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How to Choose the Safest Flea Treatment for Your Dog

Finding an effective, safe flea treatment for your dog is an important pet parent task. Here’s what you need to know to make sure your dog gets the flea protection they need with as little risk to their health as possible.

What to Consider When Picking the Safest Flea Treatment for Dogs

Keep in mind that no two pets are the same. Therefore, a product that’s commonly considered to be safe flea and tick prevention for dogs may be a great option for one animal and a mistake for another. Factors to consider include:

  • Age: Flea treatments must be age-appropriate; many are not made for young puppies. Look at the product’s label for this information.

  • Breed: Coat type may influence your decision. Thicker coats may be difficult for topical treatments.

  • Your pet’s health history: Other medications or supplements that you give, concurrent health conditions, and previous reactions to flea and tick preventatives should be taken into account. For example, neurologic problems have been seen in dogs when high doses of ivermectin (heartworm prevention ingredient) are given in conjunction with spinosad, a flea preventative ingredient.

  • Your pet’s lifestyle: The presence of children and other pets (especially cats) in the household and your pet’s daily activities/exposure to the outdoors are important details.

  • Where you live: Which parasites are common in your area? Is resistance to certain preventatives a concern?

Your veterinarian will take these details into account and help you decide which flea and tick preventative is best for your dog.

Many of the safest and most effective options require a veterinarian’s prescription, so it makes sense to have this discussion sooner rather than later.

Types of Safe Flea Treatments for Dogs

Veterinarians typically recommend dog flea and tick collars, topical flea and tick treatments, or oral flea and tick medications (sometimes in combination) to fully protect their patients. Here are a few of the safest flea treatments for dogs on the market today and some of their pros and cons.

Dog Flea and Tick Collars

Under many circumstances, newer dog flea collars are safe options for flea and tick control (unlike older collars, which were largely ineffective). The Seresto collar is a very popular option right now.

It uses flumethrin and imidacloprid to kill fleas at multiple stages of development as well as ticks. The collar’s effectiveness lasts for 8 months (as long as you minimize its exposure to water), so it is a convenient alternative to monthly prevention treatments.

However, if you have small children in your home, do not let them play with a Seresto collar or the included reflector clips. All flea and tick collars tend to leave traces of the chemicals that make them effective around the dog’s environment and on your pet, so this may be a concern with young children who tend to put everything in their mouths.

Some dogs have had local skin reactions to the collar that have resolved when it was removed. Seresto’s product insert also states, “Consult your veterinarian before using this product on debilitated, aged, breeding, pregnant or nursing animals.” This holds true for all flea and tick preventatives.

Topical Flea and Tick Treatments for Dogs

Several safe flea treatments for dogs are available as topical (or spot-on) treatments, and many offer protection against far more than just fleas.

For example, Advantage Multi is a prescription treatment that uses the active ingredients imidacloprid and moxidectin to kill heartworms, hookworms, whipworms, roundworms, sarcoptic mange mites and fleas. It doesn’t kill ticks, however, and dogs should not be allowed to lick the application site for at least 30 minutes to avoid potentially serious side effects.

Frontline Plus is an OTC product that uses fipronil and (S)-methoprene to attack fleas and ticks at every life stage. It also eliminates chewing lice and helps to control sarcoptic mange infestations. While it shouldn’t be ingested, a few surreptitious licks by your dog won’t cause much in the way of problems.

As is the case with flea and tick collars, if you’re unable to keep your pet away from small children or animals who may come into direct contact with the medication before it has dried or absorbed into your pet’s skin, a topical treatment might not be the ideal solution.

If you have cats in your home, you will want to talk to a veterinarian before choosing a topical flea and tick medication for your dog. Some utilize ingredients like pyrethrin or permethrin, which are incredibly toxic to cats.

Ideally, you should wait several days after application to bathe a dog. Topical treatments generally need to be applied monthly.

Oral Flea and Tick Medications for Dogs

There are several oral prescription flea and tick medications that are considered to be quite safe for dogs. These preventatives come in pill and chew forms. Your vet can help you find the right one for your pup’s age.

Trifexis employs spinosad and milbemycin oxime to keep dogs protected from heartworms and intestinal parasites as well as fleas, but it does not work against ticks. Your vet will need to prescribe this treatment.

Bravecto chews (it also comes as a topical) offer protection from fleas and ticks for 8-12 weeks per dose. It uses the active ingredient fluralaner, which kills adult fleas and ticks. Bravecto also requires a prescription from your veterinarian.

Oral flea and tick medications are great for households with small children or other small pets who may be in danger of coming into contact with the chemical residue from flea collars or topical medications.

The most common side effect reported for prescription oral flea medications is vomiting.

No medication is without the risk of side effects, but leaving parasites untreated is far more dangerous. Your veterinarian can help you pick out the safest and most effective flea and tick treatment based on your dog’s age, lifestyle, health status and other unique characteristics.

By: Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM

Featured Image: iStock.com/Gabi Uhrova