Flea Treatment and Prevention Medications for Dogs

Ways to Keep Dogs Flea-Free

Close-Up Of Dog Scratching
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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.

When it comes to fleas, prevention is the best method. However, when fleas are found, swift action will help prevent a major infestation. Fortunately, in this day and age, even a major infestation can be dealt with.

Flea prevention comes in many forms. Some are only available with a prescription while others can be purchased over-the-counter. Some flea prevention products also include heartworm prevention and protection from intestinal parasites.

Learn the differences between various product types so you can make an informed decision. Be aware that there are always new products coming on the market. Before you make a final decision, be sure to talk to your vet about the best options for you and your pet.

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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 Sentinel) simply cause the flea to become sterilized. Others actually kill the flea (like NexgardSimparica, Comfortis, and Trifexis). These products are typically given once a month, with the exception of a product called Capstar (which only lasts 24-48 hours).

    Oral forms of flea prevention are typically available by prescription only. No more than one type of oral treatment should be used at the same time unless your vet recommends it. However, 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 Advantage, Frontline, Revolution and Vectra 3D are distributed in the dog's natural skin oils and work to kill adult fleas. Some have additional ingredients that sterilize fleas.

    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 "spot-on" products are equal. Many of the topical flea products sold in grocery stores are ineffective. 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 treatment can sometimes be used in conjunction with an oral treatment.

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    Shampoos, Dips and Sprays

    Shampoos, dips and topical sprays designed to kill fleas may work when it comes to removing fleas from your dog 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.

    Flea shampoos, dips and sprays 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.

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    Flea Collars

    Many flea collars are relatively 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 6 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:

    1. Take care not to poison your pet.
    2. Know when to give up; if you have an infestation, it's time to move on to the chemicals.
    3. Talk to your vet about the best options for your pet.
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    More Information

    For more complete information about flea control products, see these descriptive flea product comparison charts. 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. And 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!

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.