No dog owner wants to see fleas. More than just a nuisance, fleas pose a significant health risk to dogs and other animals, including humans. These tiny external parasites feed on the blood of mammals, and their bites can lead to several health issues.
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Oral Flea Prevention
Oral flea prevention/treatment typically comes in the form of a tablet. It may or may not be chewable (flavored). The pill releases a chemical into the dog's bloodstream that affects the flea after it bites the dog.
Some drugs, like lufenuron, simply cause the flea to become sterilized. Others actually kill the flea, like afoxolaner, fluralaner, sarolaner, and spinosad. These products are typically given once a month, with the exception of the drug nitenpyram, which only lasts 24-48 hours.
Most oral forms of flea prevention are available by prescription only. Some also prevent ticks. Do not use more than one type of oral treatment at the same time unless your vet recommends it. Certain oral treatments can sometimes be used in conjunction with a topical treatment.
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Topical Flea Treatments
"Spot-on" topical treatments like imidacloprid, fipronil, selamectin, dinotefuran, pyriproxyfen, and permethrin distributed in the dog's natural skin oils and work to kill adult fleas. Some have additional ingredients that prevent ticks. Most topical flea prevention medications are available over-the-counter.
Topical treatments generally need to be applied monthly. They are usually water-resistant, meaning you can bathe your dog with a mild shampoo 3 or more days after applying the product.
Be aware that not all topical products are equal. Many of the topical flea products sold in stores are ineffective or even toxic. When it comes to topical flea prevention, you tend to get what you pay for.
Talk to your vet about the best options. No more than one type of topical treatment should be used at the same time without your vet's approval. However, a topical drug can sometimes be used in conjunction with an oral drug. Just make sure your vet says it's safe.
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Shampoos, Dips and Sprays
Shampoos, dips, and topical sprays designed to kill fleas may work at that moment, but they rarely last longer than a day or so. When your dog is again exposed to newly-emerged fleas, he will easily become re-infested. That's because these products remove the fleas from the dog, but not the environment.
Flea shampoos, dips and sprays usually contain toxic chemicals that, in high enough doses, can actually harm dogs (especially small or sensitive dogs). In addition, these products should not be used in conjunction with topical spot-on treatments, as they may cancel each other out or increase the risk of chemical toxicity.
In general, it's best to choose an effective flea medication (oral or topical) that actually works. This is safer than repeatedly exposing your dog to the chemicals in shampoos, dips, and sprays.
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Many flea collars are minimally effective. Some are completely ineffective. They might kill or repel some fleas around the area of the collar but rarely prevent the fleas from jumping on other parts of the pet. However, products are constantly changing and improving. One effective type of flea collar is a product called Seresto that lasts up to eight months.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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Natural Flea Prevention
For ages, people have tried to come up with home remedies and natural products to ward off fleas. While natural remedies are useful for a number of issues, generally flea treatment is not one of them.
Some say a bit of garlic in the diet helps to prevent flea infestations. In reality, this is not typically effective. In addition, excess garlic in the diet can lead to toxicity for some dogs.
Another natural method is the use of essential oils and/or herbs on the pet's skin and coat. Unfortunately, there is not enough documented evidence regarding the effectiveness of this method.
If you choose to go the natural method, just remember three things:
If your dog is too sensitive to tolerate oral or topical flea prevention, the best way to remove fleas is by using a flea comb. Run the flea comb through your dog to pick up fleas. Put the retrieved fleas into a bowl of soapy water until you are done, then simply dump the water down a drain. You will need to do this daily if there are fleas in the environment. Treat your home and your yard for fleas on a regular basis. This method is not as effective as oral or topical treatments, but it can help minimize the fleas and give your dog some comfort. Give your dog a soothing, gentle bath every week or so to ease itching caused by fleas.
For more complete information about flea control products, see this descriptive flea product comparison chart. Know that your veterinarian is the best source for up-to-date information about flea control products and their safety. To determine which flea prevention product is best for your dog, ask your vet.
Remember, a flea infestation is more than just annoying; it is a risk to your dog's health. The time to act is before you ever see fleas. Prevention is key!