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Medically Reviewed by Veterinarian Angela Dwyer, DVM on March 18, 2018
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It’s almost the time of year when your dog is going to start scratching every time they come in from outdoors. The spring brings a whole new round of fleas and ticks breeding all over the place, and that can mean some very itchy dogs – and people!
Having the right flea and tick remover is a major concern for pet owners, and one of the biggest expenses that many dog owners will face throughout the year. The fact is that dogs have a tendency to pick up fleas and ticks for a few reasons. First, their hair is an easy place for these pests to latch on. Second, dogs tend to go exploring in areas where pests live. And finally, because you can’t see their skin, it’s easy for these pests to breed on your dog. And all that means that you’ve got your work cut out for you keeping your dog – and your home – safe from nuisances.
But if you take a look at the pet industry, you’ll find several different flea and tick solutions. Those may include:
Medicinal, topical drops
Powders and sprays for your carpet
Medicinal, topical sprays
Digestible medicines taken orally
I may even be missing some! There are a lot of different ways that the pet industry has come up with to combat this common issue, and dog owners also share homemade recipes for flea and tick protection that some swear by. So, how do you know what type of flea and tick remedy you should be using for your dog?
Why It Matters
You might think it’s a bit odd to be talking about flea medicine in the winter, but the fact is that dogs need flea and tick protection all year long. In fact, these pests can be worse in the cold weather because they are looking for a warm place to continue to live, so your pet is a likely home. It’s so common for dog owners to stop giving their dogs protection during this time of year, and that’s one of the leading causes of flea- and tick-borne diseases. Here are a few things that can occur from flea and tick bites:
Rocky Mountain spotted fever
Many of these diseases can be passed on to humans, and several of them can be life-changing and even fatal to both people and dogs.
Before I get into all the different types and why you might use one or the other, I want to say that I support going to your vet and asking them what they recommend. I would be willing to place a wager on them telling you to use Frontline or something similar, whether it be the topical drops or the oral medication. This is a very commonly recommended product in the canine medical field because, quite frankly, it works. And it’s also proven to be safe for most dogs. There are some who may have skin reactions to the drops, so if your dog has sensitive skin or skin allergies, be prepared to ask for an alternative.
This is what I use for Janice and Leroy, and we don’t have too many problems with fleas or ticks on them. There was one year when the ticks were just awful in my area; everyone I knew was complaining about their dogs being covered in the things. Despite going out into the woods several times on hikes that year, I only found two ticks, total, on the dogs that year. So, while Frontline is not the cheapest thing in the world, it definitely is worth it.
But like I said – not every dog will be able to use this product. So, let’s discuss what other options you have. Once again, this information is only for educational purposes, and I highly recommend you see a vet to ensure your pet gets proper flea and tick protection.
Flea and tick drops are probably the most recognizable type of flea and tick prevention. These are small plastic containers of liquid that you drip onto your dog’s skin once a month. Just a few drops will be spread over your dog’s neck and back area, and around the tail. That will be enough to deter fleas and ticks from getting on your pet in the first place, and can help kill off any live fleas or ticks that are currently on the dog.
However, one thing that flea and tick drops cannot do is kill eggs that have been laid. That is why you’ll want to keep up with doing the flea drops every month – with month one, you’ll kill off the adults present. With month two, you’ll kill off the adults that grew from the first month’s larvae. And with month three, you’ll kill off the adults that grew from the first month’s eggs. (Presumably, I’m no biologist. This is how my vet explained it to me.) This does not mean you should stop using the product after the third month, because new fleas are always out there.
Flea and tick collars are basically a more convenient method for delivering the same kind of liquid medication as a flea and tick prevention drop. Instead of you having to drop the liquid on a dog every month, the medication is soaked into a collar, and is slowly released due to the dog’s body heat. I’ve never used these myself, but most are marketed as lasting for about eight months to a year.
There is quite a lot of controversy around the use of flea and tick collars, which is why I don’t use them. Some vets say they don’t work as well, because fleas and ticks need to be repelled at both the neck and the hind end of the dog to get full coverage. But the bigger problem is that many dogs have skin reactions to flea collars. I’ve seen dogs who have what look like burn marks on their necks due to flea collars. Having that much of the medication – a year’s worth, instead of just a month’s worth – on at one time, can apparently cause problems for some dogs’ skin.
Flea and tick powder comes in a container that allows you to shake it over your dog’s skin to kill fleas and prevent new ones for landing. For some dogs, this is a way to get some relief, but in a way that doesn’t irritate the skin as much as topical liquids. My vet doesn’t prefer these products because they usually aren’t tested by any sort of veterinary science program, but that doesn’t mean yours won’t recommend one of these for a dog with sensitive skin. One thing that raises a concern for me is how much more affordable powders tend to be. You’d think that’s a good thing, but my experience with medication is that you get what you pay for.
Flea and tick shampoo is not meant to be used as a preventative measure on its own. It’s for dogs that are already covered in fleas, and you want to start killing off as many of the little buggers as you can before the infest your house. (Although, news flash: if your dog has visible fleas and has been in your house for longer than an hour or two, it’s probably too late. Get yourself some pest control STAT!) There are hundreds of flea and tick shampoos out there, some made for dogs with sensitive skin. One great thing about flea shampoo is that it is often made to specifically attack the eggs in addition to the adult shampoo.
In my experience, Adams Plus is a great flea and tick shampoo, but be careful. This shampoo does contain a medical ingredient that is meant to prevent fleas, and if you are doubling up with a topical treatment on your dog, it could cause issues. Be sure to ask your vet before you use both on your dog in the same time period.
Oral medications for fleas and ticks are another commonly recommended preventative by vets. They come in both tablets and chewable forms, and are a good choice for dogs with sensitive skin who can’t use the topical drops. These can be purchased online or over-the-counter, but you do need to make sure you know your dog’s weight before giving them an ingestible medication, because the dosage definitely differs over the various sizes.
Oral flea and tick medication works by adding a flea and tick killer to the blood of your dog. When the adult insects then bite your dog, they are killed by the blood that they are drinking. Therefore, these won’t work against eggs – meaning you have to keep giving them to your dog to ensure that the eggs laid by the adults die when they grow into adults themselves.
There are some products that are meant more for relief from itching and pain, rather than for actual prevention of flea and tick infestations. However, just because that’s the primary reason for these products, doesn’t mean they don’t help kill off the adult pests. For example, Vet’s Best Flea + Tick Wipes primarily help alleviate the symptoms of a flea allergy, but can also kill fleas and the flea eggs. There are similar products in a spray rather than a wipe – you can choose which works best for your dog’s ability to sit still.
While these can kill some of the pests on your dog, and offer relief from the symptoms of flea and tick bites, they don’t offer the same type of prevention against future pests, so they should not be used as your only flea and tick preventative care.
I also wanted to mention a couple of important tools that dog owners will likely need at least once in their dog’s life. First is a flea comb. These extremely fine-toothed combs help capture fleas as you brush your dog, so you can remove them from your dog’s skin. This helps get rid of the dead fleas, and can also grab eggs so you can prevent them from hatching on your pet. You’ll want to do this near a bathtub or a big bowl of water, because depositing the fleas you brush off into water is the best way to kill them.
Household cleaners, like carpet powders, are a really good thing to have on hand. If your home gets fleas in it, a professional pest control service is the best place to start. But I would also recommend using some kind of carpet cleaner and fabric cleaner that kills fleas and ticks regularly, just as a preventative measure. It can help cut down on the chance that you’ll get an infestation.
Trust me, a flea infestation is something that no one wants to deal with. We got them one time when I was a kid, and everyone in my family had little red sores all over their feet and ankles. Every single piece of upholstered furniture, bedding, carpet, and linen in the house was a place for fleas to live. In the end, it took multiple pest control visits, and tossing out a lot of our bedding, plus pulling up the carpet in the entire house, to get rid of them. It was my childhood dog, Jake, who was the culprit, but my parents were really to blame for not keeping up with his flea prevention medication.
After living through that as a kid, I am careful to keep up with Janice and Leroy’s flea medications, and I also take some other measures, like making them lay on a specific blanket when they get on the couch. It won’t do much besides make my mind rest easier, but that peace of mind is worth it to me. Now that you’ve got a summary of each type of flea and tick medication out there, you can take your information to your vet and ask what would be best for your dog.