In the southern U.S., fleas are often a year-round issue. But, in most places, their populations begin to grow in late spring, and they only begin to decline once the first frosts of fall arrive.
Fortunately, there are a few different things you can do to help treat and keep the fleas and ticks away for the summer.
We’ll explain the basic flea prevention process below, and then we’ll explain the different types of flea medications you’ll need. We’ll then recommend some of the best flea treatments for dogs on the market.
Lastly, we will conclude by explaining some of the things to think about when selecting flea medicine products and answer some of the most common questions owners have about flea control.
Best Flea Treatment for Dogs: Quick View
Our Top Pick
Our Top Pick
Adams Plus Flea & Tick Shampoo with Precor
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Vet Basics Lime Sulfur Dip
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K9 Advantix II Flea, Tick and Mosquito Prevention
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Frontline Plus for Dogs
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Vet's Best Flea & Tick Pet & Home Spray
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Flea & Tick Spray
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Frontline Flea and Tick Spray
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Novartis Capstar Flea Tablets
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Pet Armor Fast Caps
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For Your Dog Flea Brush
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The Basic Flea Prevention Process
It is fairly easy to prevent fleas from feasting on your dog, but you can’t just spritz your dog with some flea spray and expect your dog to be completely protected.
In practice, you’ll need to follow a four-step process to achieve total flea eradication and prevent future infestations from manifesting.
Essentially, this means embracing the four flea elimination steps outlined below.
1. Remove as Many Fleas as Possible to Provide Immediate Relief
The first thing you’ll want to do to rid your dog of fleas and ticks is to eliminate as many of them as possible, as quickly as possible. This will help provide your dog with some immediate relief and stop him from suffering any more bites.
You can accomplish this in one of three basic ways:
- You can bathe your dog with a flea shampoo. This will help remove many of the fleas mechanically, and the medications contained in a high-quality flea shampoo will help kill any that are not washed away. Some flea shampoos have a pretty strong odor, so you may want to consider completing this step outdoors.
- You can apply a flea-killing spray on your dog. A good flea-killing spray will kill the majority of the adult fleas living on your dog’s body. Typically, these types of flea sprays kill the fleas on contact.
- You can administer a pill, tablet or chew that contains flea-killing medications. Most of these medications will begin working within a few hours, and they’ll kill all of the adult fleas living on your pet’s body.
It isn’t necessary to kill every single flea infestation living on your dog at this point in the process. Your primary goal is to reduce the number of fleas quickly and to start letting your dog’s skin heal.
2. Use Your Preferred Flea Prevention Treatment
Now that you’ve reduced the number of fleas on your dog, it is time to use a preventative flea treatment to kill the ones that remain, as well as any new fleas that may hop on his body in the future. And because many of the flea shampoos, sprays and oral flea medications that you used in the first step won’t kill eggs, you’ll also need to kill hatching fleas too.
There are a few different types of flea treatments available, but flea collars and one-spot topical treatments are usually the best choices for most owners. Both types are convenient to use and will provide extended protection against fleas.
Some preventative flea treatments kill fleas on contact, but others only kill fleas once they bite your dog. Either type can be helpful, but the former is clearly preferable to the latter.
For a comprehensive review of flea collars, be sure to check out our guide to the best flea and tick collars for dogs.
3. Clean Your Home – Especially the Areas Your Pet Frequents
If your dog has had fleas for any length of time, your home is surely covered in flea eggs and larvae. Accordingly, you’ll want to perform a good top-to-bottom house cleaning to get rid of the flea infestation.
Start by dusting or wiping down all of the furniture in your home, and then vacuum or mop your floors as appropriate. Once you’ve completed this step, you’ll want to wash all of your dog’s belongings.
This includes his bed (or the bed cover, if it is removable), and any other fabric items he uses, such as towels or blankets. It’s not a bad idea to wash all of the linens in your house too – especially if you allow your dog to sleep on your bed or couch.
You’ll also want to wipe down your dog’s crate while paying special attention to the corners and any tiny nooks and crevices present. Then, having physically removed as many fleas and eggs as possible, you’ll want to apply a flea spray to kill any that you miss, hatch or invade your home in the coming days.
You may also want to treat your yard with an environmentally friendly flea spray to help prevent your dog from getting fleas in the first place. There are several plant-based products on the market (more on this below), which will help reduce the number of fleas lurking in the grass and bushes around your house.
Always be sure to follow the application instructions carefully when applying the flea spray, as some can contain chemicals that are toxic to cats.
4. Monitor Your Pet to Ensure He Remains Flea Free
At this point in the flea treatment process, your pet and home should be flea free or nearly so (it is probably impossible to kill every single flea in your home without resorting to drastic measures). Meanwhile, the preventative medication you used should help to keep your dog from contracting new fleas (just be sure to reapply the medication as indicated).
However, you’ll want to inspect your dog about once a week or so to ensure the fleas don’t reappear.
A good flea comb will help you accomplish this, and it will even help pull any fleas present from your dog’s fur. Be sure to pay special attention to your dog’s abdomen and the creases under his legs, as fleas often frequent these areas.
If possible, try to inspect your dog while he’s on a white floor or sheet. This will make any fleas present easier to see as they fall off. In most cases, a weekly flea inspection should suffice.
Best Flea Treatment for Dogs Reviews
You’ll need to use one or more of the following flea treatments to protect your dog from fleas. Some medications are best suited for different steps in the flea-control process, but others can be used in multiple ways.
For example, some flea sprays can be not only used to provide your pet with immediate relief but as a long-term flea preventative too.
We’ll discuss each of the primary types of flea treatment and preventative products below and recommend the best flea treatment options for you and your pet.
1. Flea Shampoos
Flea shampoos are typically comprised of a standard dog shampoo, into which flea-killing medications have been mixed.
They will generally kill the vast majority of the adult fleas living on your dog on contact, but you must be sure to use the shampoo correctly and thoroughly work it into your dog’s coat (use care to avoid your dog’s eyes, nose, and mouth).
You’ll also need to allow some to sit on your dog’s coat for 5 or 10 minutes before rinsing to achieve maximum efficacy. This can be difficult with some dogs, so be sure to consider this carefully when choosing a shampoo.
Some flea shampoos use S-Methoprene or other growth regulators to kill fleas, while others use pyrethrins in conjunction with synergists, such as Piperonyl Butoxide, which help make pyrethrins more effective. Some even use more than one flea-killing chemical. Other flea shampoos use sulfurated lime to kill fleas.
Many flea shampoos also contain ingredients designed to help improve their smell, and some also feature skin-soothing ingredients, which will help your dog’s skin start to feel better.
Adams Plus Flea & Tick Shampoo with Precor is one of the best choices for owners who want a high-quality flea shampoo.
Most owners who’ve tried it report that it is easy to use and effective – it will even kill any ticks living on your dog.
Adams Plus Flea & Tick Shampoo also contains a growth regulator (S-Methoprene, which goes by the brand name Precor) to kill any sub-adult fleas for four weeks after each bath.
Adams Plus Flea & Tick Shampoo is safe for dogs, puppies, and kittens. It is also very reasonably priced, and most owners reported that it smells quite nice.
Vet Basics Lime Sulfur Dip is another great option that will kill the adult fleas living on your dog’s body.
It also features a number of skin-soothing additives, to help your dog enjoy some immediate relief.
Like most other sulfurated lime flea products, Vet Basics Dip is incredibly effective, however, it smells quite bad. Most owners likened the odor to that of rotten eggs.
Vet Basics Lime Sulfur Dip is a little more expensive than some other flea shampoos, but it comes in concentrated form. This means that it is not quite as expensive on a per-use basis as it may initially appear.
2. One-Spot Topical Flea Treatments
Because they are so convenient to apply and effective at killing fleas, one-spot topical treatments for fleas are one of the best ways to get rid of fleas on dogs. They are often the most popular flea preventative used by modern dog owners.
They are typically applied to a small spot between your dog’s shoulder blades (thereby preventing him from licking the medication off), which allows the oils in your dog’s skin to absorb the medications and spread them around the entire body surface. Most one-spot treatments remain effective for about 1 month.
One-spot flea treatments use different active ingredients, but a few of the most common include:
- Pyrethroids like permethrin
- The neonicotinoid Imidacloprid
- Phenylpyrazole insecticides like Fipronil
- Insect growth regulators like Pyriproxyfen and S-Methoprene
The active ingredients used in these treatments can have very important ramifications, as some of the chemicals used in these treatments are toxic to cats.
K9 Advantix II Flea, Tick and Mosquito Prevention is likely the best option for most owners. As the product name implies, it not only kills fleas (typically within 10 minutes of application), but it kills ticks and mosquitoes too.
In fact, K9 Advantix II Flea, Tick and Mosquito Prevention kills fleas through contact alone — they don’t even have to bite your dog to become exposed to the medication.
It is also waterproof, so your pet can still enjoy swimming all summer long.
Be sure to select the proper dosage for your dog when making your purchase. Also, it is imperative that you keep this flea medication away from cats.
Another good option is Frontline Plus for Dogs. Frontline not only kills fleas but flea eggs, ticks, and lice too.
Unlike K9 Advantix, which is made with Imidacloprid, permethrin, and Pyriproxyfen, Frontline is made with Fibrinol.
It will not wash off in the water, so your dog will remain protected while swimming at the lake, and it works for about 30 days.
3. Flea and Tick Collars
Flea collars are some of the oldest flea prevention products around, and they were formerly one of the most common ways by which owners addressed flea-related problems.
However, in the modern world, they’ve largely been replaced by one-spot topical treatments and, to a lesser extent, oral flea-killing medications. Nevertheless, flea and tick collars still represent the best flea treatment strategy for some owners and their dogs.
Most flea collars utilize pyrethroid insecticides (such as Flumethrin) and some also use neonicotinoids (such as Imidacloprid) to kill fleas (and often, ticks). The drugs are slowly released from the flea collar, where they are absorbed and spread by the oils in your dog’s skin.
Most flea collars work for an extended period of time. Historically, this meant about 30 days or so, but modern flea collars may work for 6 months or longer.
You have to be quite selective when purchasing flea collars, as the market is littered with poorly performing products, which won’t give your dog the kind of protection he deserves.
Fortunately, Seresto makes this pretty easy, as their flea and tick collar stands above the competition.
Designed to work for 8 months, the Seresto Flea and Tick Collar provide owners with an easy and long-term solution for flea prevention.
And while it kills adult and larval fleas quite well, this odorless flea treatment collar also kills ticks.
The collar (which can be used with your dog’s regular collar) is very simple to use – simply wrap it around your dog’s neck, thread the free end through the buckle, tighten it down, and then cut off the excess.
4. Flea and Tick Sprays
Flea-killing sprays can also be used as part of a long-term flea treatment strategy. Many flea sprays are designed to be used on your home or outside in your yard, but a few utilize safe chemicals, and can, therefore, be used directly on your dog too.
Vet’s Best Flea & Tick Pet & Home Spray is a great example of such a flea preventative product.
Made with all-natural, plant-based ingredients like peppermint and eugenol (a derivative of the clove plant), you can use this spray around the backyard or directly on your dog.
And unlike many other flea sprays, Vet’s Best actually smells nice too.
Vet’s Best is made in the USA, and it won’t stain your dog, carpets or furniture as some other products may. It isn’t safe for cats or puppies under 12 weeks of age, but it provides great flea protection for mature dogs.
Other flea sprays use a combination of pyrethroids like Etofenprox and synergists (chemicals that make pyrethroids more effective) such as Piperonyl Butoxide. A few also use growth regulators, such as S-Methoprene.
Adams Plus makes another appearance among our recommended flea-prevention products with their Adams Plus Flea & Tick Spray. This spray is effective against adults – which it kills on contact – and eggs, via the inclusion of a powerful growth regulator.
It can be used around your house as well as directly on your pet (the manufacturer recommends administering the spray at a rate of 4 sprays per pound of body weight).
Adams Plus is not safe for young puppies or kittens, but it is safe for adult cats. One application will provide about two months’ worth of flea protection.
Frontline Flea and Tick Spray is also a good option for many dog owners.
Like Frontline’s one-spot flea treatment, this spray contains the active ingredient Fipronil.
It does not kill flea eggs, so you’ll need to use it periodically to kill fleas that hatch after the initial application.
Frontline Flea and Tick Spray is safe for adult dogs and cats.
5. Oral Flea Medicine For Dogs
While oral flea-killing medications are best used to provide your dog with immediate relief, they can also be used as a long-term flea-control strategy.
Flea pills are relatively new products, which have only recently become available over the counter. Most oral flea medications utilize the neonicotinoid insecticide Nitenpyram.
Oral flea killing medications kill all of the fleas living on your dog’s body within a matter of hours, so their ability to provide instant relief is unparalleled. However, because fleas will likely be found in the environment, your dog can become re-infested relatively quickly.
The chemicals used in these oral tablets or pills do not kill eggs, so fleas that hatch, after you administer the medication (and it works its way out of your dog’s system), won’t be killed.
Accordingly, it is usually necessary to administer these pills periodically if you intend to use them for long-term flea prevention. Many can be administered as often as every day, but weekly administration would probably prove sufficient to keep infestations at bay.
Novartis Capstar Flea Tablets are likely the best oral flea-killing medication on the market. This medication kills fleas on dogs in as little as four hours. It won’t kill any eggs present, so you’ll have to re-administer it periodically as new fleas hatch.
However, if you are on a tight budget, you may want to consider Pet Armor Fast Caps instead. These pills don’t have as many positive reviews as the Novartis Capstar Flea Tablets do, but they are made with the same active ingredient, and they cost about half as much.
6. Flea Combs
Flea combs are indispensable for monitoring your dog’s coat. They have very fine teeth which will allow you to carefully inspect the shafts of your dog’s hair close to the skin, where fleas hang out.
There are several flea combs on the market, but the For Your Dog Flea Brush is clearly one of the best options available.
This comb will make it easy to find fleas hiding in your dog’s coat, and it has an ergonomic grip for your comfort.
Things to Think About When Selecting Flea Treatment Products
Different owners must approach flea prevention for dogs in different ways, as there are no universally effective products that will work well for all owners and dogs.
To ensure that you end up selecting the best products and strategies for your circumstances, think about the following considerations when devising your approach and selecting products:
How old is your dog?
Some flea prevention products for dogs are not suitable for very young or very old pets. So, you’ll want to consider your pet’s age when picking products.
Do you have any other pets?
Some flea medications can be toxic to cats, and some dogs may be sensitive to some flea-killing drugs. Therefore, you’ll need to consider the collection of animals living in your home before you make a choice.
Are you good at sticking to a schedule?
Some flea-control products, such as one-spot topical treatments, must be reapplied every month or so to remain effective. However, other medications, such as oral tablets or shampoos, can simply be administered when you notice fleas are present (although they’ll work best when used on a consistent schedule).
If you think you’re likely to forget to reapply the medication on the proper schedule, select a product that works on an as-needed basis.
What is your budget?
While flea control is typically not one of the most expensive components of dog care, every dollar counts, and you’ll want to select a product that you can afford. You certainly don’t want price to be the most influential factor you consider, but it is wise to think about the costs associated with your preferred treatment strategy.
Flea shampoos are usually the most affordable flea prevention products, while one-spot topical products and oral flea medications are usually the most expensive.
Does your pet have any relevant health concerns?
Some dogs may not be able to tolerate some flea medications. Additionally, some breeds are sensitive to ivermectin and other flea-killing medications. If you are not sure that your dog can safely use a given medication, check with your vet before applying it to your dog.
The Reason Flea and Tick Protection Is Important
Scads of tiny arthropods live on people, pets and other animals, and most do so without ever causing any trouble.
Fleas, however, are quite different. They spend their lives biting their hosts, and their bites usually cause moderate to significant itching, redness, and swelling.
Low-level flea infestations are generally only mildly irritating, but dogs who are plagued by hundreds or thousands of the little bloodsuckers may suffer quite a bit. They may develop rashes or lose fur, and they can even become anemic if they suffer enough bites to cause a significant amount of blood loss (this is most common among puppies).
However, different individuals (including both dogs and people) react differently to the proteins in flea saliva, so some suffer more from their bites than others. Some dogs may even develop an allergy to the proteins in flea saliva (called flea allergy dermatitis), which can make the problem even worse.
Fleas can also cause more serious health problems in some cases.
For example, even though fleas are parasites themselves, they can carry other parasites too. The most important parasite transmitted by fleas is probably the tapeworm Dipylidium caninum. These tapeworms don’t usually cause serious problems for dogs, but they can be transmitted to humans, so they are definitely a species of concern.
Fleas can also transmit several different types of pathogenic bacteria to you or your pet. Bartonella and Rickettsia typhi (which causes murine typhus) are two of the most commonly transmitted bacteria, but there are dozens of other bacteria that can also cause problems.
Some fleas also carry Borrelia burgdorferi – the bacteria associated with Lyme disease. However, it isn’t clear if fleas can transmit the disease or not.
FAQs About the Best Dog Flea Treatments
Owners often have a lot of questions regarding fleas and flea treatments for dogs. We’ve tried to address a few of the most common questions below. Note that we’ve answered a few of these questions already, but we’ve covered them again here for convenience’ sake.
Which flea treatment medications work best?
It depends on your circumstances. In fact, the degree to which you follow the four-step flea prevention process explained above is actually the most important factor that will determine your relative success or failure.
Some of the topical flea sprays, shampoos, and oral medications will kill the fleas on your dog’s body, but reinfestation will quickly occur if no other treatment is used.
Accordingly, one-spot topical treatments are likely the most effective choice for most owners. However, if you are likely to forget to reapply the medication on an appropriate schedule, a flea collar may be the better option.
Are flea medications safe for puppies?
Some of them are, while others are not. It often depends on the exact version of the product you use. For example, some one-spot flea treatments cannot be used on young puppies, while others can. You’ll just have to check the instructions and precautions on the product packaging.
Can you use your dog’s flea medication for your cat?
As with puppies, it depends upon the exact product you are using on your dog. Some flea-prevention products for dogs are extremely toxic (potentially lethally so) to cats. Generally speaking, it is wisest to purchase separate flea treatment products for your dogs and cats.
Do dogs get fleas from other dogs?
Indirectly. Fleas do not often hop from one dog’s body to the next. Instead, fleas on a dog lay eggs, which fall to the ground, where they hatch. Then, the resulting fleas climb up onto another dog’s body. However, direct transmission is possible in extremely crowded conditions.
Are fleas dangerous for dogs?
If your dog is attacked by enough fleas, he could experience anemia or other illnesses. He could also become allergic to the proteins in their saliva, which can cause him to suffer from a very irritating rash.
But although serious infestations may cause health problems for dogs, the real threat presented by fleas is the diseases and parasites they can carry.
Do male fleas bite?
Yes. Unlike fleas and some other insects in which only the females represent a threat, male fleas can and do bite the dogs on which they live.
Do fleas lay eggs in your house?
Yes, although not deliberately. Fleas take a “shotgun” approach to egg deposition, as the eggs are simply allowed to fall onto your dog’s body – they don’t glue them in place like lice and some other parasites do.
Eventually, most eggs will end up on the ground, and this will include your carpets. This is why it is important to clean your home when battling a flea infestation.
How long do flea eggs take to hatch?
Most flea eggs hatch in about two weeks, although they can hatch more quickly than this in ideal environmental conditions. Conversely, cold temperatures may prevent eggs from hatching for more than a month.
A basic flea treatment program can help ensure you and your dog have an enjoyable summer. Just follow the suggestions recommended above and you should be able to keep the fleas at bay.
Of course, if we haven’t covered it, let us know what you have found to be the best flea treatment for dogs.
Vet West Animal Hospitals: Solving a Flea Problem
VCA Animal Hospitals: Flea Control in Dogs
Merck Veterinary Manual: Fleas in Dogs and Cats
Dr. Lillian is a D.V.M. passionate about promoting awareness of dogs. She shares her expertise through her blogs on canineweekly.com and provides animal care services, including internal medicine, dermatology, and emergency care. Dr. Lillian is committed to contributing to animal welfare.