can be toxic to dogs and cats.
When spraying your dog, be sure not to miss their armpits and in between their toes, two favorite hiding spots of parasites. However, it's unclear if this product has residual effectiveness, so you will need to reapply it frequently to your pet.
Best for Small Dogs: Sentry Fiproguard Plus for Small Dogs
Stops flea lifecycle
Waterproof after it dries
More affordable than comparable products
Not safe for cats
Doesn't work as fast as some other treatments
A small dog won’t need the same dose of flea and tick prevention medication, and that goes for topicals, too. This variety from Sentry is made for dogs from 4 to 22 pounds. You apply it to your dog’s back every 30 days and it works to kill fleas, flea eggs, flea larvae, ticks, and chewing lice on contact. You'll need scissors to open the tubes. Once it dries, your dog won’t be able to lick it off and it’s safe for your dog to get wet after a few days.
Best for Large Dogs: Frontline Plus Flea & Tick Large Breed Dog Treatment
Waterproof after 24 hours
Kills fleas at all life stages
Leaves greasy spot on dog's fur
Not safe for cats
Doesn't work as fast as some other treatments
This topical flea and tick treatment contains fipronil, which kills adult fleas and ticks, and (S)-methoprene to kill flea eggs and larvae. After you snap open the tube and apply the formula to your dog’s shoulder blades and back, it’s stored in the oil glands to give long-lasting protection for a full 30 days. Your dog should stay dry for at least 48 hours, but after that it’s waterproof and safe around young children and other pets. Frontline has been around for 20+ years and is recommended by many vets. The large variety is intended for dogs 45 to 88 pounds.
Best for Puppies: Bayer K9 Advantix II Flea and Tick Prevention for Small Dogs
Safe for young puppies
Kills insects on contact
Begins working in 12 hours
Not safe for cats
Doesn't always last full four weeks
Not all flea and tick treatments are recommended for puppies, so it’s important to check with your vet first before purchasing one. K9 Advantix can be safely used on dogs as young as seven weeks and the small dog variety is made for dogs that weigh between 4 to 10 pounds.
The treatment uses a combination of three different ingredients, a flea adulticide, a repellant, and an insect growth regulator, to stop pests at different stages of their lifecycle. The topical works for 30 days and kills on contact, which means fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes don’t have to bite your pup for it to be effective. It starts killing fleas in 12 hours after application. This products is not safe for use on cats.
Our best overall pick is the NexGard Soft Chew for Dogs (view on Chewy), which is as tasty as your dog's favorite treat and works well to kill fleas quickly. But if you need a topical treatment that doesn't require a prescription, consider the Adams Plus Flea and Tick Shampoo (view on Amazon), which can help you deal with an infestation but may require frequent application.
What to Look for in a Flea and Tick Prevention Product
There are several types of flea and tick prevention products that are popular today, including topicals, oral tablets, shampoos, and collars. Topical formulas are a liquid that's applied to the back of your dog's neck, while oral tablets are designed to be eaten—oral medications are preferable if your dog frequently gets wet, which can wash off topical treatments, but they're often more expensive than topicals. Shampoos often need to be reapplied several times per month.
Although the EPA continues to approve their use, at this time we are not recommending any flea and tick prevention collars due to reports about health concerns associated with these products.
Most flea and tick prevention products contain some type of insecticide that kills the insects. It's important to research the active chemicals in a flea/tick prevention product to see what types of insects it kills, whether it's safe to use around children and other animals, and whether it can cause negative reactions in your pet. When in doubt, it's best to talk to your veterinarian to figure out which ingredients will work best for your dog.
"When we discuss ingredients for flea prevention, we want to make sure the active ingredient is safe with minimal side effects for the pet, is effective, and has good residual activity. One of my favorite class of active ingredients are the isoxazolines, including Lotilaner found in Credelio®, Afoxolaner found in NexGard®, Fluralaner found in Bravecto®, and Sarolaner in Simparica® and Simparica Trio®," Dr. Hall says.
Different flea and tick products are effective for different lengths of time. Some need to be reapplied every week or more, while others might last several months. Not only will this affect how often you need to re-administer the treatment, but it will also dictate how much you'll spend on flea and tick treatments each year.
How can you tell if your dog has fleas?
There are several telltale signs that your dog might have fleas. If you notice that your dog is itching more than usual, particularly at its flank or above its tail, you'll want to check to see if you can spot any of these little bugs in its coat. If you part your pet's fur, you'll often be able to see "flea dirt," which looks like tiny black specks, or even black bugs that may jump away.
How can you prevent your dog from getting fleas?
In addition to using a flea and tick prevention product on your dog, there are a few ways you can reduce their risk of getting fleas. Fleas prefer to live in shaded outdoor areas with sand, leaves, or other debris, so you can help prevent fleas by keeping your grass cut short and keeping your dog from playing in areas where fleas might be hiding. You can also treat your home with diatomaceous earth, which helps to kill adult fleas.
Can most flea treatments be used on puppies?
In general, puppies should only be given flea treatments after they're weaned—typically around seven or eight weeks of age. It's important to check the age range on the flea treatment you're using to see if it's safe to use on your puppy. Your vet will also be able to recommend an appropriate treatment for your young dog.
"The pet’s size is important to consider. For instance, for our itty-bitty dogs (like teacup Chihuahuas or Yorkies) a smaller size option is necessary and for giant breed dogs, we may need to give two different sizes to make sure we are getting to a therapeutic dosage," Dr. Hall says.
Why Trust The Spruce?
We consulted with a veterinarian, reviewed ingredient information, and researched manufacturer claims and EPA guidelines. To make this list, we also considered the size of the dog, type of treatment, and ease of use of each product.
This article was written by Anne Fritz, a freelance lifestyle writer with over 20 years of experience.