The 5 best dog snow jackets and coats, according to dog walkers from the coldest cities in the US

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Dog walkers and trainers from cold climates shared what dog snow jacket features and styles they like.
  • Our experts said the best dog snow coats are water-resistant, lined, and cover a dog’s belly.
  • Find out more about how Insider Reviews tests and evaluates pet products.

When winter weather comes calling, people aren’t the only ones who struggle to stay warm and dry. Blustery days complete with snow, slush, and ice are enough to make all but the hardiest dog breeds think twice about going for a walk. But, with a dog insulated from the cold and wet in a cozy jacket, bad weather doesn’t have to mean a day stuck indoors.

Given the vast number of dog snow jackets available – from parkas to snowsuits to blankets – it can be a challenge to figure out which one is the best fit for your dog and their winter exploits. To help us navigate market, we spoke with 13 dog walkers and trainers from among the coldest, snowiest cities in the United States. We then analyzed their opinions on the features, styles, and brands that make the best dog coats to come up with our recommendations for dogs of all sizes, shapes, and needs.

Here are the best dog snow jackets in 2021

Best dog snow jacket overall

Labrador dog wearing green best dog snow jacket Ruffwear Powder Hound and walking on snowy mountain

With full belly coverage and an insulated top layer, Ruffwear’s Powder Hound Jacket keeps your dog warm and dry no matter what the weather has in store.

Pros: Insulated and lined, full chest and belly coverage, water-resistant, reflective trim

Cons: Pricey, harness must be worn over the jacket

Ruffwear’s Powder Hound is a high-quality jacket that will keep your dog warm and dry in cold, wet, and windy winter conditions. According to Jacob Venter, owner of Denver Dog Joggers in Denver, Colorado, the jacket is not only water-resistant, but it also fits tightly enough to prevent snow from building up inside. 

As a brand, Ruffwear was the clear favorite among the dog pros we consulted for this guide. “Ruffwear has the best dog gear,” said Krissia Chanto, co-owner of Rock Paw Pet Care in Boulder, Colorado. Megan Selheim, owner of Come, Sit, Stay in Minneapolis, Minnesota, agreed. “Ruffwear jackets are long lasting and high quality,” she said.

The upper panel of the Powder Hound Jacket is filled with recycled polyester insulation and its lower panel is stretchy and form-fitting, with cap sleeves over the front legs and full chest and belly coverage. The jacket’s interior has a soft lining to prevent chafing and discomfort. It is easy to put on and take off quickly with a single zipper that runs the length of its left side.

Reflective trim provides better visibility at night and there is a loop at the base of the neck for attaching an additional light. Although this jacket does not have an opening for securing a leash to a harness worn underneath, it is slim fitting enough that most harnesses will fit easily over the outside. 

Best dog snow jacket for outdoor adventures

greyhound wearing black Hurtta Expedition Parka dog coat

The insulated Hurtta Expedition Parka moves with an active dog to keep them protected on outdoor adventures in the snow, sleet, wind, and cold.

Pros: Insulated and lined, full chest and belly coverage, waterproof, built to move with an active dog, reflective trim

Cons: Pricey

Dogs who love a good outdoor winter adventure will stay toasty and dry in Hurtta’s insulated Expedition Parka. Designed in Finland to withstand harsh Nordic winters, this jacket moves with an active dog and allows extended range of motion. “It’s easy to get on and off, warm, waterproof, durable, and fashionable,” said Lori Riegler, owner of Off Leash MKE in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “I want one for myself!”

Made from a laminated water- and windproof nylon fabric, the Expedition Parka is built to withstand temperatures as low as -20 F. The jacket slips over the head and chest, wraps around the belly, and is secured with a single adjustable buckle. Both its wide snood and the section around the shoulders have elastic drawstring cords that adjust to a dog’s unique shape.

The interior of the parka is lined with soft, breathable fabric. Its exterior is trimmed in highly visible reflective piping. Elastic sections at the front legs flex with a dog’s movement and elastic straps at the hind end can be slipped over the back legs for added security. An opening at the back can be used for connecting a leash to a harness worn underneath the jacket.

One of the best things about the Expedition Parka is the wide variety of sizes to choose from. Included among the brand’s 16 size options are two long-but-small options perfect for hot dog-shaped canines and two small-but-wide options for chesty bully breeds. 

Like our best overall pick, Ruffwear’s Powder Hound, the Hurtta Expedition Parka doesn’t come cheap, but what you get for your money is durable and hard-working enough to last a lifetime.

Best dog jacket for snow and slush

french bulldog dressed in Canada Pooch Slush Suit snow coat with full leg coverage

The Canada Pooch Slush Suit offers full-body water-resistant protection to keep snow, slush, and sidewalk salt at bay.

Pros: Insulated and lined, full-body coverage, water-resistant, reflective trim

Cons: Only sold in two colors, handling-sensitive dogs may struggle with leg holes, pricey for large dogs

When the forecast calls for snow, wind, or freezing rain, the Canada Pooch Slush Suit is ready to keep your dog warm and dry from head to toe. The full-body onesie covers the most sensitive areas of your dog’s body and its soft polyester lining helps to insulate them from frigid temperatures.

“[My dog] and I are big fans of the Canada Pooch Slush Suit,” said Sydney Fontaine, owner of Zippy Pet Care in Chicago, Illinois. “It can double as a full-body rain jacket, as well, which is perfect for his thick, curly hair.”

The Slush Suit is a step-in jacket that zips closed along the length of the dog’s right side. Melody Koney, a dog walker with Windy City Paws in Chicago, Illinois, said that this style not only fits most dogs well but also keeps them warm in frigid winter temperatures. Two snaps at each ankle and a drawstring cord at the neck help to adjust the suit for the right fit.

The shell is made from water-resistant polyester and reflective tape runs along the zipper for better visibility. The Canada Pooch website has a breed sizing tool to help identify which size is best for your dog. Inside, the suit is fully lined, a feature that Fontaine said is important in Chicago’s cold winters. “Dogs hold most of their heat along their back and spine so keeping that insulated is the top priority,” she said. It also has an opening at the back for attaching a leash to a harness worn underneath.

Because the suit requires each leg to be placed individually in its own opening, dogs who are sensitive to handling may struggle with it. And although it’s moderately priced for smaller dogs, the price rises for larger pups, topping out at $85. Nevertheless, whether you live in Northern climes or frequently get away to the mountains, the Canada Pooch Slush Suit’s got your dog covered.

Best budget dog snow jacket

chihuahua wearing best cheap dog jacket, the frisco red dog snow jacket in snowy backyard

The super affordable Frisco Boulder Plaid Insulated Puffer Coat is a cozy everyday option for winter walks.

Pros: Insulated and lined, water-resistant

Cons: Minimal belly coverage, may not hold up to heavy rain or excessive snow, no reflective trim

Frisco’s range of affordable dog snow jackets don’t just look cute, they provide a good quality alternative to pricier pet apparel, according to Stephanie Gonzales, owner of Maw and Paws Dog Walking in Brooklyn, New York. With its quilted, water-resistant polyester exterior and plush fleece lining, the Frisco Boulder Plaid Insulated Puffer Coat, in particular, is a great option for cold, damp conditions.

The Boulder Plaid Insulated Puffer is easy to put on your dog and secured with two velcro straps that wrap under the belly and around the neck. This makes it a great option for squirmy dogs who can’t stand still long enough to step through tight leg holes and dogs who are sensitive to having a jacket pulled over their head.

Because the jacket leaves the belly and chest mostly exposed, you may want to throw on a second layer on wet or snowy days when your pup is likely to kick up a lot of bone-chilling water and mud.

This puffer is designed to fit a range of body types. “My dog Rocko is a Chiweenie, which means it can be difficult to find something that fits his long skinny torso while still providing length to keep his little butt warm. Frisco seems to have that figured out,” said Gonzales.

A harness worn underneath the puffer can be connected to a leash through an opening at the back. And when it’s collected its fair share of mud and salt, the jacket can be thrown in a washing machine and dryer.

While this coat may struggle to stay dry in heavy rain or deep snow and has no reflective trim, it’s a solid everyday option for keeping your dog cozy in the cold without emptying your wallet.

Best snow jacket for barrel-chested dogs

chocolate lab wearing Weatherbeeta Comfitec Reflective Parka 300D, the best dog snow jacket for barrel-chested dogs

The waterproof, insulated Weatherbeeta Comfitec Reflective Parka 300D has an adjustable strap to accommodate broad and barrel-chested dogs.

Pros: Insulated and lined, full chest and belly coverage, adjusts to fit dogs with broad or irregularly sized chests, waterproof, reflective trim

Cons: Handwashing recommended, only available in two colors

Weatherbeeta’s Comfitec Reflective Parka 300D Deluxe Dog Coat comfortably fits dogs with broad, barrel, or irregularly shaped chests for whom regular jackets are too snug. With full chest and belly coverage, this waterproof, insulated snow jacket will keep dogs of all sizes warm and dry.

The velcro closure like that on Weatherbeeta’s parka is preferred by several of the dog pros we consulted. “I don’t like coats that have buttons or zippers on them simply from an ease of use standpoint,” said Anderson. “When my dogs are wiggling to get outside, I like to get them geared up and out the door as quickly as I can which makes velcro my best friend.” The beauty of the strap on the Comfitec Reflective Parka is that it wraps around the chest and belly, so it can be pulled tighter for narrow-chested dogs or fastened more loosely across broader dogs.

The parka has a wide collar that can be worn flipped up or down, and an opening at the back can be used to connect a leash to a harness worn underneath the jacket. Elastic at the chest allows the parka to move with your dog and elastic straps at its tail end can be slipped over the legs for added security. 

The jacket is lined with fleece and filled with polyester material that will keep a dog with medium-thick fur warm in near-freezing temperatures. The polyester exterior is trimmed in reflective tape, ensuring your dog stays highly visible day or night. If you’d rather your dog’s snow apparel be a little more low key, though, you’ll have to look elsewhere. While this jacket can be machine washed on the delicate cycle in cold water, Weatherbeeta recommends handwashing it with mild soap.

How to fit your dog for a snow jacket

Getting the right fit on a dog snow jacket is rarely as simple as choosing between small, medium, and large. Depending on the shape of their body, a dog that’s considered “small” may fit better in a large-size jacket, while a slim, leggy dog may need a smaller one. To get the right fit for your dog’s snow jacket, pull out the measuring tape and calculate the following measurements.

  • Length: Body length is the primary way to determine what size jacket a dog will need. To get the most accurate measurement, measure your dog while they are standing in a relaxed position from the shoulder blades to the base of the tail. If your dog’s measurements are between sizes, go with the larger option. Sometimes a brand suggests a breed type or body weight that typically fit its different sizes. This can be helpful, but don’t use it as your only guide; body types can vary drastically among different dogs of the same weight.
  • Chest girth: Since most jackets are not adjustable around the chest, it’s important to get this measurement right. This is especially true for broad or barrel-chested pups. To get chest girth, measure the circumference of your dog’s chest at its largest point right behind the front legs while they are in a standing position. Go with the larger option if your dog’s measurements fall between sizes. If you have an active dog that does a lot of running and jumping, you may want to add 1 to 2 inches to your figure to assure they have full freedom of movement while wearing the jacket.
  • Neck girth: To get the right fit on a jacket with a nonadjustable neck opening, measure around the thickest part of the neck, right below where their collar sits. As with the other measurements, when in doubt size up.
  • Drop: The drop indicates how low a jacket hangs on a dog’s body and legs. If the jacket is too long, it may restrict their movement. If it’s too short, it may not provide adequate coverage. To determine how a jacket’s drop will lay on your dog, compare its length to their length, measuring from the base of the tail down the hind leg to the ankle just above the paw. The ideal jacket covers the body but extends less than halfway down the leg.

Cold-weather safety for dogs

golden retriever wearing blanket coat while lying in snow with tennis ball beside paw

When the mercury drops, a dog who’s not prepared for the cold may be at risk of developing frostbite or hypothermia. And while some breeds are more susceptible to cold than others, a good winter-weather rule of thumb is that if it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for them, said veterinarian Zay Satchu, chief veterinary officer and co-founder of Bond Vet in New York, New York.

When cold, a dog may shiver, hunch their body, lift or hold their paws off the ground or seek out warmth, said Satchu. But while those signs may be obvious when you’re at their side, a dog who’s left outdoors without supervision in cold weather may become dangerously cold without you realizing it. When a dog’s body temperature drops, hypothermia is a real possibility, not to mention the fact that extreme cold can lead to frostbite on exposed areas like the ears, nose, and paws.

Anytime you are really feeling the cold, there’s no harm in putting a jacket on your dog, Satchu explained. “They’re more likely to let you know they are feeling toasty by panting than to let you know they are chilly,” she said. It’s easier to cool down a warm dog by removing an outer layer than to warm up a dog that’s chilled to the bone.

Boots can also help to keep a dog warm by protecting their sensitive paws from snow, ice, and salty sidewalks. “Booties are similar to you wearing gloves during the cool months,” Satchu explained.

Unless you have a hearty Northern breed like a husky or Bernese mountain dog, it’s important to bring an outdoor dog inside when temperatures drop below freezing. And if it’s cold enough that you need to cover every bit of your exposed skin to feel somewhat comfortable, you should stick to bringing your dog outdoors for only quick potty breaks instead of longer walks.

Anytime a dog who has been in extreme temperatures is showing symptoms of lethargy, muscle stiffness, weakness, decreased mental alertness, or loss of consciousness, you should contact your vet immediately. These signs of hypothermia can be life threatening.

Our experts

To come up with our selections for this guide, we consulted dog professionals from across the United States who walk and train dogs in cold, snowy winter climates. The majority of our experts responded to a survey that inquired about brands, designs, and features they prefer in a dog snow jacket. Those who did not respond to the survey were sent questions to answer via email. Our list of experts includes:

Catherine Adamo, owner of Loyal Dog Club in Detroit, Michigan

Stacia Anderson, co-founder of RuffCity Uptown Dog Walking in New York, New York

Krissia Chanto, co-owner of Rock Paw Pet Care in Boulder, Colorado

Sydney Fontaine, owner of Zippy Pet Care in Chicago, Illinois

Stephanie Gonzales, owner of Maw and Paws Dog Walking in Brooklyn, New York

Dawn Jacques, owner of Milwaukee Paws Pet Care in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Arelys Jimenez, dog walker at Windy City Paws in Chicago, Illinois

Melody Koney, dog walker at Windy City Paws in Chicago, Illinois

Lori Riegler, owner of Off Leash MKE in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Laura Ryan, owner of Pup Patrol Walkers & Pet Care in Worcester, Massachusetts

Megan Selheim, owner of Come, Sit, Stay in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Jacob Venter, owner of Denver Dog Joggers in Denver, Colorado

Katie Westling, co-owner of Paw Pet Care Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota

We also consulted Dr. Zay Satchu, chief veterinary officer and co-founder of Bond Vet in New York, New York, on how to keep a dog safe in cold winter weather.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The best dog boots and paw wax in 2021, according to dog walkers and trainers

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Nine dog walkers and trainers told us about their favorite dog snow boots, hiking boots, and paw wax.
  • Our experts said the best dog boots go on easily and protect paws without minimizing sensation.
  • Find out more about how Insider Reviews tests and evaluates pet products.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Karie Johnson, DVM, veterinarian and co-founder of VIP Vet Visit, a mobile vet service in the south suburbs of Chicago.

Neither sleet nor rain nor heat nor snow will stop your dog from wanting to go out for a walk, but bad weather may make you think twice. Extreme temperatures can irritate a dog’s sensitive paws, and ice and snow can be downright dangerous.

There’s no need to skip the walk altogether when the weather isn’t cooperating. A set of dog boots or high-quality paw wax can protect your dog from freezing, hot, or rough terrain, so they can do the thing they love most.

To come up with our selections for this guide to the best dog boots, we consulted nine dog walkers and trainers from across the United States. We asked them about their preferences for keeping dog paws protected during icy winters and hot summers as well as on outdoor adventures. According to our experts, the best dog boots overall are Pawz Rubber Dog Boots, a set of waterproof slip-ons that are easy to get on, hard to kick off, and inexpensive.

Here are the best dog boots in 2021

Best dog boots overall

australian shepherd wearing red best overall dog boots pawz and running across snow

Waterproof Pawz rubber dog boots protect paws in extreme heat, ice, and snow and are well tolerated by most dogs.

Pros: Rubber boots, waterproof, slip-on, sold in packs of 12

Cons: May not hold up to rough terrain, not reflective, uninsulated

Whether your dog’s paws need protection from ice, snow, and salt in the winter or hot asphalt in the summer, several of our dog pros agreed that Pawz waterproof dog boots are the best option. 

“We have found these boots to be by far the best for staying on a dog’s paws during a walk,” said Megan Selheim, owner of Come, Sit, Stay in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. Stacia Anderson, co-founder of RuffCity Dog Walking in New York City, agreed. “In my experience, all dog boots are inferior to Pawz balloon booties,” she said.

Pawz are made from flexible, durable all-natural rubber and come in a variety of sizes to fit dogs from tiny Chihuahuas to huge Newfoundlands. The dog booties slip over the paw and stay secure without straps or buckles. While they have enough traction to prevent a dog from slipping and sliding, they don’t have a cumbersome sole, a feature that adds to their usefulness.

“Most dogs adapt to them quickly because they are not bulky and they can still feel the sensation of the ground through these boots,” Selheim said. The lack of a reinforced sole, however, makes it easier for sharp rocks and other sidewalk hazards to tear through the rubber and scratch a dog’s paws.

Because they are made without reinforcements, Pawz do wear out. There’s no need to feel guilty about throwing them out, however, because they’re sustainably sourced and biodegradable.

Pawz are sold in packs of 12, so you can easily replace one that goes missing. That’s important to Lori Riegler, owner of Off Leash MKE, a dog walking and pet sitting business in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “Booties are like socks and mittens, you are always losing one,” she said.

Best dog boots for winter

two basset hounds wearing muttluks best dog winter boots in yellow and black

Warm, cozy Original All-Weather Muttluks provide everyday paw protection against frigid winter temperatures.

Pros: Stretchy fabric boots, tough leather sole, reflective, sold in packs of 4, storage bag included

Cons: Not water-resistant

Original All-Weather Muttluks are like reinforced mittens for a dog’s paws. The boots slip over the paw with the kind of stretchy fabric preferred by the dog walkers and trainers we consulted. A velcro strap across the ankle keeps them securely in place on cold-weather walks.

The soles of Original All-Weather Muttluks are reinforced with a thin layer of treated suede leather. While their smooth surface can be slippery in slush and rain, they are durable enough to prevent sharp objects like rocks and nails from slicing through to the paw pad. The nylon fabric exterior provides insulation to keep sensitive toes toasty. Reflective material on the strap makes them easier to see in low light.

These booties are warm and comfortable for everyday winter wear, but they aren’t water-resistant and can get waterlogged when walking in heavy rain, snow, and slush. And even though their tough soles will also hold up well against hot sidewalks in the summer, they may become overly warm if worn for long periods in the heat. The boots are machine washable, and for best results, the company recommends retreating the leather after cleaning.

Unlike most boots, sizing is determined by measuring from the paw’s front to back instead of side to side across its widest point. The boots are sold in a pack of four and come in a mesh storage bag.

Best dog boots for hiking

large yellow dog running in blue Ruffwear Grip Trex best dog boots for hiking

Ruffwear Grip Trex Dog Boots provide adventurous dogs with paw protection when covering long distances on rocky or uneven terrain.

Pros: High-traction, flexible water-resistant rubber soles, reflective

Cons: Fastening strap may chafe, only sold in pairs of 2

Ruffwear Grip Trex Dog Boots protect paws from the scrapes and abrasions that can develop during long days on the trail. With breathable mesh on top and flexible, water-resistant soles made from Vibram vulcanized rubber, these booties provide powerful traction on slippery or uneven surfaces without overly compromising paw sensation.

Ruffwear was a popular brand among the dog professionals we surveyed who said the Grip Trex boots are ideal for hiking and other outdoor adventures. They are less bulky than the brand’s snow boots and have a thicker rubber sole than its everyday boots. The mesh polyester upper has a wide opening for pulling the boot on and off and a reinforced toe. Each boot has reflective trim for low-light visibility. 

To keep the boots from slipping off, Ruffwear’s Grip Trex cinch around the leg just above the paw and fasten with a velcro closure. Because there is very little material between the stiff strap and the ankle, this boot may rub and cause abrasions when worn for extended periods of time, said Jacob Venter, owner of Denver Dog Joggers in Denver, Colorado. Breaking in the boots on everyday walks before taking them out on an excursion may help, as can pairing them with Ruffwear’s dog socks.

As the size of a dog’s front paws is often different from that of their back paws, Grip Trex boots are sold in pairs instead. These booties are the most expensive of those we selected for this guide, but their wide range of sizes ensures you’ll get just the right fit for every paw.

Best dog paw wax for protection

a blue and white tub with musher's secret paw wax printed on lid

Musher’s Secret Paw Wax is a reliable alternative to boots in conditions ranging from snow and ice to extreme heat.

Pros: Protects paws from ice, snow, and heat; made from natural ingredients; affordable

Cons: Provides limited protection against rocky terrain, may need to be reapplied in snow

Dogs who refuse to wear boots can find relief from ice, snow, sidewalk salt, and extreme heat with Musher’s Secret paw wax. “Musher’s Secret is very effective for protecting paws and so much easier than booties,” said Katie Westling, co-owner of Paw Pet Care Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The Canadian-made balm works by establishing a wax barrier between the paw pads and the ground without impacting a dog’s ability to feel the terrain. It is made from four types of wax — white and yellow beeswax, carnauba palm wax, and candelilla wax — combined with vegetable oil and vitamin E. The food-grade ingredients are nontoxic and won’t harm a dog who attempts to lick it off.

While it might seem that all that wax and oil would result in greasy hands and a slick trail of puppy paw prints, Melody Koney a dog walker with Windy City Paws in Chicago, Illinois, assured us that’s not the case. “It’s easy to put on a dog’s paws, and it doesn’t leave a mess on floors and carpets,” she said.

An added benefit of Musher’s Secret is the soothing and conditioning its oils and vitamin E provide for dry, cracked winter paws and dog noses. The balm doesn’t provide as much protection against rocky terrain. It may help to keep paws safe from excessive rubbing and scratching, but it won’t stop a sharp stone from slicing a sensitive paw pad. In snowy conditions, the wax may have to be reapplied on longer outdoor adventures.

Affordable Musher’s Secret paw protection comes in three sizes — 60 grams, 200 grams, and 1 pound — and will remain shelf-stable year after year if you don’t use it all up in a single season.

How to fit your dog for boots

Most dog boots are sized with the width of a dog’s paws in mind. To get the ideal fit, put a piece of paper on the floor and grab a pencil. Place one of your dog’s front paws on the page and lift up the other so they have all of their weight flat on the paper. Draw an outline using your pencil. Since the back paws may be smaller than the front, repeat the process with them.

When you have your outlines, measure the widest point of the paw from toe-to-toe. The width should correspond to the sizes in which the boot is sold. If your dog’s paw falls between sizes, go with the smaller option.

For boots that are measured by length instead of width, measure the paw outline you’ve drawn from the longest toenail to the “heel” and find the correct size on the sizing chart. A snug fit is better than a loose one, so if your dog’s paw falls between sizes, choose the one that is smaller.

How to keep dogs safe in cold weather

Even though they come with built-in fur coats, dogs can still get cold in extreme temperatures. Unless you have a hearty Northern breed like a Husky or Bernese mountain dog, protecting a dog with a coat and boots can help to prevent them from developing frostbite or hypothermia when the mercury drops below freezing. “A good rule of thumb is if it is too cold for you, it is too cold for them,” said Zay Satchu, DVM, chief veterinary officer and co-founder of Bond Vet in New York, New York.

When a dog is cold, their body reacts by shivering and hunching to conserve warmth. They may also lift or hold their paws off the ground or make a beeline for enclosed spaces they believe will be warmer. A dog that is exposed to freezing temperatures for too long can develop frostbite on their ears, nose or paw pads or, in extreme cases, hypothermia.

On days where the only way to be comfortable outdoors is to swaddle yourself head to toe in clothing, only cold-weather-loving breeds should be spending a lot of time outdoors, especially if you aren’t at their side. “If you aren’t directly supervising, it can be difficult to pick up on signs of hypothermia, which can be life threatening,” Satchu said. You should contact your vet immediately when symptoms like lethargy, muscle stiffness, weakness, decreased alertness, and loss of consciousness indicate that your dog’s body temperature has dropped to dangerous levels.

An insulated coat and boots can help to keep your dog warm in the winter cold. “If you’re grabbing a coat on the way out, you might as well grab one for Fluffy too,” said Satchu. Like mittens or gloves for your hands, boots can protect the paws from freezing salty sidewalks, snow, and slush. If your dog refuses to wear boots, Satchu recommends trying a paw balm to create a barrier between sensitive paw pads and the sidewalk and wiping salty paws down with a warm damp cloth after the walk.

Our experts

For guidance on selecting the best dog boots, we went straight to those who spend their days walking and training dogs in all types of weather. Nine dog professionals from around the United States responded to a survey designed to identify the features of a good dog boot and the brands and designs they most prefer. Our list of experts includes:

We also consulted Zay Satchu, DVM, chief veterinary officer and co-founder of Bond Vet in New York, New York, on the best practices for keeping a dog safe in cold winter weather.

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The best dog food in 2021, with advice from veterinarians and an animal nutritionist

When you buy through our links, Insider may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Dog food being served to a boston terrier puppy
  • There are many excellent dog food brands, but finding the right food for your pet is not so simple.
  • We spoke to veterinarians and an animal nutrition expert who guided us in selecting nutritious dog food.
  • Here are some of the best dog foods, including kibble, canned food, fresh food, and puppy, senior, and grain-free diets.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Karie Johnson, veterinarian and co-founder of VIP Vet Visit, a mobile vet service in the south suburbs of Chicago.

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Choosing a healthy dog food for your pet can be an overwhelming process. The truth is, there isn’t a single best dog food in any given category. And that’s actually a good thing because it means pet owners have many excellent options to choose from.

With guidance from veterinarians and an animal nutritionist, we carefully selected different types of foods across price points, including dry kibble, canned wet food, fresh food, and diets for puppies or senior dogs. In order to maintain impartiality, our experts did not recommend specific brands or formulas.

“Dogs are individuals,” says veterinarian Carol Osborne, of the Chagrin Falls Pet Clinic in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. “What works well for Dog A, might not work well for Dog B. If you want to know if a food is good for your pet, look at your pet. Your pet is a reflection of what he or she is eating.”

We also consulted standards from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and the Global Nutrition Guidelines published by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA). The foods in this guide are complete and balanced according to AAFCO standards, which means they offer appropriate levels of protein, fat, and fiber for a dog’s life stage.

Each of our picks was evaluated based on its nutritional adequacy, calorie content, guaranteed analysis, and ingredients. They contain high-quality ingredients and meet our long list of expert-informed criteria – you can read more about those at the end of this guide. .

Our advice is tailored to the “average dog” – a sedentary or moderately active dog that is either a healthy weight or slightly overweight, does not have a specific health condition, and is not a working or performance dog. Always consult your veterinarian before introducing new foods to your dog’s diet to account for their individual needs.

At the end of this guide, you’ll find complete details on our methodology and the experts we spoke with, as well as information on how to read a pet food label, calculate your dog’s caloric needs, and find a food your dog likes to eat. You can also use this knowledge to evaluate any other brands you might be interested in trying.

Here are 21 of the best dog foods you can buy in 2021

Best adult dry dog food

dry dog food including purina beyond superfood, merrick health grains, and nature's logic canine chicken meal feast
These dry dog foods from Purina, Merrick, and Nature’s Logic contain a variety of high-quality ingredients and healthy extras.

Dry dog food is a practical option for many pet owners: It’s cost-effective, has a long shelf life, and is easy to store and feed. 

For adult dogs, we recommend foods that contain a moderate amount of protein (the AAFCO minimum is 18% for adults) and low to moderate fat. When it comes to protein, you may assume more is better since dogs evolved as carnivores, but this is not the case, according to Kelly Swanson, PhD, professor of animal and nutritional sciences at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Domestic dogs are actually omnivorous and do not require extremely high protein concentrations in their diet. 

“From a pet health perspective, the protein quality and digestibility are most important,” explains Swanson. With that in mind, we looked at dozens of foods to find ones with whole meats and meat meals at the top of the ingredients list. Complementary proteins like rice and beans are also good. Swanson likes to see fat concentrations below 20%, but he doesn’t get too concerned about fat content for healthy-weight pets who do not have conditions like pancreatitis or gastrointestinal disease.

Beyond this, veterinarian W. Jean Dodds, owner of Hemopet Holistic Care Veterinary Clinic, looks for a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods, including high quality meats or fish, some carbohydrates, a mixture of vegetables, and some fruit. Many dog foods also contain extra ingredients like omega fatty acids for skin and coat health, probiotics for digestion, and glucosamine, chondroitin, and green-lipped mussels for joint support. 

Our recommendations below hit all of the must-haves and each has a combination of healthy extras, from omega fatty acids and probiotics to  glucosamine and chondroitin.

Our picks for adult dry dog food:

Beyond Superfood Blend Wild-Caught Salmon, Egg, and Pumpkin Recipe (14.5-lb bag) (medium)Classic Healthy Grains Real Beef and Brown Rice Recipe (25-lb. bag) (medium)Canine Chicken Meal Feast (25-lb. bag) (medium)
Best adult wet dog food

best wet dog food including wellness lamb and beef stew, go solutions skin and coat care, and nutro turkey and potato recipe
We recommend these AAFCO complete-and-balanced wet dog foods from Wellness, Go! Solutions, and Nutro.

Wet food is particularly appealing to dogs. Pet parents often like it for this reason, and it may be a good option for picky eaters who turn their nose up to kibble. Wet food also has a long shelf life when unopened. 

We selected wet foods that meet the same AAFCO complete and balanced standards that apply to dry food. However, wet food generally contains more protein and fat and fewer carbohydrates, so be sure to talk to your veterinarian before switching your dog to a wet diet, especially if they have trouble digesting a lot of protein or fat.

Although the same standards apply to dry and wet food, it can be hard to compare their labels. Dry kibble has very little moisture, while canned food contains a lot of water. To read a wet food label, you need to look at the percentages of protein, fat, and fiber on a “dry matter basis.” Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University offers instructions so you can calculate them yourself. You can also call the food manufacturer or ask your veterinarian for help. For the foods we recommend, we contacted the manufacturer.

When shopping, be on the lookout for wet dog food that is 100% meat. More protein might seem like a good thing, but these foods are for supplemental feeding only. “Dogs have evolved from wolves to become obligate omnivores,” says Dodds. This means that they need more than just meat in their diet. Small amounts of meat-only wet foods can make tasty meal toppers for your dog’s complete and balanced dry food.

Our picks for adult wet dog food:

Skin + Coat Care Pollock Pate (12.5-oz. cartons, 12-pack) (medium)Lamb and Beef Stew with Brown Rice and Apples (12.5-oz. cans, 12-pack) (medium)Limited Ingredient Diet Grain-Free Turkey and Potato Recipe (12.5 oz. cans, 12-pack) (medium)
Best fresh dog food

best fresh dog food includes just food for dogs, the farmer's dog, and ollie
Fresh dog food from Just Food For Dogs, The Farmer’s Dog, and Ollie can be delivered right to your door.

Fresh dog food has grown in popularity over the last few years. We like it because it is minimally processed, made with wholesome ingredients, often without preservatives, and cooked a short time before your dog eats it. All this means fresh dog food is some of the most expensive food you can buy.

Many pet food companies cook fresh, individually customized meals and ship them directly to your door, usually via a subscription. When choosing a healthy fresh dog food, look for the same beneficial ingredients you would for any dog food: meat sources of protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, marine sources of fat, and healthy extras like omega fatty acids, glucosamine, chondroitin, and probiotics.

We have tested all of our picks for fresh food and can attest to their quality. These foods are AAFCO complete and balanced and the calorie content of the meals is tailored to your dog based on their weight, breed, and activity level.

Our picks for fresh dog food:

Turkey and Whole Wheat Macaroni (18-oz. package) (medium)Monthly Subscription (medium)Chicken Recipe (monthly subscription) (medium)
Best budget dog food

best budget dog food includes whole earth farms adult, blue buffalo life protection, and natural balance original ultra
High-quality affordable dry dog food is available from Blue Buffalo, Natural Balance, and Whole Earth Farms.

The phrase “you get what you pay for” holds true for dog food. Food made from organic, non-GMO, or human-grade ingredients comes with a premium price tag. 

The good news is, it’s not necessary to go broke to feed your dog a great diet. If you’re looking to spend less, we’ve found high-quality dog foods that provide excellent nutrition at a lower price. 

We don’t advise buying the cheapest food available — to keep the price down, such foods contain lower-quality ingredients and more fillers. As with any diet, choose the appropriate food for your dog’s life stage and check for the AAFCO complete and balanced statement on the label.

Our picks for budget dog food:

Adult Recipe (25-lb. bag) (medium)Life Protection Formula Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe (30-lb. bag) (medium)Original Ultra Chicken, Chicken Meal, and Duck Meal Formula (30-lb. bag) (medium)
Best grain-free dog food

recommended grain-free dog food fro purina one, orijen fit and trim, and instinct original
For AAFCO complete-and-balanced grain-free dog food, we recommend recipes from Purina, Orijen, and Instinct Original.

Grain-free diets aren’t necessarily superior to diets that contain grains, but they can be helpful if your dog is allergic or intolerant to specific grains. There is also a misconception that these dog foods are carbohydrate-free, but the necessary carbohydrates just come from non-grain ingredients like white potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, and tapioca.

Something worth mentioning in any discussion about grain-free food is the fact that the FDA continues to investigate a potential link between dogs fed grain-free diets and the development of a heart condition called non-hereditary dilated cardiomyopathy. For now, no firm correlation between grain-free diets and cardiac issues has been scientifically supported. However, it’s possible we may discover more in the future. Always talk to your veterinarian about feeding your dog a grain-free diet.

Our recommendations are all AAFCO complete and balanced and include whole meats and healthy extras like omega fatty acids, probiotics, and glucosamine. Both Orijen Fit and Trim and Purina One True Instinct have also undergone feeding trials to ensure they are palatable, digestible, and can nutritionally sustain pets over time.

Our picks for grain-free dog food:

Fit and Trim Grain-Free Dog Food (25-lb. bag) (medium)Original Grain-Free Recipe With Real Chicken (22.5-lb. bag) (medium)One True Instinct Grain-Free With Real Beef (25-lb. bag) (medium)
Best dry puppy food

best dog food for puppies includes wellness complete health small breed, orijen large breed, and merrick healthy grains
These foods from Wellness, Merrick, and Orijen will meet a growing puppy’s unique nutritional needs.

Puppy foods are formulated to be energy-dense, which means they are higher in fat and calories to fuel growing bodies. Some puppy foods are made specially for small breeds or large and giant breeds. “Balancing the nutrient needs of dogs given their wide size variety and ages is wise and common sense,” says Dodds.

To ensure a food is appropriate for puppies, check the label for an AAFCO complete and balanced statement that says it’s intended for growth for all life stages. A food labeled “maintenance” is only intended for adult dogs. 

There aren’t any official AAFCO nutrient standards for small and large breed designations. Small breed puppy foods usually have a smaller kibble size for smaller mouths and are often slightly higher in calories to account for the higher metabolisms of these breeds. Puppy foods for large and giant breeds generally contain more protein, less fat, and fewer calories. They often include an ideal balance of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D to encourage slower growth to support joint health and prevent obesity.

We selected three different foods, one for small breeds, one for large breeds, and one for any size breed. Wellness Complete Health Small Breed Puppy and Orijen Puppy Large Grain-Free Food have both undergone feeding trials to ensure they are palatable, digestible, and nutritionally sustainable.

Our picks for puppy food:

Complete Health Small Breed Puppy (4-lb. bag) (medium)Puppy Large Grain-Free Food (25-lb. bag) (medium)Classic Healthy Grains Puppy Recipe (12-lb. bag) (medium)
Best dry senior dog food

best senior dog food includes purina pro plan, merrick healthy grains, and nulo freestyle
These senior dog foods include healthy extras like glucosamine, chondroitin, omega fatty acids, and probiotics.

Senior diets are intended for the unique needs of older dogs. “Senior diets are formulated to target some of the common ailments of older pets, such as joint health, digestive health, immune health, and possibly others,” says Swanson. 

These diets may contain higher amounts of protein, higher quality protein to maintain muscle, fiber to aid in fecal elimination, additional antioxidants to limit oxidative stress and aid in immune response, and additional omega-3 fatty acids for cognitive performance.

Since older dogs are often less active, these diets typically contain fewer calories. Some foods are also lower in protein, but contrary to popular belief, healthy senior dogs may actually benefit from more protein than younger adult dogs. If your dog does not have health conditions, look for a senior diet that is lower in fat and calories and contains extra protein — the AAFCO minimum protein for adult dogs is 18%.

Our picks for senior dog food are high in protein and include healthy extras to support an aging dog’s health.

Our picks for senior dog food:

Pro Plan Bright Mind Adult 7+ Chicken and Rice Formula (30-lb. bag) (medium)Healthy Grains Senior Recipe (25-lb. bag) (medium)Freestyle Grain-Free Senior Trout and Sweet Potato Recipe (26-lb. bag) (medium)
Our methodology

I’ve been fortunate to interview many veterinarians and veterinary nutritionists throughout my 20-year career writing and editing for pet and veterinary publications, and I’ve fed my own dog many different dog food brands. 

For advice on what to look for in a healthy dog food and what to avoid, I consulted two veterinarians and a professor of animal and nutritional science. Although this information guided me in my product selection, our veterinary experts did not specifically endorse any of the products included in this guide. This makes sense since a veterinarian’s goal is to find a food that best fits each individual dog, rather than making broad recommendations. 

All the foods mentioned in this guide are complete and balanced according to the guidelines established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), contain high-quality ingredients, and offer appropriate levels of protein, fat, and fiber for their respective categories. 

I also consulted educational materials from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and the Global Nutrition Guidelines published by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA).

What to look for in dog food, in order of importance:

AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement: The most important benchmark of a healthy dog food is a statement on the label that says it meets the nutritional standards established by the AAFCO, demonstrating that the food is complete and balanced for the dog’s life stage. All foods mentioned in this guide are AAFCO complete and balanced. Read more about those standards and definitions in the next slide.

Guaranteed analysis: The guaranteed analysis lists the percentages of the most vital nutrients in the food: protein, fat, fiber, and moisture. Sometimes, other nutrients like glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega fatty acids are also listed in the guaranteed analysis. Foods selected in this guide contain moderate to high protein (AAFCO minimums are 22% for puppies and 18% for adults) and low to moderate fat (AAFCO minimums are 8.5% for puppies and 5.5% for adults).

Ingredients list: The ingredients list can be tricky to navigate, especially when taking water content into account, but in general, you want to see clearly identified animal sources of protein at the top of the list. Whole meat is great, but it is heavier due to its moisture content. Once that water is removed, the meat content might not be as high as you think. Don’t automatically write off meat meals. High-quality meat meals can be an excellent source of protein — the water has been removed, so they may provide more protein than whole meat. The ingredients lists of all the foods in this guide contain animal sources of protein at the top of the list.

Healthy extras: According to Swanson, some foods contain extra ingredients intended to support healthy skin, coat, and joints. Some of these may include additional long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA; usually supplied by marine-based oils or meals), omega-6 fatty acids (safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, flaxseed, etc.), glucosamine, chondroitin, green-lipped mussels, and additional vitamins (vitamin A, biotin) and minerals (zinc, copper). Probiotics, prebiotics, and yeast fermentation products may also boost gut health.

Calorie content: The calorie content of dog food is listed in kilocalories, or k/cals. When dogs consume too many calories, they are at risk for becoming overweight or obese. Less-active dogs need fewer calories and very active dogs like performance or working dogs need a food that is more calorie dense. For most dogs, being able to eat the largest volume of food while staying within the ideal daily calorie range will help them feel more satisfied. In general, such foods rated higher in our selection process. Check out this calorie calculator to determine how many calories your dog needs. Your veterinarian can also evaluate if the amount you’re feeding is appropriate.

Feeding trials: It’s great if a food has undergone feeding trials in addition to a laboratory analysis of the food’s ingredients. If the nutritional adequacy statement on the label has language like “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that [product] provides complete and balanced nutrition for [life stage]” it means the food has been proven via feeding trials to be palatable, digestible, and able sustain pets over time.  

Expert formulations: Choose a pet food manufacturer that works closely with a veterinary nutritionist or other professional with a master’s degree or PhD in nutrition, animal science, or a related field. Manufacturers may employ one or more full-time nutritionists, or hire one or more nutrition consultants. For this guide, we prioritized brands that have a dedicated nutrition expert on staff to align with WSAVA recommendations.

Next-level ingredients: Seeing natural, organic, or human-grade ingredients on the label is nice, especially if you believe in the health benefits of organic foods. Wild-caught fish are as natural as you can get and, unlike farmed fish, are not treated with antibiotics or medications. Some foods use eggs and meat from cage-free chickens and turkeys, which is a bonus if you care about the welfare of the animals you — and your pets — eat. That said, ingredients in dog food need not be human-grade, organic, wild-caught, or cage-free to be healthy and nutritious for pets.

AAFCO standards

The Association of American Feed Control Officials is a private nonprofit corporation that defines ingredients and establishes nutritional profiles for animal feed and pet food. AAFCO establishes model language for states and other governing bodies. It does not regulate, test, approve, or certify pet food. The US Food and Drug Administration, which is a voting member of AAFCO, regulates pet food labels at the federal level. States also regulate pet foods, and most have adopted the model pet food regulations established by AAFCO.

Dog foods that meet the nutritional standards established by AAFCO may use a statement on the label that says the food is complete and balanced for the dog’s life stage according to the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profile. There are three life stages: 1) maintenance, for adult dogs more than 1 year old, 2) growth, for puppies less than 1 year old, and which also includes pregnant and lactating females, and 3) all life stages, which is any dog of any age.

Foods that do not display language asserting that they are complete and balanced as determined by AAFCO standards are labeled for supplemental or intermittent feeding only. Those foods should never be a dog’s sole diet as they are not nutritionally adequate.

Foods can meet AAFCO standards in two ways:

  1. Guaranteed analysis:Nutrient profiles are determined through laboratory analysis of the food. Foods that meet AAFCO standards as per nutrient profiles will display language like “formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for [life stage].” You can always contact the company to confirm the nutrient profile of the food also meets nutritional levels established by the AAFCO.
  2. Feeding trials:Pet foods can also meet the standards through feeding trials, where the food is fed to animals under controlled conditions and the outcomes are monitored. Feeding trials are not perfect, and they are also very expensive, so not all companies perform them. However, it’s nice to see them, though they should not replace nutrient profiles. If you see language like “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that [product] provides complete and balanced nutrition for [life stage]” it means the food has been proven via feeding trials to be palatable, digestible, and able sustain pets over time.

How to read a pet food label

a dog food label showing guaranteed analysis, AAFCO complete and balanced statement, ingredients, and calorie content.
On a dog food label, look for important details like the AAFCO Complete and Balanced statement, guaranteed analysis, and calorie content.

Dog food packages feature attractive images and targeted descriptions intended to sell you on the quality and healthfulness of the food, but if you really want to know whether a dog food is high quality and a good choice for your dog, learn what to look for on the label.

A great place to start is this handy reference from the WSAVA about interpreting food labels. The most important information to look for on a label is the AAFCO complete and balanced statement, the guaranteed analysis (crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, and moisture), and the calorie content statement.

The ingredients list is also important, but it can be difficult for the average pet owner to know how well their dog will do on a diet just based off the ingredients.

“Although many pet owners make their decision based largely on the ingredient panel, it is only one of many considerations,” Swanson says. “Without knowing the exact formula and percentage of each ingredient, it is not too useful. What is more important is that the dietary formula is complete and balanced.”

Certain terms on pet food labels can be confusing and even misleading. “Terms like ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ are very common in the industry today,” Swanson says. “While both terms were intended to highlight higher quality ingredients, they do not guarantee high quality.” He explained that quality depends on both the raw ingredients and good manufacturing practices. “Like other ingredients that do not carry these terms, they are highly variable due to differences in soil quality (plants), feed quality (animals), ingredient storage, ingredient handling, etc.,” he says.

If you find reading pet food labels confusing, your veterinarian can talk to you about your dog’s individual needs, help you choose an appropriate food, and advise how much to feed.

FAQs about dog food

Dog food being served to a boston terrier puppy

What is the best food I can feed my dog?

It’s important to find a food your dog likes eating and thrives on, but this may involve a bit of trial and error. Individual dogs digest food differently. Some dogs do better with more protein, some need less. Some dogs can tolerate higher levels of fat; others need less. Dogs also handle amounts of fiber differently. Your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist can help you sort out what diet will work best for your dog.

“Dogs are individuals,” says veterinarian Carol Osborne, of the Chagrin Falls Pet Clinic in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. “What works well for Dog A, might not work well for Dog B. If you want to know if a food is good for your pet, look at your pet. Your pet is a reflection of what he or she is eating.”

Outward signs of good health include clear eyes and nose, ears that aren’t smelly, and a coat that isn’t dry, flakey, or shedding excessively. Your dog should not be vomiting or experiencing diarrhea. “Soft stool is not normal,” Osborne says. “Bowel movements should be formed and homogenous. You should not be able to make out the pea, the piece of corn, the carrot. [Homogenous stool] means the food has all been digested.”

What is human-grade dog food?

Pet foods that use the term “human-grade” must follow strict rules. The term may only be used if it applies to the finished food as a whole — not individual ingredients. Both the ingredients and finished product must be documented to be stored, handled, processed, and transported according to the current good manufacturing practices for human-edible foods, and the label must clearly state that the food is intended for dogs.

Swanson has tested a few human-grade pet foods in his lab over the years. “While I don’t have a strong preference to any one type or brand of diet, I can say that the human-grade foods I have had experience with are highly palatable, highly digestible, and resulted in a low volume of stool that allowed for easy clean up,” he says.

What is a raw diet for dogs?

A raw diet may consist of uncooked meat, bones, fruit, vegetables, raw eggs, and yogurt or another dairy product. By comparison, most store-bought dog food contains some combination of cooked meat, grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Is a raw diet good for my dog?

Raw pet food poses dangers to both dogs and humans. Veterinarians told Insider Reviews that despite some reported benefits, there are too many risks for pets, including bacterial infections, nutritional deficiencies, and injuries from bones in the food. In addition, people who are immunocompromised, elderly people, and young children are at risk of bacterial infections if they live in a household where a dog is fed a raw diet. For more information, read the statements from the FDA and CDC regarding the health and safety risks of feeding raw dog foods.

Our expert sources

  • Dr. Kelly S. Swanson MS, PhD, is a professor of animal and nutritional sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, Illinois. Dr. Swanson’s lab conducts research on nutrition-related problems like obesity and intestinal health. Dr. Swanson is the Kraft Heinz Company Endowed Professor in Human Nutrition.
  • Jean Dodds, DVM, obtained her veterinary degree from Ontario Veterinary College. A clinical research veterinarian for more than 50 years, Dr. Dodds has more than 150 research publications. She is the founder of Hemopet, the first nonprofit national animal blood bank. Dr. Dodds is the developer of NutriScan, a food sensitivity and intolerance diagnostic test for dogs, cats and horses. She co-authored two books with Diana Laverdure, The Canine Thyroid Epidemic: Answers You Need for Your Dog (Dogwise, 2011) and Canine Nutrigenomics: Foods that Heal Your Dog (Dogwise, 2015).
  • Carol Osborne, DVM, is founder and director of the Chagrin Falls Veterinary Center in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. She is author of the books Naturally Healthy Cats (Marshall, 2006) and Naturally Healthy Dogs (Marshall, 2006) and hosts a weekly National Pet Talk AM radio show broadcast. Dr. Osborne has appeared on Good Day L.A. and Today in New York, where she was the on-camera staff veterinarian.
  • Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) 
  • World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) Global Nutrition Guidelines 
Read the original article on Business Insider

The 5 best flea and tick medicine for dogs in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Flea and tick medicine for dogs include topical spot-on treatments, oral preventives, and collars.
  • The best flea prevention for dogs is Advantage Multi, which treats and prevents more parasites than other topical products.
  • Find out more about how Insider Reviews tests and evaluates pet products.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Karie Johnson, veterinarian and co-founder of VIP Vet Visit, a mobile vet service in the south suburbs of Chicago.

There are many safe and effective flea control products for dogs, either available with a veterinarian’s prescription or sold over the counter. Many products kill and prevent other parasites, too, including ticks, heartworms, intestinal parasites, mites, and biting flies.

Choosing a safe and effective flea and tick medicine for dogs can be complicated. There are many products available and they’re all a little different. My background taught me a lot about parasite prevention and the various flea control products available today. I spent eight years working as a veterinary assistant in animal hospitals followed by two more decades as an editor for magazines in the pet and veterinary fields. Over the years, I’ve treated countless dogs for fleas, including my own dogs.

For this guide, I used the quick product reference guide published by the independent, nonprofit Companion Animal Parasite Council to research products. I selected products based on safety, the number of parasites targeted, products’ ease of use, and the minimum age the product can be used. Jump to the end of this guide to read more about our selection criteria. For additional guidance about treating and preventing fleas on dogs, I consulted with two veterinarians.

Before choosing a flea preventive for your dog, talk to your veterinarian who can advise you on what type of product might be best depending on your dog’s temperament and lifestyle, and what parasites are most prevalent in your location.

These are the best flea and tick prevention for dogs in 2021

The best topical flea preventive overall

Advantage multi for dogs best spot-on flea medicine overall

With just one easy monthly application, Advantage Multi for Dogs treats, controls, and prevents more parasites than any other topical product. 

Pros: Kills and prevents six types of parasites including heartworm, once-monthly treatment, easy to administer, safe for use in puppies 7 weeks and older and weighing at least 3 pounds

Cons: Does not kill ticks, not labeled for use in puppies younger than 7 weeks or breeding, pregnant, or nursing dogs

No preventive covers every single parasite that could harm your dog, but Advantage Multi for Dogs comes close. Advantage Multi is a topical spot-on product that contains the active ingredients imidacloprid and moxidectin to prevent flea infestations by killing adult fleas before they can lay eggs. It also prevents heartworm, mange mites, and three intestinal parasites: roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms. As with all medications that prevent heartworm, your dog needs a heartworm test prior starting Advantage Multi and annually thereafter.

Advantage Multi is easy to use: Just apply every 30 days to the dog’s skin at the base of the neck between the shoulder blades. The liquid medication is absorbed and dries within hours. Unlike with some of the other topical preventives, you do not need to wear gloves to apply Advantage Multi. If you get the product on your hands, simply wash with soap and water. For the first 30 minutes after application, keep dogs from licking the application site, either on themselves or other treated dogs in the house. Children should not touch the application site for two hours after application.

Advantage Multi does not prevent ticks. If ticks are a concern and you wish to use a topical, consider another product like Frontline Plus for Dogs, Bravecto Topical for Dogs, or K9 Advantix II.

The best OTC topical flea preventive

Frontline plus for dogs is best OTC flea medicine

Available without a prescription, Frontline Plus for Dogs kills adult fleas, flea eggs, flea larvae, ticks, and chewing lice on contact.

Pros: Kills adult fleas, flea eggs, flea larvae, all life stages of ticks and chewing lice for one month; safe for use in dogs and puppies at least 8 weeks of age that weigh at least 5 pounds; safe for use in breeding, pregnant and nursing dogs; fleas don’t have to bite for it to work

Cons: Not recommended for puppies younger than 8 weeks of age; does not prevent any parasites other than fleas, ticks, and chewing lice

Frontline Plus is our top nonprescription recommendation because it kills ticks and fleas, controls flea infestations, and kills chewing lice, all with one easy application. When used primarily for flea control, each dose of Frontline Plus lasts up to three months. If ticks or biting lice are a concern, apply it monthly.

Frontline Plus been used and trusted by pet owners for more than two decades. Parasites die on contact — they do not have to bite your dog for Frontline Plus to work. Its active ingredients, fipronil and S-methoprene, work together to kill parasites and break the flea life cycle. Fipronil kills adult fleas and ticks. S-methoprene prevents flea eggs, larvae, and pupae from developing. Completely breaking the flea life cycle can sometimes take up to a month of consistent use, especially if your dog is heavily infested, because flea eggs can be in your home but not on your dog.

Frontline Plus is easy to use. Squeeze the entire contents of the tube onto one spot to your dog’s skin between the shoulder blades. The liquid medication spreads across your dog’s skin, then is stored in the oil glands. It distributes itself continuously via the hair follicles.

The best oral flea control product

simparica trio is the best dog flea pill

Simparica TRIO treats, controls, and prevents more parasites than any other oral product, offering a full month of protection with one easy-to-give flavored pill. 

Pros: Protects against more parasites than any other oral product, once-monthly treatment, safe for dogs and puppies 8 weeks of age and older weighing at least 2.8 pounds, easy to administer alone or in food

Cons: Not labeled for use in puppies younger than 8 weeks or breeding, pregnant, or nursing dogs

Our pick for best oral flea control product for dogs is Simparica TRIO, a chewable tablet that is fast-acting and kills more parasites than any other oral product. Simparica TRIO starts to work within four hours and kills 100% of adult fleas on dogs within eight hours.

Choosing between an oral or topical flea control product is tough for some dog owners. There are pros and cons to each type of product. In some cases, an oral preventive is a better choice. For instance, some dogs with sensitive skin can’t tolerate a spot-on. 

“Oral products have the benefit of broad coverage to reach every spot of skin without the chance of the product being washed off,” Crumley said. “Rarely, a pet will have mild intestinal upset with any oral product. If that occurs then that pet will do better with one of the system-absorbed topical choices.”

The liver-flavored flavored chewable tablets can be given with or without food once a month. In addition to providing a full month of protection against the most parasites of any other oral product, Simparica TRIO is also labeled for use in some of the youngest and smallest puppies and dogs.

Simparica TRIO contains three ingredients: sarolaner, moxidectin, and pyrantel. It requires a prescription from your veterinarian, as well as a current negative heartworm test. Simparica TRIO should be used with caution in dogs with a history of neurologic disorders such as seizures.

The best flea control product for young puppies

Capstar is the best flea treatment for puppies

Capstar for Dogs is safe for puppies as young as 4 weeks old and starts killing fleas within 30 minutes.

Pros: Safe for puppies 4 weeks of age and older weighing at least 2 pounds, safe for pregnant and nursing dogs, fast-acting treatment starts killing adult fleas within 30 minutes, easy to administer alone or in food, can be used with other flea control products, available without a prescription

Cons: Does not offer long-term protection, does not kill flea larvae or flea eggs, does not prevent any parasites other than fleas

Available without a prescription, Capstar for Dogs is the only flea control product safe for puppies as young as 4 weeks and weighing at least 2 pounds. With other topical and oral flea control product, puppies must be at least 8 weeks old and sometimes older. 

Fleas should be eliminated as quickly as possible for heavily infested dogs, especially young puppies. The active ingredient in Capstar, nitenpyram, works within 30 minutes and kills greater than 90% of adult fleas on dogs in as little as four hours.

Capstar’s protection against fleas lasts only 24 hours, but it is safe to give daily if necessary. This is helpful for young puppies that might not be old enough to use an oral or spot-on product that offers long-term protection. Owners should follow up with a flea control product that offers a month or more of protection once the puppy is old enough.  

The best flea collar

best flea collar for dogs: seresto

The Seresto Flea and Tick Collar for Dogs offers eight months of protection against fleas and ticks in all life stages.

March 2021 investigation by USA Today reported 1,700 animal deaths and other adverse reactions linked to Seresto flea collars. It’s unknown if the EPA-approved pesticides used in the collar caused these incidents and this story is still developing. Read “Can a flea collar harm your dog?” for more details. Always speak to your veterinarian if you have concerns before using a product and only purchase Seresto collars from authorized retailers.

Pros: 8 months of continuous protection against adult fleas, flea larvae, four species of ticks, chewing lice, and mange mites; lightweight and easy to wear; adjustable for dogs of all sizes; parasites don’t have to bite for it to work; safe for puppies 7 weeks of age and older

Cons: Not recommended for puppies younger than 7 weeks of age, children should not play with the collar, adjusting size can be tricky

Flea collars were once prevailing options for flea control, but most traditional flea collars don’t offer the same level of protection as topical and oral preventives. One noteworthy flea collar is the Seresto Flea and Tick Collar for Dogs, which uses sustained-release technology to provide eight months of continuous protection against adult fleas, flea larvae, four species of ticks, chewing lice, and mange mites.

In general, topical spot-on preventives and oral preventives are the easiest and most effective form of flea control for dogs, but the Seresto collar might be a good option in certain situations.

Lay said that traditional flea and tick collars are generally not very effective, and she has even seen allergic reactions and other issues with some of them. However, she has found the Seresto collar to be both safe and effective.

“I personally used a Seresto collar with my dog for years when we lived in Chattanooga—hiking in the mountains and camping amongst the ticks,” Dr. Lay said. “I often recommend it to clients who have pets that don’t tolerate topical or oral flea/tick preventives.”

The collar is nongreasy, odor-free, lightweight, and adjustable for dogs of all sizes. It can be worn alongside your dog’s regular collar and has a two-step safety system to ensure your dog will not be harmed if the collar gets caught on something.

The Seresto Flea and Tick Collar for Dogs contains imidacloprid and flumethrin, which are released in low concentrations over your dog’s skin and coat to kill fleas and ticks on contact — parasites do not need to bite your dog for the collar to work. It kills 100% of fleas within 24 hours of placing the collar on your dog. The collar is water-resistant and can stay on the dog even during swimming or bathing.

What else we considered

nexgard, bravecto, revolution, and k9 advantage ii flea prevention for dogs
  • Bravecto Chews for Dogs ($59.49): Unlike most oral preventives, which must be given monthly, one dose of prescription-only Bravecto kills fleas for three months and ticks for up to two months. Bravetco doesn’t kill any parasites other than fleas and ticks. It cannot be used in puppies younger than 6 months old and should be used with caution in dogs with a history of neurologic disorders such as seizures.
  • Bravecto Topical for Dogs ($52.49): With one application, this topical product kills fleas for three months and ticks for up to two months. Bravetco doesn’t kill any other parasites and cannot be used in puppies younger than 6 months old. It requires a prescription from your veterinarian and should be used with caution in dogs with a history of neurologic disorders such as seizures.
  • Comfortis ($105.99): Comfortis is an oral product that kills adult fleas and prevents flea infestations for one month. It doesn’t kill any parasites other than fleas and cannot be used in puppies younger than 14 weeks old. Comfortis requires a prescription from your veterinarian.
  • Credelio ($21.99): Credelio is an oral product that kills adult fleas and ticks and prevent flea and tick infestations for one month. It doesn’t kill any other parasites and requires a prescription from your veterinarian. It should be used with caution in dogs with a history of seizures.
  • K9 Advantix II ($67.98): This is a topical spot-on product that repels and kills fleas, flea eggs, flea larvae, ticks, mosquitoes, and lice for one month. It also repels biting flies. We gave Frontline Plus for Dogs a slight edge over K9 Advantix II because it is effective against fleas, flea larvae, and flea eggs for up to three months (though if ticks are an issue, monthly application is required). Additionally, you must seek the advice of a veterinarian before using K9 Advantix II for breeding, pregnant, and nursing dogs.
  • NexGard Chewables for Dogs ($62.99): NexGard is an oral product that kills adult fleas and ticks and prevents flea infestations for one month. It requires a prescription from your veterinarian and should be used with caution in dogs with a history of seizures.
  • Revolution for Dogs ($127.72): Revolution is a monthly topical product that kills adult fleas and prevents flea eggs from hatching. It also prevents heartworm, treats and controls ears mites, and kills American dog tick, but it does not prevent any intestinal parasites, unlike Advantage Multi for Dogs. However, Advantage Multi does not kill ticks. Revolution requires a prescription from your veterinarian and a current negative heartworm test.
  • Trifexis ($122.99):Trifexis is a monthly oral product that kills adult fleas, prevents flea infestations and heartworm, and treats and controls hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms. We gave Simparica TRIO a slight edge over Trifexis because it also kills ticks, mange mites, and chewing lice — though it does not kill whipworms. Trifexis requires a prescription from your veterinarian and a negative heartworm test and should be used with caution in dogs with a history of seizures.

How we selected products

We consulted with two veterinarians for advice regarding the treatment and prevention of fleas and other parasites in dogs. Although this information guided us in our product selection, our veterinary experts did not endorse any of the products included in this guide unless explicitly mentioned in direct quotes.

We also conducted research using the quick product reference guide published by the independent, nonprofit Companion Animal Parasite Council. This helpful reference, which includes all FDA and EPA-approved parasite control products for small animals, lists each product’s active ingredients, how the product is used, and which parasites it controls.

Here are the main attributes we looked for:

Safety and efficacy: Only FDA- or EPA-approved products were considered for this guide.

Number of parasites treated: In general, the more parasites a preventive product covers, the higher it was rated. “Parasites cause skin disease just by their presence and they carry diseases, too,” said Crumley. “Small puppies can actually become anemic from the amount of blood these parasites steal from their growing bodies.”

The exceptions are Capstar, which is the only treatment available for puppies younger than 6 weeks and our over-the-counter pick, Frontline Plus, which treats fleas, ticks, and lice. Products that treat heartworm always require a prescription.

Ease of use: Products were rated lower if they were more complicated to use than a similar product. For instance, products ranked lower if the pet owner must wear gloves to apply the product or if children and pets need to be kept away from the treated animal for a specified amount of time.

Minimum age and weight: When comparing similar products, higher ratings went to preventives that can be used in younger animals (for instance, puppies 7 weeks of age instead of 12 weeks of age).

Types of flea control products

person applying topical flea treatment to dog

Here are the most common flea control products for dogs and how they work:

  • Topical preventives: Also called spot-on products, topical preventives are great for killing fleas and preventing flea infestations. As they dry, they spread across the entire body or may be absorbed through the skin into the pet’s system, leaving no residue behind. They are usually applied to the skin in one spot on the back of the neck once a month, although a few last longer than 30 days. “Some dogs with sensitive skin may react to a topical product,” Crumley said. “Dogs who swim frequently or are bathed frequently will lose the benefit of the topical product that stays on the surface of the skin.”
  • Oral flea control: Oral flea control products, or “flea pills,” are given to your dog by mouth to kill fleas. Some oral flea control products kill fleas for up to a month or longer; others must be given more frequently to continue killing fleas, as often as once a day.
  • Flea collars: These are worn around the neck, where they deliver flea preventive medication to your dog’s skin and coat. Some flea collars deliver preventive medication for a longer period than topical applications, making them a good choice for dog owners who don’t want to have to apply something every month.
  • Flea shampoos: These kill fleas that are currently on your dog. We do not recommend flea shampoos in place of other preventives since topical spot-ons and oral products are easier to use and more effective.
  • Flea spray: These are applied to the skin and coat. We do not recommend flea sprays since topical spot-ons and oral products are easier to use and more effective.

Can a flea collar harm your dog?

The safety of flea and tick collars has been widely discussed recently, specifically the bestselling Seresto Flea and Tick collar, which was developed by Bayer and is now sold by Elanco Animal Health. On March 2, 2021, USA Today and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting published a report alleging that the Seresto collar has been linked to thousands of adverse incidents, including pet deaths and harm to humans.

In April 2021, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed a legal petition urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cancel the registration of the Seresto flea and tick collar. A week later, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) published an article addressing the controversy about the collar. According to the AVMA, Seresto’s “manufacturer has defended the collars as safe and effective, and veterinary experts say they have seen no cause for alarm.”

Elanco published a statement on its website in response, saying that the media coverage “misleading” and that the company stands by the product. “All data and scientific evaluation used during the product registration process and through Elanco’s robust pharmacovigilance review supports the product’s safety profile and efficacy,” the statement reads.

On July 12, the EPA announced that it is seeking public comment on the petition from the CBD requesting that the EPA cancel the registration of Seresto. Public comments will be collected for 60 days. “In addition, EPA is reviewing the additional information received by Elanco and Bayer and will use it to evaluate if the continued registration of these pet collars still meets the legally required standard of no unreasonable adverse on the environment, taking into account the economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits of the use of the pesticide,” said Tim Carroll, deputy press secretary for the EPA. “Upon completing the analysis and assessment, EPA may take further action, if needed.”

What pet owners need to know

If you have questions about the Seresto Flea and Tick Collar or any other flea-control product, ask your veterinarian for advice. Regardless of what type of flea-control product you choose for your dog, the EPA recommends pet owners read the entire label before using the product, follow all directions carefully, and monitor pets after treatment.

There are also reports of counterfeit Seresto collars on the market, particularly through online retailers. Petco and Petsmart, major suppliers of pet products, told Insider that they purchase Seresto collars directly from the manufacturer, Elanco. It’s important to purchase from a reputable website, brick-and-mortar store with a guarantee program, or for the most assurance, directly from your veterinarian. Before placing a Seresto collar on your pet, we also recommend that pet owners call Elanco product support (800-422-9874) to verify the authenticity of the product’s serial number.

If you suspect that your pet is having an adverse reaction to a flea collar, immediately remove the collar and call your veterinarian. Carroll also advises pet owners to contact the National Pesticide Information Center, which is an EPA information-sharing partner with staff who are specially trained to respond to pesticide exposure incidents, as well as to report adverse reactions from flea collars and topical treatments on the EPA’s website.

What you should know about fleas in dogs

If your dog has fleas, you want to get rid of them as quickly as possible. Dogs can pick up fleas anywhere, including your yard, local parks, the groomer, veterinary clinic, and boarding facilities, but even dogs that spend a lot of time indoors can get fleas if they hitchhike indoors on your clothes or shoes. Dogs that hike, camp, and explore wilderness areas can pick up both fleas and ticks.

What are the health risks to your dog?

Fleas are more than just a nuisance. These parasites can pose a threat to your dog’s health. A severe flea infestation can seriously damage your dog’s skin, induce an allergic reaction, or cause them to become anemic from blood loss. Fleas are also responsible for transmitting parasites like tapeworms.

“Regardless of where you live in the country, I promise there’s a flea or tick disease out there,” Lay said. “Fleas and ticks can really make a pet sick and what’s worse, they often carry other bad guys along with them.” These parasites can transmit things like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, cat scratch fever, and even the plague.

How to check a dog for fleas

Signs of fleas in dogs include scratching, skin irritation, and the presence of dark red or black specks on your dog’s skin, fur, bedding, or furniture. These specks, about the size of grains of black pepper, are called “flea dirt” and are flea feces, or digested blood.

Back when I worked in the veterinary hospital, I learned a handy trick to help find out if those little specks are regular dirt or flea dirt. Scoop some onto a damp paper towel. If the paper towel turns red, it’s flea dirt.

To check your dog for fleas or flea dirt, run a flea comb (a small, very fine-toothed comb) through your dog’s coat or part the hair with your fingers to examine the skin. If you find any live or dead fleas or flea dirt, your dog has a flea infestation.

What to consider when purchasing flea control products

Prescription vs. over-the-counter flea prevention and control

Some flea control products are sold over the counter. Other products require your veterinarian to write a prescription. You can purchase prescription products directly from your veterinarian or from online pet pharmacies and certain pet supply stores like Chewy, Petco, and Petsmart.

Prescription flea control products cost more than OTC products because they protect against more parasites, most importantly, deadly heartworms. Dogs must test negative for heartworms before starting a heartworm prevention product. Giving a heartworm-positive dog a prevention medication can cause rare but potentially very serious and sometimes fatal complications. You also want to know if your dog has adult heartworms because the preventive medication will not kill them — it only kills the larval stages of the heartworm.

Use parasite preventives year-round.

You might be tempted to only use parasite preventives in spring and summer, but don’t underestimate the resilience of fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and intestinal parasites. Veterinarians recommend that all dogs stay on broad-spectrum parasite preventives all 12 months of the year.

Heartworm treatment is long, costly, and dangerous. Dogs with adult heartworms can die even if treatment is initiated. This is why veterinarians recommend using a year-round heartworm preventive for all dogs, regardless of what part of the country they live in. Veterinarians also recommend year-round intestinal parasite prevention for all dogs.

Flea shampoos are usually unnecessary.

Decades ago, people might have just used a flea shampoo containing pesticides to kill fleas, but flea shampoos are no longer the gold standard. Veterinarian-recommended topical and oral flea control products are far more effective than flea shampoos.

“Most flea and tick shampoos are harsh to the skin and only remove the parasites present at the time of the bath,” Crumley said. “Most of them are not effective at treating ticks, either. The residual effect might last 24 or 48 hours at most, and then the nasties will be back.”

Lay notes that some pet owners want to use flea shampoos instead of veterinarian-approved oral or topical preventives because shampoos cost less. However, this approach could backfire.

“Besides not really preventing and being as effective at breaking the infestation/cycle, they can also sometimes cause additional reactions and allergies,” Lay said. “They are not meant to take the place of preventive options, so consult with your veterinarian on when and how to use them.”

Be wary of natural flea control products.

Both veterinarians we consulted do not recommend natural products in place of veterinarian-recommended topical and oral flea control products. While they can deter fleas and ticks, they won’t eliminate an infestation.

“If you use them, be prepared to apply them at least daily before your pet goes outside for the best chance of keeping the hitchhikers from latching on,” said Crumley.

If you also have cats at home, avoid natural flea control products containing essential oils as some of them can be toxic to cats.

Some flea products are dangerous to cats.

If you have cats as well as dogs, it’s important to understand that any product labeled for use in only dogs should never be used on a cat. Some ingredients that are well-tolerated by dogs can be toxic to cats. Any dog-only flea product can be harmful to cats, but they are especially sensitive to pyrethrins. If you’re looking for a product that’s safe for felines, read our guide to the best flea control products for cats.

Our sources

Read the original article on Business Insider

The 5 best flea preventives and treatments for cats in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Effective cat flea treatments are available as topical preventives, oral preventives, and collars.
  • We spoke to veterinarians and did extensive research to select the best cat flea control products.
  • Find out more about how Insider Reviews tests and evaluates pet products.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Karie Johnson, veterinarian and co-founder of VIP Vet Visit, a mobile vet service in the south suburbs of Chicago.

If your cat has fleas, you want them gone and fast. Decades ago, options for killing fleas were limited – and toxic. Today, many different safe and effective flea control products are available, both prescription and over the counter.

Choosing safe and effective products for cats can be tricky. Thanks to my background, I’m very familiar with the flea control products available today. I spent eight years working as a veterinary assistant in animal hospitals and have helped treat countless cats for fleas.

For this guide, I conducted research using the quick product reference guide published by the independent, nonprofit Companion Animal Parasite Council. For additional expertise on flea treatments for cats, I consulted with three veterinarians. Read more about how I selected products in the next slide.

Before choosing a flea preventive for your cat, talk to your veterinarian, who can advise you on what might be best depending on your cat’s temperament and lifestyle, and what parasites your cat is most at risk for contracting in your area.

Here are the best flea treatment and prevention products for cats in 2021

How we selected flea treatments and preventives for cats

To find the best flea treatments for cats, we conducted research using the quick product reference guide published by the independent, nonprofit Companion Animal Parasite Council. This handy reference, which includes all FDA and EPA-approved parasite control products for small animals, lists each product’s active ingredients, how the product is used, and which parasites it controls.

For additional expertise on treating and preventing fleas in cats, we consulted with three veterinarians: Herman Jeffer, a veterinarian with Cornwallis Animal Hospital in Durham, North Carolina; Ashley Bourgeois, a board-certified veterinary dermatologist with the Animal Dermatology Clinic in Portland, Oregon; Colleen Sawyer, a veterinarian with Rolesville Veterinary Hospital in Rolesville, North Carolina; and Keith Harper, a veterinarian with VetnCare Alameda in Alameda, California. Our veterinary experts did not specifically endorse any of the products included in this guide unless explicitly mentioned in direct quotes.

Here are the main attributes we used to evaluate products:

Safety and efficacy: Only FDA- or EPA-approved products were considered for this guide.

Number of parasites treated:  We gave higher ratings to preventives that treat more parasites than just fleas. In general, the more parasites a preventive product covers, the higher it was rated. The exceptions are Capstar, which is the only treatment available for kittens younger than 8 weeks, and our over-the-counter pick, Frontline Plus, which treats fleas, ticks, and lice.

Ease of use: Products were rated lower if they were more complicated to use than a similar product. For instance, products ranked lower if the pet owner must wear gloves to apply the treatment or if children and pets need to be kept away from the treated animal for a specified amount of time.

The best topical flea preventive overall

Revolution Plus Topical Solution flea treatment for cats

With just one simple monthly application, Revolution Plus Topical Solution not only kills fleas and ticks, it also prevents heartworms and treats and controls roundworms, hookworms, and ear mites. 

Pros: Kills and prevents six types of parasites, including deadly heartworm; once-monthly treatment; easy to administer; safe for use in kittens 8 weeks or older

Cons: Does not kill tapeworms; caution required in cats with a history of neurologic disorders; not labeled for use in breeding, pregnant, or nursing cats

Revolution Plus Topical Solution is hands down the most complete parasite preventive available for cats. It not only treats and prevents flea infestations by killing adult fleas before they can lay eggs, it also prevents heartworms and treats and controls ear mites, roundworms, hookworms, and infestations of black-legged (deer), Gulf Coast, and American dog ticks.

“The really exciting thing about flea control is there are always new developments in how we can make them better and safer and more effective,” Bourgeois said. “My preference is Revolution Plus.” According to Bourgeois, the active ingredients in Revolution Plus — selamectin and sarolaner — are newer flea controls that are very effective and well-tolerated by cats. 

Harper also likes Revolution Plus. “Overall, Revolution has a pretty good track record,” he said. “It’s one of the most effective topical flea preventions on the market. I’m a fan of Bravecto as well, it’s a longer-lasting flea prevention, effective against fleas and ticks.”

Bravecto also contains fluralaner, which is in the same drug class as selamectin and sarolaner, and is also very effective and well-tolerated by cats. However, Bravecto doesn’t control as many parasites, and it can’t be used in kittens under 6 months of age.                                                                                                                   

Revolution Plus is easily applied every 30 days in one spot to the cat’s skin at the base of the neck between the shoulder blades. The liquid medication is a small volume that is absorbed and dries quickly, leaving no residue behind. Unlike with some of the other topical preventives, you do not need to wear gloves to apply Revolution Plus, and you don’t have to avoid touching your cat after application. If you get the product on your hands, simply wash them with soap and water.

You must obtain a prescription from your veterinarian to purchase Revolution Plus. As with all medications that prevent heartworm, your cat will need a heartworm test prior starting this medication and every year afterward. Revolution Plus should be used with caution in cats with a history of neurologic disorders such as seizures.

The best OTC topical flea preventive

Frontline Plus for cats flea prevention

Available without a prescription, Frontline Plus kills adult fleas, flea eggs, flea larvae, ticks, and chewing lice.

Pros: Kills adult fleas, flea eggs, flea larvae, ticks, and chewing lice; safe for use in kittens at least 8 weeks of age and in breeding, pregnant, and nursing cats; fleas don’t have to bite for it to work

Cons: Not recommended for kittens younger than 8 weeks of age; does not prevent any parasites other than fleas, ticks, and chewing lice

We recommend Frontline Plus because it not only kills fleas and controls flea infestations, but it also kills ticks and chewing lice. Used and trusted by pet owners for more than 20 years, Frontline Plus protects for 30 days with one application. Fleas do not have to bite your cat for Frontline Plus to work — they die on contact.

Frontline Plus has active two ingredients, fipronil and S-methoprene, which work together to kill parasites and break the flea life cycle. Fipronil kills adult fleas and ticks, while S-methoprene is an insect growth regulator that prevents the development of immature flea stages (eggs, larvae, and pupae). However, it can sometimes take a little time of consistent use before all fleas are completely gone, especially if your cat was heavily infested, since flea eggs can be present in your home but not on your cat.

“In flea-infested environments, when they do studies looking at the efficacy of these products, sometimes it takes a few months of consistent, high-quality flea prevention to even see that population completely eradicate because there’s four different stages to the flea life cycle,” said Bourgeois.

Frontline Plus is easy to use. Squeeze the entire contents of the tube onto one spot on the cat’s skin between the shoulder blades. The liquid medication spreads across your cat’s skin and is stored in the oil glands. It self-distributes continuously through the hair follicles for one month. 

The best oral flea control product

Comfortis Chewable Tablets for cat flea control

Comfortis Chewable Tablets start killing fleas within 30 minutes and offer a full month of protection with one easy-to-give flavored pill. 

Pros: Fast-acting treatment starts killing adult fleas within 30 minutes, safe for kittens 14 weeks or older, easy to give alone or in food

Cons: Does not kill flea eggs or larvae or prevent parasites other than fleas, not labeled for use in kittens younger than 14 weeks or breeding, pregnant, or nursing cats

Our top choice for an oral flea control product for cats, Comfortis Chewable Tablets, is fast-acting and good for cats that can’t tolerate topical flea preventives. Its active ingredient, spinosad, starts to work within 30 minutes and kills 98% of adult fleas on cats within four hours.

Although topical flea control products are typically easier to use (no need to convince your cat to swallow a pill), there are some cases when an oral preventive is a better choice. For instance, some cats with sensitive skin can’t tolerate a spot-on treatment. “An oral flea preventive product is better if a cat has had focal hair loss related to the application of a topical product or if it has a severe flea-related allergy,” said Sawyer.

Harper also recommends an oral product for cats that have very sensitive skin or those that have a lot of irritation. “Comfortis is one of the ones I like,” he said. “It’s harder to get the cat to take an oral product, but if you can manage it, it’s a pretty effective oral flea medication. It’s strictly and solely for fleas.”

Comfortis is one of two oral flea control products available for cats; the other is Capstar Flea Control Tablets. Unlike Capstar, which kills fleas for only 24 hours, Comfortis protects cats against fleas for a full month. However, Comfortis is not safe for kittens younger than 14 weeks old. Capstar is safe for kittens as young as 4 weeks, so it’s our choice for best flea control product for kittens (read more about Capstar in our slide for the best flea control product for young kittens). In order to purchase Comfortis, you will need a prescription from your veterinarian.

The beef-flavored flavored tablets should be given with food once a month. You can offer them alone just before or after feeding your cat, or hide them in a small amount of food. 

The best flea control for young kittens

Capstar Flea Control Tablets for cats

Capstar Flea Control Tablets are safe for kittens as young as 4 weeks old and start killing fleas within 30 minutes.

Pros: Safe for kittens 4 weeks of age or older, safe for pregnant and nursing cats, fast-acting treatment, easy to give alone or in food, can be used with other flea control products, available without a prescription

Cons: Does not offer long-term protection, does not kill flea eggs or larvae, does not prevent any parasites other than fleas

Available without a prescription, Capstar is the only flea control product safe for kittens as young as 4 weeks and weighing at least 2 pounds. With other flea control products, whether topical or oral, kittens must be at least 8 weeks old, and sometimes older.

Fleas should be eliminated as quickly as possible for heavily infested cats, especially young kittens. The active ingredient in Capstar, nitenpyram, works within 30 minutes and kills greater than 90% of adult fleas in as little as six hours.

Capstar only protects against fleas for 24 hours, but it is safe to give daily if necessary. Since giving a cat a pill every day can be inconvenient, pet owners should follow up with a long-term flea control product (a spot-on or oral preventive that lasts a month or longer) once the kitten is old enough.

The best flea collar

Seresto Flea Collar for cats

The Seresto Flea and Tick Collar offers eight months of protection against fleas and ticks in all life stages.

March 2021 investigation by USA Today reported 1,700 animal deaths and other adverse reactions linked to Seresto flea collars. It’s unknown if the EPA-approved pesticides used in the collar caused these incidents and this story is still developing. Read “Can a flea collar harm your cat?” for more details. Always speak to your veterinarian if you have concerns before using a product and only purchase Seresto collars from authorized retailers.

Pros: Eight months of protection against adult fleas, flea larvae, and ticks; sustained release technology for continuous protection; lightweight and easy to wear; adjustable for cats of all sizes; fleas don’t have to bite for it to work

Cons: Not recommended for kittens younger than 10 weeks of age, children should not play with the collar or put it in their mouth, adjusting size can be tricky

Although flea collars were once a standard option for flea control, these days they take a back seat to topical and oral preventives. However, one standout in the flea collar category is the Seresto Flea and Tick Collar, which uses patented sustained-release technology to provide eight months of continuous protection against adult fleas, flea larvae, and ticks.

In general, topical spot-on preventives and oral preventives are the easiest and most effective form of flea control for cats, but there are instances when the Seresto collar might be a good option. “It would be a better choice if compliance is an issue, as you do not need to remember to apply it monthly,” Sawyer said. “Additionally, it is a better choice if the cat does not tolerate topical flea products and/or it is difficult to administer pills.”

Bourgeois said that the Seresto collar might also be a good choice for cats that roam outside a lot. “We have some people who have truly outdoor cats,” she said. “They might not see them reliably all the time to give them a monthly product. [The Seresto collar] would be the only collar that I would be trusting of.”

Although the EPA is currently conducting a review of the safety of the Seresto collar, Harper doesn’t think pet owners necessarily need to stop using the collar if it’s the best form of flea control for their cat. “We’ll wait and see what this review actually brings to light,” Harper said. “The jury is still out. If you absolutely can’t use any other form of flea preventive, I know the fleas are going to be a problem, so let’s prevent that.”

The collar is nongreasy, odor-free, lightweight, and adjustable for cats of all sizes. It can be worn alongside your cat’s existing collar and is designed with a two-step safety system to ensure your cat will not be harmed if the collar becomes snagged on something.

The Seresto Flea and Tick Collar contains imidacloprid and flumethrin, which are released in low concentrations over your cat’s skin and coat to kill fleas on contact before they even have the chance to bite. It kills 100% of fleas within 24 hours of placing the collar on your cat. The collar is water-resistant and can remain on the cat even when bathing.

What else we considered

Best cat flea treatment What Else We Considered slide
  • Advantage II: Advantage II is a topical spot-on product that uses imidacloprid and pyripoxyfen to kill fleas, eggs, and larvae for one month. Available without a prescription, it’s safe for adult cats and kittens 8 weeks or older weighing at least 2 pounds. It is also labeled safe for use in pregnant and nursing cats. Advantage II lost out to Frontline Plus because it does not kill ticks, and unlike Frontline Plus, its product label states that severe infestation may require more frequent applications, as often as every 14 days for kittens and every seven days for adult cats.
  • Bravecto Topical Solution for Cats: Bravecto is a topical product that uses fluralaner to kill fleas and ticks. Unlike most topical preventives, which must be applied monthly, one application of Bravecto kills fleas for three months and kills ticks for two months. One downside to Bravetco is it cannot be used in kittens younger than 6 months old. Our best overall pick, Revolution Plus, is safe for kittens 8 weeks or older, and also treats and controls heartworms and ear mites, which Bravecto does not. Additionally, Bravecto’s label states that children should not touch the application site until dry; Revolution Plus has no such warning. For those cat owners who are mainly looking for protection against fleas, Bravecto is a great choice due to its long-lasting protection. Bravecto should be used Bravecto should be used with caution in cats with a history of neurologic disorders such as seizures.
  • Bravecto Plus Topical Solution for Cats: Bravecto Plus is a topical product that uses fluralaner and moxidectin to kill fleas and ticks, prevent heartworm, and treat roundworms and hookworms. One application of Bravecto Plus kills fleas and other parasites for two months, unlike most topical preventives, which must be applied monthly. One downside to Bravetco is it cannot be used in kittens younger than 6 months old. Our best overall pick, Revolution Plus, is safe for kittens 8 weeks or older, and also treats and controls ear mites, which Bravecto Plus does not. Additionally, Bravecto Plus’s label states that children should not touch the application site for two hours after application; Revolution Plus has no such warning. Bravecto Plus requires a prescription from your veterinarian as well as a current negative heartworm test. It should be used with caution in cats with a history of neurologic disorders such as seizures.
  • Advantage Multi Topical Solution for Cats: Advantage Multi uses imidacloprid and moxidectin to prevent heartworm; kill fleas; and treat and control roundworms, hookworms and ear mites. Unlike Revolution Plus Topical Solution, Advantage Multi does not kill ticks. Its label states that children should not touch the application site for 30 minutes after it’s applied, and treated cats should be kept separated from other pets that might lick it; Revolution Plus has no such warning. Advantage Multi requires a prescription from your veterinarian as well as a current negative heartworm test. It is safe for use in kittens 8 weeks or older and weighing at least 2 pounds.
  • Cheristin: Cheristin is a monthly topical that uses spinetoram to kill adult fleas. Because it doesn’t kill flea eggs or larvae or any other parasites, it’s not a top pick for a topical flea preventive.
  • Revolt: This product contains the same active ingredient as Revolution (selamectin). Like Revolution, it is applied to the skin once a month. It kills the same parasites as Revolution. It is manufactured by Aurora pharmaceutical based in Northfield, Minnesota. I recommend Revolution over this version since Revolution is the original, has been on the market longer, and comes from a large, reputable veterinary pharmaceutical company.
  •  

Types of flea control products

person applying topical flea treatment to a cat

Here are the most common flea control products for cats and how they work:

  • Topical preventives: Also called “spot-on” products, topical preventives are great for both killing fleas and preventing flea infestations. As they dry, they spread across the entire body, leaving no residue behind. They are usually applied to the skin in one spot on the back of the neck once a month.
  • Oral flea control: Oral flea control products, or “flea pills,” are given to your cat by mouth to kill fleas. Some oral flea control products kill fleas for up to a month; others must be given more frequently to continue killing fleas, as often as once a day.
  • Flea collars: Flea collars are worn around the neck, where they deliver flea preventive medication to a cat’s skin and coat.  Our experts said that topical and oral products are superior to traditional collars because they are more effective and easier to use. However, at least one flea collar (Seresto) delivers preventive medication for up to eight months, a much longer period than topical applications, making it a viable option for cat owners who don’t want to have to apply something every 30 days.
  • Flea shampoos: Flea shampoos kill fleas that are currently on your cat. We do not recommend them since topical spot-ons and oral products are easier to use and more effective. Read more about this in our slide on “What to consider when shopping for flea control products.”
  • Flea spray: Flea sprays are applied to the skin and coat. Like shampoos, we do not recommend them since topical spot-ons and oral products are easier to use and more effective. Read more in our slide on “What to consider when purchasing flea control products.”

Can a flea collar harm your cat?

The safety of flea and tick collars has been in the news lately, specifically the bestselling Seresto flea and tick collar, which was developed by Bayer and is now sold by Elanco Animal Health. On March 2, 2021, USA Today and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting published a report maintaining that the Seresto collar has been linked to thousands of adverse incidents, including pet deaths and incidents of harm to humans.

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed a legal petition in April urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cancel the registration of the Seresto flea and tick collar. A week later, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) published an article addressing the controversy surrounding the Seresto collar. According to the AVMA, Seresto’s “manufacturer has defended the collars as safe and effective, and veterinary experts say they have seen no cause for alarm.”

Additionally, Elanco published a statement on its website calling the media coverage “misleading” and stating that the company stands by the product. “All data and scientific evaluation used during the product registration process and through Elanco’s robust pharmacovigilance review supports the product’s safety profile and efficacy,” the statement reads.

On July 12, the EPA announced that it is seeking public comment on the petition from the CBD requesting that the EPA cancel the registration of Seresto. Public comments will be collected for 60 days. “In addition, EPA is reviewing the additional information received by Elanco and Bayer and will use it to evaluate if the continued registration of these pet collars still meets the legally required standard of no unreasonable adverse on the environment, taking into account the economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits of the use of the pesticide,” said Tim Carroll, deputy press secretary for the EPA. “Upon completing the analysis and assessment, EPA may take further action, if needed.”

What pet owners need to know

If you have questions about the Seresto Flea and Tick Collar, or any other flea-control product, speak to your veterinarian for advice. Regardless of what type of flea-control product you choose for your cat, the EPA urges pet owners to read the entire label before using the product, follow all directions carefully, and monitor your pet after treatment.

There are also reports of counterfeit Seresto collars on the market, particularly through online retailers. Petco and Petsmart, major suppliers of pet products, told us that they purchase Seresto collars directly from the manufacturer, Elanco. It’s important to purchase from a reputable website, brick-and-mortar store with a guarantee program, or for the most assurance, directly from your veterinarian. Before placing a Seresto collar on your pet, we also recommend that pet owners call Elanco product support (800-422-9874) to verify the authenticity of the product’s serial number.

If you suspect that your pet is having an adverse reaction to a flea collar, immediately remove the collar and call your veterinarian. Carroll also advises pet owners to contact the National Pesticide Information Center, which is an EPA information-sharing partner with staff who are specially trained to respond to pesticide exposure incidents, as well as to report adverse reactions from flea collars and topical treatments on the EPA’s website.

What you should know about fleas in cats

person combing a cat for fleas

If your cat has fleas, you want to get rid of them as quickly as possible. Cats that go outside are more likely to pick up fleas, but even indoor cats can get them, either from the family dog or when they go to the veterinarian or a boarding facility. Fleas can even hitchhike indoors on your clothes or shoes.

What are the health risks to a cat?

Fleas are more than just a nuisance. These parasites can pose a threat to your cat’s health. A severe flea infestation can seriously damage a cat’s skin, induce an allergic reaction, or cause them to become anemic from blood loss. Fleas are also responsible for cats contracting parasites like tapeworms and may transmit diseases.

“Fleas can pass on diseases to cats, which can then be passed on to people,” Jeffer said. “The most common one that we see is cat scratch fever (Bartonella henselae bacteria), which can cause all kinds of issues in people, but in cats, it can make them very sick.”

How to check a cat for fleas

Signs of fleas in cats include scratching, skin irritation, and the presence of dark red or black specks on your cat’s skin, fur, bedding, or furniture. These specks, about the size of grains of black pepper, are called “flea dirt” and are flea feces (or digested blood). Back when I worked in the veterinary hospital, I learned a handy trick to help find out if those little specks are regular dirt or flea dirt. Scoop some onto a damp paper towel. If the paper towel turns red, it’s flea dirt.

To check your cat for fleas or flea dirt, run a flea comb (a small, very fine-toothed comb) through your cat’s coat or part the hair with your fingers to examine the skin. If you find any live or dead fleas or flea dirt, your cat has a flea infestation.

What to consider when shopping for flea control products

cat

Prescription vs. over-the-counter flea prevention and control

Some flea control products are sold over the counter, which means you can buy them without a prescription. Other flea control products require your veterinarian to write a prescription. You can purchase prescription products directly from your veterinarian or buy them from online pet pharmacies and stores like Chewy, Petco, Petsmart, and Walmart PetRx

Most prescription flea control products also prevent heartworms and sometimes other parasites like roundworms, hookworms, mites, and ticks. Any product with a heartworm component requires a prescription. Pets must test negative for heartworms before starting one of these products because giving a heartworm-positive pet this type of medication can cause rare but potentially very serious and sometimes fatal complications. You also want to know if your pet has adult heartworms because preventive medication will not kill them — it only kills the larval stages.

Prescription flea control products cost more than over-the-counter options because they protect against more parasites, most importantly, deadly heartworms. There is no treatment for cats with adult heartworms, and they will eventually die from the infection. This is why veterinarians recommend using a year-round heartworm preventive for all cats, whether they live indoors or out. They also recommend year-round intestinal parasite prevention.

For these reasons, prescription flea control products that also prevent heartworms and other parasites are the best choice for your cat. The more parasites you can prevent with one treatment, the better off your cat will be.

Some flea products are dangerous to cats.

Products labeled for use in dogs only should never be used on a cat. Some ingredients that are well-tolerated by dogs can be toxic to cats. “Anything with a permethrin, also known as pyrethrin, should never be used on a cat,” Sawyer said. “[Cats] are very sensitive to pyrethrins and can have significant neurologic side effects, even death. Never use a product labeled for a dog on a cat as it may have pyrethrins in it even if not exclusively mentioned on the label.”  

Flea shampoos are unnecessary.

Decades ago, people might have used a flea shampoo containing pesticides to kill fleas quickly, but these shampoos are no longer the gold standard. Veterinarian-recommended topical and oral flea control products are far more effective. Some flea shampoos are even harmful to cats since many contain pyrethrins. Plus, most cats really dislike being bathed.

“Nowadays, flea shampoos are rarely if ever needed because the topical and oral flea products are much more effective and safer,” Sawyer said. “For flea-infested animals, we typically give a fast-acting oral product such as nitenpyram [Capstar] and follow with a bath in Dawn dish detergent or another mild cat shampoo. You can use a flea comb to assist in removing dead fleas and flea dirt [flea feces].”

Avoid natural flea control products.

If you’re considering using natural flea control products that contain essential oils, exercise caution. Some essential oils can be toxic to cats.

All three veterinarians we consulted do not recommend natural products, which do not work nearly as well as veterinarian-recommended topical and oral flea control products. “They are just not proven to be really effective,” Bourgeois said. “My biggest concern with natural products is, even if they’re safe, if they’re not effective, that’s not helping our pets. I get more concerned about the secondary ramifications for the pet if we’re using something that hasn’t been proven to be effective, versus products that have been proven to be effective and well tolerated.”

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The 5 best dog supplements for joint health, skin, digestion, and cognitive health

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Most dog owners consider their four-legged friend a member of the family. So it makes sense they’d want to support their health in every way possible. That may be why so many dog owners are interested in nutritional supplements for their dogs.

The world of dog supplements is vast. In fact, you can find pretty much any human supplement in a dog version: multivitamins, fish oil, and even CBD.

But most dogs really don’t need supplements, provided they’re being fed a high-quality, life-stage appropriate diet, according to Dr. Michelle E. Matusicky, a veterinarian and clinical assistant professor at Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Matusicky adds that this is particularly true if your dog is eating food that adheres to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards – and most commercial pet foods do (see more about what to look for in our guide to the best dog food).

“Ready-made dog foods typically have all the nutrients that a dog needs in them,” says Dr. Lori M. Teller, a veterinarian and clinical associate professor at Texas A&M University. If you’re feeding your dog a homemade diet, however, check with your veterinarian about whether they need any extra nutrients.

So when does your dog need supplements? Generally, dogs need supplements when they’re dealing with a specific health issue, Teller says. And it’s super important that you talk to your vet before giving your dog any supplements, because the wrong dosage or supplement could make their health issue worse, Matusicky notes.

Sometimes people are hesitant to talk to their vet about the supplements they want to use. “Some people think that their veterinarian is just going to shut them down,” Teller says. “But veterinarians tend to be pretty receptive, and a lot of veterinarians use supplements for their own pets, so they put the time into researching when they’re indicated and which ones to use.”

To help you understand your options and what to look for in dog supplements, we’ve rounded up the best ones in several veterinarian-approved categories. Each supplement was evaluated based on a variety of criteria, including quality, price, flavoring, and veterinarians’ recommendations.

Here are the best dog supplements in 2021

The best fish oil supplement

Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Dog Supplement is best fish oil supplement for dogs

Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Dog Supplement is the best all-around fish oil supplement and comes recommended by one of the veterinarians we spoke with.

Pros: Known for quality, third-party tested, vet-recommended, comes in various sizes

Cons: Slightly more expensive than other options

Fish oil is one of the most popular dog supplements out there thanks to its high omega-3 fatty acid content. “Fatty acids, particularly omega-3s, may help dogs with arthritis and skin diseases,” Teller says. She personally recommends Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Dog Supplement. The brand is known for its rigorous quality standards and makes fish oil supplements for humans as well.

Nordic Naturals tests every batch of their products for environmental toxins and other contaminants. You can even enter the lot number listed on the package on the brand’s website to look up the test results and get a certificate of analysis. 

The liquid supplement is available in several different sizes based on the size of your dog. It is easy to add to your dog’s food in just the right dose, and it doesn’t contain any added flavoring. Dosage depends on your dog’s size and your vet’s recommendations, but assuming your dog is medium-size, this bottle will last you a little over a month.

The supplement is slightly more expensive than some of the other options in this category but not significantly pricier. The brand also makes the same supplement in soft gel form if the liquid version seems too messy.

The best joint health supplement

Nutramax Laboratories Dasuquin is best joint supplement for dogs

Nutramax Laboratories Dasuquin Soft Chews for Dogs is a vet-recommended chewable joint health blend made by a well-trusted brand.

Pros: Quality tested, established brand, reasonably priced

Cons: Some may prefer liquids or capsules over chewables, flavors added

As dogs get older, joint diseases become more common. According to Teller, some of the most helpful supplements for these issues include glucosamine and chondroitin, which are often administered together for the best possible effect. Though research on dog supplements isn’t as robust as research on human ones, one review of 16 clinical trials did show that glucosamine supplements had a moderate positive effect on dogs with arthritis.

Recommended by Teller, Nutramax Laboratories (the makers of Dasuquin) manufactures several popular pet supplements. The brand is well-known for its rigorous quality standards and is a popular choice among vets. Compared to similar products, Dasuquin is affordable, costing about $17.50 a month for most dogs.

There are two versions of this supplement: One for dogs under 60 pounds, and another for dogs over 60 pounds. This helps to ensure that your pet gets enough of the key active ingredients: glucosamine hydrochloride and sodium chondroitin sulfate. The brand recommends starting with a higher amount of soft chews per day for the first 4 to 6 weeks, then tapering off to a lower dose for maintenance.

It’s worth noting that this supplement has flavors added. While that may be a plus for some dogs for ease of feeding, it can be a downside for any dogs on strict prescription diets or elimination diets for allergies. 

The best CoQ10 supplement

Dog Vites CoQ10 chewable is one of the best supplements for dogs

Dog Vites CoQ10 30mg Chewable is made by a human supplement brand, available in higher concentration than other options, and offers better value.

Pros: Quality tested, higher concentration, well-priced

Cons: Flavored

“Animals with heart disease may benefit from coenzyme Q10,” Teller says. Often shortened to CoQ10, this substance is also known as ubiquinol or ubiquinone. Similar to all the other nutrients in this guide, CoQ10 is definitely a supplement you want to talk to your veterinarian about. That’s because only certain heart conditions benefit from it, according to Teller.

Dog Vites may not be one of the biggest pet supplement brands on the market, but it’s manufactured by Health Thru Nutrition, a human supplement company that’s made in a Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP)-certified facility that’s been inspected by both the NSF and National Products Association (NPA). So while the company doesn’t work with the most common pet supplement quality certification, National Animal Supplement Council (NASC), they are clearly invested in the safety and quality of their products.

One potential upside or downside, depending on your dog, is that this supplement is flavored. Aside from that, these chewables have 30mg of ubiquinone in each tablet. This concentration is on the higher end of what’s available commercially for pets, which means you’ll need fewer tablets to reach your vet’s recommended dose. Plus, these chewables are priced lower than several other comparable supplements we evaluated.

The best vitamin B supplement

Thorne Vet B ComplexVET is best vitamin b supplement for dogs

Thorne Vet B Complex is made by one of the most trusted brands in the human supplement industry and carries the NASC seal.

Pros: NASC seal, trusted brand, affordable, mix of B vitamins

Cons: Flavored, might be expensive for larger dogs

Some dogs with gastrointestinal issues can benefit from vitamin B supplements, Teller says. This is especially true if they’re having problems with malabsorption of their food. One sign of that would be chronically soft stools. “In these cases, vitamin B can be particularly helpful,” Teller adds.

In general, there aren’t as many options for B vitamin supplements for dogs, but this soft chew from Thorne Vet contains a blend of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, folate, biotin, and choline for a well-rounded mix. It’s specially formulated for digestive issues. Fun fact: It’s suitable for cats and horses, too.

Thorne is well-known and trusted in the human supplement space for the rigorous quality testing their supplements go through. It’s no surprise, then, that their pet supplements undergo a similar testing process and have the NASC seal.

In terms of cost, one container of 60 chews will last most medium-size dogs a month, since Thorne recommends one soft chew per day per 25 pounds of body weight. If you have a larger dog, this could get pricey. But overall, the price of this supplement makes sense for the quality.

The best cognitive supplement

Senilife is the best cognitive supplement for older dogs

Senilife Nutritional Supplement for Elderly Dogs is a vet’s-choice liquid cognitive blend that can be added to your dog’s usual food.

Pros: Unflavored, vet-recommended, highly concentrated, easy to add to normal food

Cons: Slightly pricey

As dogs get older, they may begin to experience brain aging symptoms like confusion or disorientation, barking or howling at night, and wandering aimlessly. Sometimes, these changes are due to a condition called canine cognitive dysfunction, nicknamed “doggy dementia” or “doggy Alzheimer’s.” Understandably, they can be very upsetting for both the dog and their guardian.

Some supplements contain blends of various nutrients that have shown promise in combating brain aging in dogs, and Senilife is Teller’s pick in this product category. It contains a mix of phosphatidylserine, pyridoxine, ginkgo biloba extract, resveratrol, and d-alpha-tocopherol, all of which are thought to help improve age-related cognitive symptoms in dogs. Senilife is made by the same company that manufactures Adaptil, a medicated collar that helps ease anxiety, so it’s well-established within the pet health space.

Senilife is an unflavored liquid supplement that comes in individual capsules you can open and pour over your dog’s usual food. Most dogs won’t even notice they’re eating something new or different, which can be a huge plus in this group.

There are also different formulations of the supplement for different sizes of dogs, which means you can choose the version that’s right for your individual pet. Depending on how many capsules of the supplement your dog needs per day, it can get a bit expensive. That said, many users say Senilife has made a big difference in their aging dog’s symptoms.

How we selected products

To select supplements for this guide, we evaluated over 30 different products based on the following criteria.

Third-party testing: Just like human supplements, there’s not much regulation over veterinary supplements, Teller says. “You want supplements that have been verified by Consumer Lab, or by another independent third party that says the supplements contain the ingredients and the amount of those ingredients listed on the label.” These third-party organizations also look for contamination with lead, mercury, and other potential toxins. Organizations that test pet supplements include NSF International and National Animal Supplement Council (NASC).

Good value for the price: As you might expect, price doesn’t always indicate quality when it comes to dog supplements. “Of course, the flip side of that is you get what you pay for,” Teller says. “Some supplements may be a little bit more expensive because they’re putting in that extra research and quality control.”

One way we evaluated value was to look at the concentration of each supplement relative to its price. Supplements that were priced similarly to others but had much lower concentrations of the key nutrients received lower ratings in our evaluation process. Supplements with higher concentrations of ingredients are likely to last longer since you’ll need less of the supplement to reach your vet’s recommended dose.

Added flavors and other ingredients: Flavoring isn’t always an important factor, but it’s something to consider. “Pet supplements often have flavoring in them for taste — chicken, beef, or fish flavoring being most common — and these will disrupt any pet that is on a food trial for allergies, potentially causing more harm than good,” Matusicky says. Of course, in some cases flavoring might be a plus because it’s easier to get your dog to eat the supplement. That said, we did give supplements without extra flavoring slightly higher marks than those that were flavored.

Veterinarian recommended: We took veterinarian recommendations and favorite products into account when evaluating each supplement. Many veterinarians sell supplements in their offices. If you prefer not to buy supplements from your vet, they can still give you recommendations on what to look for and brands they trust.

What else we considered

Collage of what else we considered, including zesty paws, and nutramax cobalequin

We considered several supplements in each category for this guide.

FAQs about dog supplements

What is the best supplement for dogs?

In short, there’s no single best supplement for dogs. In fact, the best supplement for your dog is going to depend on their individual health, and any other medications they might be taking, Teller says. “It’s really worth consulting with your veterinarian,” she adds.

Should I give my dog supplements?

It depends on whether or not your dog has any health conditions that can be helped by supplements. “Certain health conditions such as osteoarthritis and certain advanced endocrine diseases may necessitate supplementation,” Matusicky says. “However, this is always patient-specific and should only be instituted under the advice of your veterinarian.”

What supplements are bad for dogs?

“In many instances, owners can do more harm than good to their animals with supplements, as even the most benign supplement can be dangerous if given at the wrong dose,” Matusicky says.

In particular, there are a couple of supplements to be especially cautious with: CBD and anything containing essential oils.

The bottom line with CBD is that though it’s very trendy right now, we need more research on what it can do for dogs, Teller says. “It may play a role in helping with arthritis and seizures in dogs with epilepsy,” she adds. But there are major risks to getting the dose wrong, including liver injury and disease.

Essential oils are also popular and might even be included in more homeopathic-type dog supplements, but Teller warns that dog owners should be especially careful with these. “Essential oils can be highly toxic to pets, and you definitely need to talk to your veterinarian about those,” she says. 

Lastly, many supplements can interfere with prescription medications your dog might be on for issues like immune, kidney, and liver diseases. “A lot of times, people start adding supplements and herbs on top, thinking it can’t hurt,” Teller says. “But in actuality, these can impact the absorption of medication that’s been prescribed or cause an adverse reaction.”

Are supplements necessary for dogs?

“Supplements, in general, are completely unnecessary,” Matusicky says. Specifically, multivitamins are a waste of money, Teller adds. As long as your dog is eating high-quality dog food, they’re getting all the nutrients a multivitamin would give them.

But targeted supplements for specific health issues may be helpful, provided you have your veterinarian’s approval.

What is the best supplement for older dogs?

“As dogs age, they can develop any number of ailments,” Matusicky says. “Depending on what’s going on, different diets and supplements may be recommended.” There are some supplements that are helpful for arthritis (glucosamine, omega-3s/fish oil) and “doggy dementia” (cognitive dysfunction blends) in particular, Teller notes.

Should I give my dog probiotics?

Veterinarians use probiotics frequently, Teller says, particularly when dogs are dealing with diarrhea after being on antibiotics or experiencing certain types of anxiety. But similar to how probiotics work in humans, the benefits are strain-specific. In other words, you need to pick the specific strain that helps with a specific health issue, otherwise the probiotic won’t have an effect. “If you have an overall healthy animal, there’s not a great indication for probiotics,” Teller says.

What dosage should I give my dog?

Getting supplement dosage right is extremely important, according to Matusicky and Teller. “A lot of times, supplements may not have enough or may have too much, and different conditions require different dosages,” Teller says. “So it would be really a good idea to consult with your veterinarian about the condition you want to use that supplement for to make sure you’re giving your dog the right dose.”

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The best dog buttons and training program to teach your pet to communicate

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Speech pathologists use recordable buttons to communicate with nonverbal individuals.
  • These buttons can also help dogs and other animals communicate their needs and wants.
  • Read more below about the best dog buttons and training program to teach your dog how to “talk.”

Cognitive scientists and speech pathologists have long used pressable augmentative and alternative communication buttons – each representing an action, place, or object – to communicate with nonverbal individuals. One pioneering speech therapist, Christina Hunger, discovered dogs can use the method, too. By pressing buttons onto which a word or sound has been recorded, a dog can learn to “speak” in simple phrases like “play” and “outside.” Give them enough buttons and they can communicate their thoughts on almost everything. Get started with a beginner’s set of four to six buttons. For this guide, we’ve selected the best options, including budget, fully customizable, and light-up versions.

Here are the best dog buttons in 2021

The best dog buttons overall

Fluent Pet Get Started Kit dog buttons
A dog button system developed by a cognitive scientist

Fluent Pet’s Get Started Kit comes with six buttons and three nonslip tiles for organizing words and actions.

What we like: Fully customizable, comes with tiles to keep buttons organized, batteries included

Fluent Pet’s Get Started Kit was designed by a cognitive scientist to foster better communication between verbal and nonverbal individuals. The battery-operated system works for dogs, too, as proven by Bunny, a canine learner who has amassed hundreds of thousands of social media followers. The kit comes with everything you need to teach your dog, including six buttons with microphones for recording words and 67 stickers to identify the buttons visually.

Valli Parthasarathy, board certified veterinary behaviorist at Synergy Behavior Solutions in Portland, Oregon, recommends starting with words that can be clearly paired with something your dog regularly sees or does. “More abstract concepts such as emotions and time would be more challenging to teach,” she said. The buttons fit into three nonslip hexagonal tiles: one for actions, one for objects, and one for places. The tiles can be put together in multiple configurations and easily disassembled or added to. The kit arrives ready-to-use with batteries and a starter guide.

The best budget dog buttons

learning resources dog buttons
Budget-friendly buttons to get you and your dog started

Learning Resources Recordable Answer Buzzers are an affordable way to begin teaching a dog to use their words.

What we like: Includes four buttons in different colors, easy to press, comes with activity guide

Learning Resources Recordable Answer Buzzers, a tool that speech pathologists use to communicate with nonverbal individuals, are an affordable way to begin teaching a dog to “talk.” How quickly they learn depends on a variety of factors, said Sara Scott, a professional dog trainer in Oakland, California. “A dog with a long history of training may pick it up really quickly, but a dog who is green might take considerably longer. It also depends on how efficient you are as a trainer and how much work you’re putting in.”

This set comes with four easy-to-press 3-inch-diameter buttons in four different colors. Each button is powered by two AAA batteries and can record up to seven seconds of sound. Batteries are not included, but the set arrives with an activity guide to help you get started.

The best customizable dog buttons

talking tiles dog buttons
A set that can be fully customized with sound and pictures

Talking Products Talking Tiles are fully customizable with transparent covers and up to 80 seconds of recording time.

What we like: Fully customizable, can record sound using a computer or smartphone, includes six buttons in different colors

According to Scott, you can either teach your dog new words one at a time or work on a few words with different meanings simultaneously. Talking Products Talking Tiles comes with six buttons that can be fully customized with audio messages and images. Each 4-inch-wide hexagonal button holds up to 80 seconds of audio recorded with a built-in microphone or via a smartphone or computer using the audio-input jack. Further customize each button by adding a picture or symbol underneath the transparent cover. Each button runs on three AAA batteries, which must be purchased separately.

The best light-up dog buttons

Ritioner's Learning Answer Buzzers dog buttons
An excellent choice for dogs who are hard of hearing

Galapara’s LED Voice Recorder Buttons play sound and light up simultaneously each time they are pressed.

What we like: Light-up buttons, easy to press, records up to 30 seconds of sound

Galpara’s LED Voice Recorder Buttons are durable plastic buttons that glow with LED light when pressed. While this feature can be a useful cue for teaching any dog to communicate, it may be especially helpful for those who are hard of hearing. A visual signal like a light should work the same way to help a deaf dog to communicate as sound does for hearing dogs, said Scott.

The flash of the light can be paired with an action like going outside or playing with a toy. For those that can hear, these four differently colored, easy-to-press buttons can also record up to 30 seconds of sound. Each buzzer runs on two AAA batteries, which are sold separately.

The best potty button

Mighty Paw Smart Bell 2.0
An indoor or outdoor potty button with 38 bell tones and 4 volume settings

The Mighty Paw Smart Bell 2.0 works indoors or out so your dog can communicate when they need to potty or when they want to come in.

What we like: Easy to press, 38 customizable bell tones, can be used indoors or out, 90-day money-back guarantee

Teach your dog how to communicate when they need to go outside with the Mighty Paw Smart Bell 2.0. The bell consists of a plug-in receiver and an easy-to-press activator button. The 2-inch-diameter wireless activator button can be placed anywhere within 1,000 feet of the receiver using a 3M adhesive strip. The water-resistant button can even be placed outside for dogs who need to let you know when they’re ready to come in. To adjust the sound of the bell, choose from four volumes and 38 different ring tones.

The Mighty Paw Smart Bell also comes with a training guide to help you get started and a self-charging battery is built into the device. Just be sure that you are responsive to the bell after your dog learns to use it. “Once your dog understands that they can ask to go outside, you need to make sure that you prioritize meeting your dog’s needs,” said Scott.

The best dog button training program

Talk to the beans website
A program that offers step-by-step instruction, training videos, and a member forum

The Talk To The Beans training program teaches guardians and their pets how to communicate using buttons.

What we like: 12 training modules with instructional videos, a members-only forum, additional resources

If you love the idea of dog buttons but aren’t quite sure how to get started, Talk To The Beans will show you how. The online speech button training program provides 12 training modules that include simple, easy-to-follow explanations and videos to guide you through each step, from choosing your first word to building a vocabulary. In the forum, members can ask questions, share experiences, and troubleshoot problems.

The program, which can be applied to any style of dog button, doesn’t just work for dogs. Cats, birds, guinea pigs and horses can also learn to use buttons using the Talk to the Beans method during daily 10- to 15-minute training sessions. The website also offers additional resources, peer-reviewed research on speech button training, and links to button users on social media.

FAQs about dog buttons

Do dog buttons work?

Yes. A dog can learn to communicate using buttons programmed with words.


Can dogs talk using buttons?

Yes, sort of. A dog can learn how to communicate using programmable buttons but their ability to “talk” is not the same as ours, Pathasarathy told Insider Reviews. “It is unlikely that dogs understand human language in the same way that we understand human language,” she said. “Dogs learn that certain words are associated with certain activities, situations or items.”


How many words can a dog learn? 

Current research suggests that the average dog can learn around 160 words.


Can cats learn to use dog buttons?

Yes, though no formal research has been done on the topic. “Cats are as good at making associations as dogs so it stands to reason that they can also learn to use the buttons and associate them with certain situations or activities,” explained Parthasarathy.


Do dogs need buttons to learn words?

No. If you’ve trained your dog to sit, come, or stay, you’ve already taught them to recognize human language. “Dogs also learn words and phrases that are associated with certain outcomes such as [when] ‘do you want to go out’ equals being let outside or ‘dinnertime’ means food will be put in the bowl,” said Parthasarathy.

How do I teach my dog to talk using dog buttons?

Before your pet can learn how to communicate using dog buttons, they have to learn how to push the button with their paw or nose, said Scott. Begin by recording a word like “treat” on a button. Press the button to make the word sound, then immediately reward your dog.

Repeat this 10 to 20 times so your dog associates the pressing of the button with the treat, then wait in front of the button for your dog to begin exploring it. If they make a movement toward the button, even if they don’t manage to activate it, quickly press the button yourself and reward them with a treat. Eventually, they’ll hit the button on their own. Each time they do, immediately reward them with a treat. When you’re not training, put the button away so that your dog doesn’t become frustrated when pushing it doesn’t result in a treat.

Once your dog understands the concept of pushing the button, you can begin pairing it with objects and actions that appear in their everyday life. “Some of the easiest behaviors to teach first would be patterns of routines you already have set in your life,” explained Scott. Some good words to start with include “outside,” “food,” and “play”.

Both repetition and reinforcement are essential to your dog learning a new word. If you want to teach the word “outside,” for example, record the word on a button and place it by the door. Ask your dog to press the button, then immediately open the door to let them out. If your dog loves to go out, the action acts as positive reinforcement. But, if it’s not an activity they love, offer them a treat after they’ve gone through the door. Repeat the sequence every time you go to let your dog out. In time, they will understand that pushing the button opens the door and will begin to do it on their own.

While it’s much harder for dogs to learn more abstract concepts like emotions, dog buttons can be used to address some problem behaviors, according to Scott and Parthasarathy. “Using these buttons can potentially be helpful in cases where a dog uses an undesired behavior such as barking at their guardian to obtain something they want,” said Parthasarathy. The button doesn’t have to be pressed by the dog in order to be useful, said Scott. A shy dog who’s startled by sudden movement, for example, might appreciate a warning that you are about to stand up from your desk. Pressing a button that says something like “up” before you stand lets them know what’s about to happen.

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The 5 best dog collars in 2021, according to a professional dog trainer

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • The best dog collars are durable, comfortable, and will keep their looks over time.
  • A harness is a safer option for walking a dog, but a collar is important for attaching ID tags.
  • We tested and researched a variety of dog collars, including nylon, leather, and martingale collars.

The primary function of a collar is not to walk your dog but to keep them safe. In an emergency situation, the ID tags on your dog’s collar are the quickest and easiest way for someone to get your dog back to you.

The best dog collars are those that are comfortable enough for everyday wear but durable enough to stand up to your dog’s biggest adventures. For those who prefer not to use a harness for walks, the collar must also have strong hardware and fit well without chafing when attached to a leash. A dog’s physical safety is a crucial consideration as well – at the end of this guide, we discuss the risks of using prong and choke collars, which we do not recommend.

To choose the best dog collars on the market, I’ve combined what I’ve learned over a decade of experience with dozens of collars as a certified professional dog trainer with the advice of Melissa Bain, DVM, a veterinary behaviorist and professor of clinical animal behavior at UC Davis, and Carlo Siracusa, DVM, a veterinary behaviorist and associate professor of clinical behavior medicine at University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

These are the best dog collars in 2021

The best dog collar overall

French bulldog wearing the Lupine Eco best dog collar overall

Featuring a lifetime guarantee and eco-friendly materials, the Lupine Pet Eco Dog Collar stands out for both its durability and sustainability.

Pros: High-quality hardware, comes in three widths, sizes cover necks from 8 to 28 inches, nine colors, made of recycled materials, lifetime warranty even in the case of chewing, affordable

Cons: Lacks padding and reflective materials

In the collar department, most dogs need nothing more than an attractive, functional collar made with high-quality materials. The Lupine Pet Eco Dog Collar has that in spades, and that’s not all: This collar is also made from recycled plastic bottles and comes with a warranty that protects your investment for life.

From its look and feel, you’d never know that the Lupine Pet Eco Dog Collar was made out of plastic waste. I like that it is both soft and strong while remaining attractive, with a two-tone woven texture available in nine colors. This collar comes in three widths (1/2 inch, 3/4 inch, and 1 inch) and two sizes, appropriate for necks from 8 to 28 inches in circumference.

The Lupine Pet Eco Dog Collar is constructed with premium hardware and the custom-designed buckle made by YKK, the world’s largest zipper manufacturer, remains easy to buckle and unbuckle over time. The welded steel D-ring for holding tags, and clipping a leash if needed, is sewn firmly into the material. The collar comes with a lifetime guarantee, but chances are you won’t need it unless your dog turns it into a chew toy.

LupinePet Eco Dog Collar doesn’t get fancy with extras. It doesn’t have padding, lacks reflective materials, and there’s no way to have your dog’s name and phone number stitched into the strap. But for a basic dog collar that will last you a lifetime, you can’t go wrong with this product.

The best budget dog collar

small dog wearing budget-friendly blueberry pet dog collar

The Blueberry Pet Classic Nylon Dog Collar is an attractive, well-designed collar available in a range of colors and sizes.

Pros: Made from nylon with high-density webbing, buckles made from eco-friendly plastic, available in many colors and styles, metal D-ring is chrome-plated

Cons: May not withstand heavy chewing, the material may fray over time, may hold odors

If all you need is a basic, attractive collar that will hold up to everyday wear, the Blueberry Pet Classic Nylon Dog Collar fits the bill. Blueberry’s Classic Collar is made from durable nylon with high-density webbing, strong buckles made of eco-friendly plastic, and a metal D-ring coated in chrome. 

Though it won’t last forever the way our top pick will, this is a well-constructed collar. The company claims they’ve done over 600 laboratory tests to ensure the quality of their collars, and I haven’t found mine to stretch out over time, though some people have experienced fraying over time. 

The Blueberry Classic Nylon Dog Collar comes in a wide range of colors and patterns, from bright pink to subdued green and flowers to plaids. Matching leashes are also available. The Blueberry Classic can also be embroidered with your pet’s name and phone number for an additional four dollars.

This is a great choice for dog guardians on a budget who want their pup’s gear to look great.

The best leather dog collar

feminine looking person and a corgi wearing Perri's Padded Leather Dog Collar

Perri’s Padded Leather Dog Collar combines style and function for a comfortable, handsome collar.

Pros: Handmade, genuine leather and padded lambskin lining for comfort, durable stainless steel or solid brass hardware, resistant to wear and tear, available in a wide variety of colors and five sizes

Cons: Buckle and D-ring may be too close together on some collars, requires leather care

Leather collars offer a level of durability that nylon can’t provide. A good leather collar just gets softer and more supple with use. As long as your dog doesn’t turn it into a chew toy, a well-made one like Perri’s Padded Leather Dog Collars could last a pretty long time.

Perri’s leather collars are handmade by Amish craftspeople and lined with lambskin padding. I love that they look like luxury items, without the price tag. Even with extra padding, the collar doesn’t feel overly stiff, which is always a concern with leather products.

Perri’s collars are also surprisingly one-of-a-kind. They come in 42 different color combinations, including black or brown on the outside lined with bright, metallic, or patterned padding. The hardware on Perri’s Padded Leather Dog Collars is made of solid brass or stainless steel. Because it’s a handmade product, Perri’s collars occasionally have flaws, namely the buckle and D-ring being placed too close together to easily attach a leash if needed. You can return the collar for a replacement, however. Sizing can also run smaller or larger than advertised. 

Like any leather item, without semi-regular cleaning with a leather-care product, Perri’s collars will show some cracking and wear. But if you take care of this collar, it will take care of your dog, giving them years of comfort.

The best martingale dog collar

german shepherd wearing best martingale collar from If It Barks

Made with heavy-duty materials, the well-made If It Barks Martingale keeps dogs from escaping their collar.

Pros: Nonslip design prevents dogs from escaping, handmade in the US, made with extra durable nylon, the hardware is nickel-plated steel, size can be customized, available in two widths and up to 12 colors, can add a buckle for easy removal

Cons: May not withstand heavy chewing, the width may be too large for very small dogs

The If It Barks Martingale Collar is a well-made martingale constructed with heavy-duty materials. The brand has sewn its collar out of two layers of extra durable nylon webbing and added nickel-plated steel hardware to stand up to daily use. One of my favorite things about If It Barks is that if your pup has a neck too small or too large to fit into their standard sizes (small, medium, and large), they’ll customize a collar for them. 

I’ve found If It Barks Martingales to be much sturdier than the average martingale without feeling too stiff or inflexible. Unlike some collars of this kind, you can opt to add a buckle to this collar so that you don’t need to slip it over the head of a sensitive or hand-shy dog. However, it may not withstand heavy chewing and may also be overpowering for more petite dogs.

A martingale collar, or limited-slip collar, prevents dogs from escaping by tightening enough to keep the head from fitting through the loop of the collar. Unlike a choke collar, a martingale will never tighten more than a couple of inches and should not cause discomfort. On a dog that pulls frequently, a martingale, like any collar, could put dangerous pressure on the trachea and neck, according to Siracusa.

And, if you have a skittish, noise-sensitive, or Houdini dog, there’s always a risk that they will escape their collar. Some dogs, especially those with narrow heads like greyhounds and whippets, or with big, muscular necks, can lose their collars without even trying. “For dogs with relatively little difference between the head and neck diameter, a martingale is a good choice,” Bain added.

The best headcollar

person walking a dog wearing PetSafe Gentle Leader Headcollar

With a padded noseband, the Petsafe Gentle Leader helps to curb pulling without using a body harness or causing pain.

Pros: Padded noseband, sold in five sizes and eight colors

Cons: Dangerous for over-aroused dogs, dog must be desensitized to headcollar before use

A headcollar isn’t so much a collar as it is a harness for a dog’s head. Designed on the same principle as a halter for a horse, headcollars help to alleviate pulling in dogs by putting a walker’s control at the front of their pet instead of at their strongest point at their back.

One of the biggest problems with a headcollar is that chafing on the nose can occur, even in dogs that walk calmly. That’s one of the reasons we selected the Petsafe Gentle Leader Headcollar, which has a noseband padded with a layer of neoprene. It’s also our top pick for the best no-pull headcollar in our guide to the best harnesses for dogs.

Headcollars have their limitations. Bain advises against using a headcollar for a dog who is difficult to control and lunges on walks. For calmer dogs, however, Bain says headcollars “are very effective in helping to control dogs that pull, and can be the foot-in-the-door to help train dogs to walk nicely on leash.”

Bain prefers the affordable Gentle Leader “for its ease in fitting and use.” Indeed, this headcollar has only two straps, one around the nose and one around the ears, the latter of which is adjustable. The noseband attaches to the leash with a slip-loop to naturally size to your dog’s snout.

The Gentle Leader comes in five sizes and eight colors, and your dog will require desensitization before they are comfortable wearing it. But if you’re looking for an alternative to a harness for a dog that pulls on a leash, this headcollar is a good option for dogs that are not easily over-aroused.

What else we considered

a dog wearing the Coastal Pet New Earth Eco Friendly Soy Dog Collar
  • Coastal Pet New Earth Eco-Friendly Soy Dog Collar: This has been one of my personal favorites in the budget category for years for its softness, pliability, and durability. Made from soy fibers, the Coastal Pet New Earth Collar doesn’t retain smells and washes easily in the laundry. It was narrowly nudged out of our top budget spot due to the relative lack of colors, only 12 muted tones compared to the Blueberry Classic Dog Collar’s 22 (plus all the patterned options), and because pricing goes up for some sizes and shades. But if you’re looking for a good option for under $5, this may be the one for you.
  • The Company of Animals Halti Head Collar: The thing I like best about the Halti Head Collar is its additional safety tether, which connects the halter to your dog’s collar and will help you maintain control if a strap breaks or your dog worms out of the device. Like the Gentle Leader, the Halti also has a padded noseband and additional straps on the side of the snout to help balance out the halter and keep it in place.

Safety considerations for dog collars

Collars that add pressure or pain to your dog’s neck on walks, usually to prevent them from pulling away, should be avoided. “I do not recommend owners use prong or pinch collars on their dogs,” said Bain.

Even martingale-style collars can be dangerous for dogs that pull frequently because of the pressure they put on the neck. “It can cause problems to the trachea, it can cause problems to the bone structure of the neck, and then it can cause problems to the circulation that goes and comes from the brain,” Siracusa explained. 

Because of their design, some collars can also be dangerous when left on a dog without supervision. The martingale collar, for example, which has an extra loop of material that can get caught on things, should be removed after the walk is over, according to Whole Dog Journal. The head collar, too, should only be worn for walks. “Flat collars should be worn by dogs to hang their ID tags,” said Bain. She added they are relatively safe to keep on 24/7 as well.

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The 5 best flea and tick treatments for dogs in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Flea and tick medicines for dogs include topical spot-on treatments, oral preventives, and collars.
  • The best flea medicine for dogs is Advantage Multi, which treats and prevents more parasites than other topical products.
  • Before starting your dog or puppy on any flea control medicine, consult your veterinarian.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Karie Johnson, veterinarian and co-founder of VIP Vet Visit, a mobile vet service in the south suburbs of Chicago.

There are many safe and effective flea control products for dogs, either available with a veterinarian’s prescription or sold over the counter. Many products kill and prevent other parasites, too, including ticks, heartworms, intestinal parasites, mites, and biting flies.

Choosing a safe and effective flea and tick medicine for dogs can be complicated. There are many products available and they’re all a little different. My background taught me a lot about parasite prevention and the various flea control products available today. I spent eight years working as a veterinary assistant in animal hospitals followed by two more decades as an editor for magazines in the pet and veterinary fields. Over the years, I’ve treated countless dogs for fleas, including my own dogs.

For this guide, I used the quick product reference guide published by the independent, nonprofit Companion Animal Parasite Council to research products. I selected products based on safety, the number of parasites targeted, products’ ease of use, and the minimum age the product can be used. Jump to the end of this guide to read more about our selection criteria. For additional guidance about treating and preventing fleas on dogs, I consulted with two veterinarians.

Before choosing a flea preventive for your dog, talk to your veterinarian who can advise you on what type of product might be best depending on your dog’s temperament and lifestyle, and what parasites are most prevalent in your location.

These are the best flea and tick medicines for dogs in 2021

The best topical flea preventive overall

Advantage multi for dogs best spot-on flea medicine overall

With just one easy monthly application, Advantage Multi for Dogs treats, controls, and prevents more parasites than any other topical product. 

Pros: Kills and prevents six types of parasites including heartworm, once-monthly treatment, easy to administer, safe for use in puppies 7 weeks and older and weighing at least 3 pounds

Cons: Does not kill ticks, not labeled for use in puppies younger than 7 weeks or breeding, pregnant, or nursing dogs

No preventive covers every single parasite that could harm your dog, but Advantage Multi for Dogs comes close. Advantage Multi is a topical spot-on product that contains the active ingredients imidacloprid and moxidectin to prevent flea infestations by killing adult fleas before they can lay eggs. It also prevents heartworm, mange mites, and three intestinal parasites: roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms. As with all medications that prevent heartworm, your dog needs a heartworm test prior starting Advantage Multi and annually thereafter.

Advantage Multi is easy to use: Just apply every 30 days to the dog’s skin at the base of the neck between the shoulder blades. The liquid medication is absorbed and dries within hours. Unlike with some of the other topical preventives, you do not need to wear gloves to apply Advantage Multi. If you get the product on your hands, simply wash with soap and water. For the first 30 minutes after application, keep dogs from licking the application site, either on themselves or other treated dogs in the house. Children should not touch the application site for two hours after application.

Advantage Multi does not prevent ticks. If ticks are a concern and you wish to use a topical, consider another product like Frontline Plus for Dogs, Bravecto Topical for Dogs, or K9 Advantix II.

The best OTC topical flea preventive

Frontline plus for dogs is best OTC flea medicine

Available without a prescription, Frontline Plus for Dogs kills adult fleas, flea eggs, flea larvae, ticks, and chewing lice on contact.

Pros: Kills adult fleas, flea eggs, flea larvae, all life stages of ticks and chewing lice for one month; safe for use in dogs and puppies at least 8 weeks of age that weigh at least 5 pounds; safe for use in breeding, pregnant and nursing dogs; fleas don’t have to bite for it to work

Cons: Not recommended for puppies younger than 8 weeks of age; does not prevent any parasites other than fleas, ticks, and chewing lice

Frontline Plus is our top nonprescription recommendation because it kills ticks and fleas, controls flea infestations, and kills chewing lice, all with one easy application. When used primarily for flea control, each dose of Frontline Plus lasts up to three months. If ticks or biting lice are a concern, apply it monthly.

Frontline Plus been used and trusted by pet owners for more than two decades. Parasites die on contact — they do not have to bite your dog for Frontline Plus to work. Its active ingredients, fipronil and S-methoprene, work together to kill parasites and break the flea life cycle. Fipronil kills adult fleas and ticks. S-methoprene prevents flea eggs, larvae, and pupae from developing. Completely breaking the flea life cycle can sometimes take up to a month of consistent use, especially if your dog is heavily infested, because flea eggs can be in your home but not on your dog.

Frontline Plus is easy to use. Squeeze the entire contents of the tube onto one spot to your dog’s skin between the shoulder blades. The liquid medication spreads across your dog’s skin, then is stored in the oil glands. It distributes itself continuously via the hair follicles.

The best oral flea control product

simparica trio is the best dog flea pill

Simparica TRIO treats, controls, and prevents more parasites than any other oral product, offering a full month of protection with one easy-to-give flavored pill. 

Pros: Protects against more parasites than any other oral product, once-monthly treatment, safe for dogs and puppies 8 weeks of age and older weighing at least 2.8 pounds, easy to administer alone or in food

Cons: Not labeled for use in puppies younger than 8 weeks or breeding, pregnant, or nursing dogs

Our pick for best oral flea control product for dogs is Simparica TRIO, a chewable tablet that is fast-acting and kills more parasites than any other oral product. Simparica TRIO starts to work within four hours and kills 100% of adult fleas on dogs within eight hours.

Choosing between an oral or topical flea control product is tough for some dog owners. There are pros and cons to each type of product. In some cases, an oral preventive is a better choice. For instance, some dogs with sensitive skin can’t tolerate a spot-on. 

“Oral products have the benefit of broad coverage to reach every spot of skin without the chance of the product being washed off,” Crumley said. “Rarely, a pet will have mild intestinal upset with any oral product. If that occurs then that pet will do better with one of the system-absorbed topical choices.”

The liver-flavored flavored chewable tablets can be given with or without food once a month. In addition to providing a full month of protection against the most parasites of any other oral product, Simparica TRIO is also labeled for use in some of the youngest and smallest puppies and dogs.

Simparica TRIO contains three ingredients: sarolaner, moxidectin, and pyrantel. It requires a prescription from your veterinarian, as well as a current negative heartworm test. Simparica TRIO should be used with caution in dogs with a history of neurologic disorders such as seizures.

The best flea control product for young puppies

Capstar is the best flea treatment for puppies

Capstar for Dogs is safe for puppies as young as 4 weeks old and starts killing fleas within 30 minutes.

Pros: Safe for puppies 4 weeks of age and older weighing at least 2 pounds, safe for pregnant and nursing dogs, fast-acting treatment starts killing adult fleas within 30 minutes, easy to administer alone or in food, can be used with other flea control products, available without a prescription

Cons: Does not offer long-term protection, does not kill flea larvae or flea eggs, does not prevent any parasites other than fleas

Available without a prescription, Capstar for Dogs is the only flea control product safe for puppies as young as 4 weeks and weighing at least 2 pounds. With other topical and oral flea control product, puppies must be at least 8 weeks old and sometimes older. 

Fleas should be eliminated as quickly as possible for heavily infested dogs, especially young puppies. The active ingredient in Capstar, nitenpyram, works within 30 minutes and kills greater than 90% of adult fleas on dogs in as little as four hours.

Capstar’s protection against fleas lasts only 24 hours, but it is safe to give daily if necessary. This is helpful for young puppies that might not be old enough to use an oral or spot-on product that offers long-term protection. Owners should follow up with a flea control product that offers a month or more of protection once the puppy is old enough.  

The best flea collar

best flea collar for dogs: seresto

The Seresto Flea and Tick Collar for Dogs offers eight months of protection against fleas and ticks in all life stages.

A March 2021 investigation by USA Today reported 1,700 animal deaths and other adverse reactions linked to Seresto flea collars. It’s unknown if the EPA-approved pesticides used in the collar caused these incidents and this story is still developing. Always speak to your veterinarian if you have concerns before using a product and only purchase Seresto collars from authorized retailers.

Pros: 8 months of continuous protection against adult fleas, flea larvae, four species of ticks, chewing lice, and mange mites; lightweight and easy to wear; adjustable for dogs of all sizes; parasites don’t have to bite for it to work; safe for puppies 7 weeks of age and older

Cons: Not recommended for puppies younger than 7 weeks of age, children should not play with the collar, adjusting size can be tricky

Flea collars were once prevailing options for flea control, but most traditional flea collars don’t offer the same level of protection as topical and oral preventives. One noteworthy flea collar is the Seresto Flea and Tick Collar for Dogs, which uses sustained-release technology to provide eight months of continuous protection against adult fleas, flea larvae, four species of ticks, chewing lice, and mange mites.

In general, topical spot-on preventives and oral preventives are the easiest and most effective form of flea control for dogs, but the Seresto collar might be a good option in certain situations.

Lay said that traditional flea and tick collars are generally not very effective, and she has even seen allergic reactions and other issues with some of them. However, she has found the Seresto collar to be both safe and effective.

“I personally used a Seresto collar with my dog for years when we lived in Chattanooga—hiking in the mountains and camping amongst the ticks,” Dr. Lay said. “I often recommend it to clients who have pets that don’t tolerate topical or oral flea/tick preventives.”

The collar is nongreasy, odor-free, lightweight, and adjustable for dogs of all sizes. It can be worn alongside your dog’s regular collar and has a two-step safety system to ensure your dog will not be harmed if the collar gets caught on something.

The Seresto Flea and Tick Collar for Dogs contains imidacloprid and flumethrin, which are released in low concentrations over your dog’s skin and coat to kill fleas and ticks on contact — parasites do not need to bite your dog for the collar to work. It kills 100% of fleas within 24 hours of placing the collar on your dog. The collar is water-resistant and can stay on the dog even during swimming or bathing.

What else we considered

nexgard, bravecto, revolution, and k9 advantage ii flea prevention for dogs
  • Bravecto Chews for Dogs: Unlike most oral preventives, which must be given monthly, one dose of prescription-only Bravecto kills fleas for three months and ticks for up to two months. Bravetco doesn’t kill any parasites other than fleas and ticks. It cannot be used in puppies younger than 6 months old and should be used with caution in dogs with a history of neurologic disorders such as seizures.
  • Bravecto Topical for Dogs: With one application, this topical product kills fleas for three months and ticks for up to two months. Bravetco doesn’t kill any other parasites and cannot be used in puppies younger than 6 months old. It requires a prescription from your veterinarian and should be used with caution in dogs with a history of neurologic disorders such as seizures.
  • Comfortis: Comfortis is an oral product that kills adult fleas and prevents flea infestations for one month. It doesn’t kill any parasites other than fleas and cannot be used in puppies younger than 14 weeks old. Comfortis requires a prescription from your veterinarian.
  • Credelio: Credelio is an oral product that kills adult fleas and ticks and prevent flea and tick infestations for one month. It doesn’t kill any other parasites and requires a prescription from your veterinarian. It should be used with caution in dogs with a history of seizures.
  • K9 Advantix II: This is a topical spot-on product that repels and kills fleas, flea eggs, flea larvae, ticks, mosquitoes, and lice for one month. It also repels biting flies. We gave Frontline Plus for Dogs a slight edge over K9 Advantix II because it is effective against fleas, flea larvae, and flea eggs for up to three months (though if ticks are an issue, monthly application is required). Additionally, you must seek the advice of a veterinarian before using K9 Advantix II for breeding, pregnant, and nursing dogs.
  • NexGard Chewables for Dogs: NexGard is an oral product that kills adult fleas and ticks and prevents flea infestations for one month. It requires a prescription from your veterinarian and should be used with caution in dogs with a history of seizures.
  • Revolution for Dogs: Revolution is a monthly topical product that kills adult fleas and prevents flea eggs from hatching. It also prevents heartworm, treats and controls ears mites, and kills American dog tick, but it does not prevent any intestinal parasites, unlike Advantage Multi for Dogs. However, Advantage Multi does not kill ticks. Revolution requires a prescription from your veterinarian and a current negative heartworm test.
  • Trifexis: Trifexis is a monthly oral product that kills adult fleas, prevents flea infestations and heartworm, and treats and controls hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms. We gave Simparica TRIO a slight edge over Trifexis because it also kills ticks, mange mites, and chewing lice — though it does not kill whipworms. Trifexis requires a prescription from your veterinarian and a negative heartworm test and should be used with caution in dogs with a history of seizures.

How we selected products

We consulted with two veterinarians for advice regarding the treatment and prevention of fleas and other parasites in dogs. Although this information guided us in our product selection, our veterinary experts did not endorse any of the products included in this guide unless explicitly mentioned in direct quotes.

We also conducted research using the quick product reference guide published by the independent, nonprofit Companion Animal Parasite Council. This helpful reference, which includes all FDA and EPA-approved parasite control products for small animals, lists each product’s active ingredients, how the product is used, and which parasites it controls.

Here are the main attributes we looked for:

Safety and efficacy: Only FDA- or EPA-approved products were considered for this guide.

Number of parasites treated: In general, the more parasites a preventive product covers, the higher it was rated. “Parasites cause skin disease just by their presence and they carry diseases, too,” said Crumley. “Small puppies can actually become anemic from the amount of blood these parasites steal from their growing bodies.”

The exceptions are Capstar, which is the only treatment available for puppies younger than 6 weeks and our over-the-counter pick, Frontline Plus, which treats fleas, ticks, and lice. Products that treat heartworm always require a prescription.

Ease of use: Products were rated lower if they were more complicated to use than a similar product. For instance, products ranked lower if the pet owner must wear gloves to apply the product or if children and pets need to be kept away from the treated animal for a specified amount of time.

Minimum age and weight: When comparing similar products, higher ratings went to preventives that can be used in younger animals (for instance, puppies 7 weeks of age instead of 12 weeks of age).

Types of flea control products

person applying topical flea treatment to dog

Here are the most common flea control products for dogs and how they work:

  • Topical preventives: Also called spot-on products, topical preventives are great for killing fleas and preventing flea infestations. As they dry, they spread across the entire body or may be absorbed through the skin into the pet’s system, leaving no residue behind. They are usually applied to the skin in one spot on the back of the neck once a month, although a few last longer than 30 days. “Some dogs with sensitive skin may react to a topical product,” Crumley said. “Dogs who swim frequently or are bathed frequently will lose the benefit of the topical product that stays on the surface of the skin.”
  • Oral flea control: Oral flea control products, or “flea pills,” are given to your dog by mouth to kill fleas. Some oral flea control products kill fleas for up to a month or longer; others must be given more frequently to continue killing fleas, as often as once a day.
  • Flea collars: These are worn around the neck, where they deliver flea preventive medication to your dog’s skin and coat. Some flea collars deliver preventive medication for a longer period than topical applications, making them a good choice for dog owners who don’t want to have to apply something every month.
  • Flea shampoos: These kill fleas that are currently on your dog. We do not recommend flea shampoos in place of other preventives since topical spot-ons and oral products are easier to use and more effective.
  • Flea spray: These are applied to the skin and coat. We do not recommend flea sprays since topical spot-ons and oral products are easier to use and more effective.

What you should know about fleas in dogs

If your dog has fleas, you want to get rid of them as quickly as possible. Dogs can pick up fleas anywhere, including your yard, local parks, the groomer, veterinary clinic, and boarding facilities, but even dogs that spend a lot of time indoors can get fleas if they hitchhike indoors on your clothes or shoes. Dogs that hike, camp, and explore wilderness areas can pick up both fleas and ticks.

What are the health risks to your dog?

Fleas are more than just a nuisance. These parasites can pose a threat to your dog’s health. A severe flea infestation can seriously damage your dog’s skin, induce an allergic reaction, or cause them to become anemic from blood loss. Fleas are also responsible for transmitting parasites like tapeworms.

“Regardless of where you live in the country, I promise there’s a flea or tick disease out there,” Lay said. “Fleas and ticks can really make a pet sick and what’s worse, they often carry other bad guys along with them.” These parasites can transmit things like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, cat scratch fever, and even the plague.

How to check a dog for fleas

Signs of fleas in dogs include scratching, skin irritation, and the presence of dark red or black specks on your dog’s skin, fur, bedding, or furniture. These specks, about the size of grains of black pepper, are called “flea dirt” and are flea feces, or digested blood.

Back when I worked in the veterinary hospital, I learned a handy trick to help find out if those little specks are regular dirt or flea dirt. Scoop some onto a damp paper towel. If the paper towel turns red, it’s flea dirt.

To check your dog for fleas or flea dirt, run a flea comb (a small, very fine-toothed comb) through your dog’s coat or part the hair with your fingers to examine the skin. If you find any live or dead fleas or flea dirt, your dog has a flea infestation.

What to consider when purchasing flea control products

Prescription vs. over-the-counter flea prevention and control

Some flea control products are sold over the counter. Other products require your veterinarian to write a prescription. You can purchase prescription products directly from your veterinarian or from online pet pharmacies and certain pet supply stores like Chewy, Petco, and Petsmart.

Prescription flea control products cost more than OTC products because they protect against more parasites, most importantly, deadly heartworms. Dogs must test negative for heartworms before starting a heartworm prevention product. Giving a heartworm-positive dog a prevention medication can cause rare but potentially very serious and sometimes fatal complications. You also want to know if your dog has adult heartworms because the preventive medication will not kill them — it only kills the larval stages of the heartworm.

Use parasite preventives year-round.

You might be tempted to only use parasite preventives in spring and summer, but don’t underestimate the resilience of fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and intestinal parasites. Veterinarians recommend that all dogs stay on broad-spectrum parasite preventives all 12 months of the year.

Heartworm treatment is long, costly, and dangerous. Dogs with adult heartworms can die even if treatment is initiated. This is why veterinarians recommend using a year-round heartworm preventive for all dogs, regardless of what part of the country they live in. Veterinarians also recommend year-round intestinal parasite prevention for all dogs.

Flea shampoos are usually unnecessary.

Decades ago, people might have just used a flea shampoo containing pesticides to kill fleas, but flea shampoos are no longer the gold standard. Veterinarian-recommended topical and oral flea control products are far more effective than flea shampoos.

“Most flea and tick shampoos are harsh to the skin and only remove the parasites present at the time of the bath,” Crumley said. “Most of them are not effective at treating ticks, either. The residual effect might last 24 or 48 hours at most, and then the nasties will be back.”

Lay notes that some pet owners want to use flea shampoos instead of veterinarian-approved oral or topical preventives because shampoos cost less. However, this approach could backfire.

“Besides not really preventing and being as effective at breaking the infestation/cycle, they can also sometimes cause additional reactions and allergies,” Lay said. “They are not meant to take the place of preventive options, so consult with your veterinarian on when and how to use them.”

Be wary of natural flea control products.

Both veterinarians we consulted do not recommend natural products in place of veterinarian-recommended topical and oral flea control products. While they can deter fleas and ticks, they won’t eliminate an infestation.

“If you use them, be prepared to apply them at least daily before your pet goes outside for the best chance of keeping the hitchhikers from latching on,” said Crumley.

If you also have cats at home, avoid natural flea control products containing essential oils as some of them can be toxic to cats.

Some flea products are dangerous to cats.

If you have cats as well as dogs, it’s important to understand that any product labeled for use in only dogs should never be used on a cat. Some ingredients that are well-tolerated by dogs can be toxic to cats. Any dog-only flea product can be harmful to cats, but they are especially sensitive to pyrethrins. If you’re looking for a product that’s safe for felines, read our guide to the best flea control products for cats.

Our sources

Read the original article on Business Insider

The 5 best cat carriers in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • A good cat carrier is comfortable and safe for your pet and easy for you to transport.
  • We tested 30 pet carriers, including soft-sided carriers, hard-sided kennels, and backpacks.
  • The best cat carrier, Mr. Peanut’s Gold Series Expandable Carrier, unzips to give a pet extra space.

The right cat carrier can make getting a feisty feline from Point A to Point B less stressful. Whether you’re headed to the vet or the airport, a good carrier should have a handful of essential features for the convenience and comfort of both cat and human.

To determine the most important qualities to look for in a pet carrier, I consulted with Lindsey Wolko, the founder and CEO of the Center for Pet Safety in Reston, Virginia, and Dr. Gwen Gadd, a fear-free certified veterinarian at East Bay SPCA in Oakland, California. To start, look for more than one loading door, plenty of ventilation, exterior pockets, and easy-to-carry straps or handles.

Over the last year, I evaluated 30 different cat carriers, including airline-friendly, budget, and backpack styles. All but one, the Good2Go Expandable Carrier, were provided as editorial review samples by their manufacturers. My two cats, Osito and Phoebe, submitted their opinions on the carriers, both at home and on visits to the vet.

At the end of this guide, read more about how we tested the carriers as well as how to introduce your cat to their new carrier and how to safely travel by car with your cat.

Here are the best cat carriers you can buy:

The best cat carrier overall

Mr. Peanut's Gold Series Expandable Carrier

The durable Mr. Peanut’s Gold Series Expandable Carrier is designed for convenient, comfortable travel with an extendable compartment that provides your cat with more space on the road.

Pros: Front- and top-loading, expandable compartment, luggage strap, detachable shoulder strap, washable bolster bed, five colors options, folds flat for storage

Cons: Not third-party crash-tested, no official warranty

Whether you’re traveling with your cat by plane, car, or public transportation, Mr. Peanut’s Gold Series Expandable Carrier helps take the hassle out of the journey. It has nearly all of the features we considered for this guide and is also one of our favorite airline cat carriers.

For your feline companion, it is outfitted with a plush bed, privacy flap, and zip-out atrium that expands the carrier’s width by more than 50%. For the cat sherpa, there is a shoulder strap, carry handle, exterior pocket, luggage strap, detachable name tag, and an interior safety tether to prevent your cat from bolting.

My favorite thing about this carrier is its expandable mesh atrium. My cats liked stretching out into the extra space while napping inside. This feature can’t be used in flight or while driving, but you can give your cat more space while waiting at the airport or vet’s office.

The Gold Series remained well balanced on top of a carry-on and the padded shoulder strap was easy to adjust and comfortable on my shoulder.  The mesh was perfectly intact after our scratch test with the exception of some slight discoloration. Stomping on the bag multiple times flattened its interior frame slightly, but it took just a few seconds to push it back out to its original form. The zippers worked smoothly too.

On a vet visit, my cat unleashed his own goop test on the removable bed. Though the bed is labeled hand-wash only, I threw it in the washer and air-dried it. It not only came completely clean, but it also looked essentially brand new.

The carrier adheres to most in-cabin airline restrictions. The frame is not flexible but has enough give to fit beneath slightly lower seats.  Although it has safety seat belt attachments, it has not been third-party crash-tested. For this reason, the most secure spot to place your cat is at the foot of the backseat on the passenger side. It fit snugly there in my compact car.

Mr. Peanut’s donates their carriers and a portion of sales to animal rescues and aid organizations through their Pay a Shelter Pet Forward program.

The best budget cat carrier

Elite Field Soft-Sided Airline Approved Carrier

The Elite Field Soft-Sided Airline Approved Carrier has just about all of the features you might want for everyday or long distance travel at an affordable price.

Pros: Padded detachable shoulder strap, padded carry handle, secure luggage strap, multiple pockets, washable interior mat, collapses flat for storage, comes in six colors and two sizes

Cons: Not top-loading, seam of interior mat ripped in washing, no warranty

For a reliable soft-sided carrier that will keep your cat safe and comfortable on short journeys and long-distance travel days alike, Elite Field’s Soft-Sided Airline Approved Carrier fits the bill. Inside, this bag is fitted with a soft fleece mat and safety tether. A luggage strap, detachable padded shoulder strap, and padded carry handle make getting your cat to their destination easy. Best of all, this carrier is less than half the cost of our best overall pick.

In testing, the Elite Field carrier proved to be highly durable. In our goop test, it wiped completely clean and its fleece mat came out of the washer with no stains. Our scratch test resulted in no damage, and the zipper was smooth. The biggest flaw  was a seam along the side of the mat that tore in the washing machine but did not affect its usefulness.

This carrier has more ventilation than most of those we tested. It also has five pockets, including one which unzips to convert into a luggage strap, and two small zipper holes through which you can pet or feed your cat without danger of escape. The bag collapses flat for storage but does not have a top-loading entry or a warranty. When carried by the shoulder strap, this carrier does bend inward an inch or two.

The Elite Field comes in two sizes, both of which fit under the seat at United Airlines and Southwest Airlines. Although this carrier has a seatbelt loop, it has not been third-party crash-tested for car travel. All in all, while this carrier isn’t perfect, its durable, comfortable design is a great deal.

The best cat carrier for car travel

Away pet carrier

The third-party crash-tested Away Pet Carrier is loaded with features for the safety, comfort, and convenience of you and your cat.

Pros: Front- and top-loading carrier, third-party crash-tested and safety certified, secure luggage strap, washable interior sherpa bed, padded shoulder strap, excellent ventilation,  one-year warranty

Cons: Pricey, does not fold flat for storage

Having earned a five-star crash-test certification from the Center for Pet Safety, the Away Pet Carrier is an ideal choice for frequent travel or long car rides. Although it is the most expensive carrier we tested for this guide, it has all of the features we deemed essential, including a luggage strap, excellent ventilation, a padded shoulder strap, and two exterior pockets. Because it also fits the dimensions of most in-cabin airline requirements, it’s versatile enough for journeys requiring multiple modes of transportation.

The Away Carrier has a washable sherpa bolster bed and safety tether inside. On its exterior, there is a roll-down privacy flap on the front door, luggage strap, and two zipper pockets, one of which runs the entire length of the right side. 

Perhaps the carrier’s most important feature, though, is the seat belt attachment. While many carriers have seat belt straps or latches, relatively few have been third-party crash-tested. Away’s bag was not only crash tested in 2020, it earned a five-star safety certification for pets up to 18 pounds.

In our testing, the Away Carrier came out unscathed. It was plenty spacious for even the larger of my two cats, a zaftig 12-pounder. It was also easy to transport. The padded shoulder strap is a little slippery and did have to be readjusted occasionally. Because it’s made from leather, the handle is not as comfortable to hold as some of the other carriers I tested, which have thicker nylon handles.

 Although it doesn’t fold flat for storage, the Away Carrier comes with a drawstring bag to keep it free from dust and debris, as well as a few additional goodies, including a small plush airplane, a bandana, and a collapsible silicone water bowl. The carrier can be monogrammed for an additional $35.

The best hard-shell cat carrier

Frisco Two-Door Top-Load Kennel

The sturdy, spacious Frisco Two-Door Top-Load Kennel has self-locking doors on its front and top sides for easy loading and unloading.

Pros: Made from heavy-duty 95% recycled plastic; strong, sturdy design with bolts lining three sides of carrier; self-locking wire mesh doors on front and top; affordable

Cons: Requires assembly, somewhat heavy at 3.8 pounds for the 19-inch kennel and 6.43 pounds for the 24-inch; no mat or safety tether; only two color options; not safety-tested for car travel

If you have a cat that fears the tight confinement of a soft-sided carrier, the Frisco Two-Door Top-Load Kennel is an excellent option for transporting them from Point A to Point B. This hard-shell carrier has a simple two-piece design that secures together with bolts around its exterior.

There is a folding plastic handle at the top. Both doors on the kennel have spring-loaded latches that lock them securely in place and, along with holes that wrap around the top half of the carrier, provide ventilation. The 24-inch carrier was extremely spacious for even my 12-pound cat. Both doors were large enough for stress-free entry and were easy to open and close one-handed.

The kennel passed our goop test with flying colors. The mess I smeared on its interior and exterior, then left to dry for 48 hours, wiped completely clean in an instant. When dropped, it did not fare as well as its soft-sided counterparts. It didn’t suffer any structural damage, but the back panel of its top half cracked and the handle popped off the top door. I was able to snap the handle back in place, and the back remains intact enough to prevent a pet from escaping. It’s important to note that this kennel’s competitor, the Petmate Two-Door Top-Load Kennel, broke in almost the same way but held on to its handle. 

In fact, everything about this kennel is so similar to the Petmate that they may as well be the same product. I was able to pinpoint only three differences between them: Frisco’s carrier comes in two colors instead of four, it costs almost $10 less, and it is slightly heavier — a little over a half pound each for the 19- and 24-inch models.

While this kennel is missing a few of the features I looked for in the soft carriers, namely a safety tether, soft interior mat, and ID tag, it’s a well-made, affordable option for cats who need more space during travel. 

The best backpack cat carrier

Gen7Pets Geometric Roller Backpack

The Gen7Pets Geometric Roller-Carrier is comfortable to wear and converts instantly into a rolling suitcase when your shoulders need a break.

Pros: Combination backpack and rolling carrier, two zippered doors for loading, machine-washable sherpa mats, telescoping suitcase handle, available in two sizes, folds flat for storage, one-year limited warranty

Cons: Does not fit in-cabin airline requirements, not safety-tested for car travel, heavier than other backpack carriers we tested

Gen7Pets Geometric Roller-Carrier takes the hassle out of traveling with a cat by providing two convenient ways for them to get around: on your back or rolling at your side. The sturdy carrier has two loading doors at the front and zippered pockets on its sides. There is a handle at the top of the bag for quick lifting and four wheels at the bottom. Soft machine-washable sherpa mats attach to the base and back of the interior with Velcro.

In backpack mode, this carrier has two adjustable shoulder straps that clip to D-rings at the bottom of the back side. It takes just a few seconds to convert the bag into rolling mode by unclipping the backpack straps, tucking them into their storage pocket, and pulling out the telescoping suitcase handle. I was surprised to find that, despite the size and weight of the large carrier, it was equally as comfortable on my back as the other backpack carriers I tested. Its padded straps were easy to adjust and it did not bounce against my lower back.

The backpack is also comfortable to pull behind you or at your side. It skidded occasionally on a rock or stick but mostly moved smoothly over sidewalks, pavement, and ramps. For cat comfort when rolling, the bag has a “smart-level platform” to change the angle of the carrier’s base. 

The Geometric Roller Backpack’s front mesh panels can be rolled down for easy feeding and watering and an interior tether can be used to keep your cat from escaping. Although there are seat belt straps on the back, this carrier has not been third-party crash-tested, so they should not be used. 

In testing, this backpack proved durable. The stomp test reshaped the internal wire frame, but I was able to push it back in place in under a minute. In the scratch test, the carrier’s mesh showed no signs of breakage and the loading door zipped smoothly. The goop I spread on the bag cleaned up easily, leaving only a small spot of discoloration, and the interior mat came out of the washing machine looking like new. 

The large carrier was very spacious and comfortable for my cats, but at 6.8 pounds, it was a bit heavy to carry by the plastic handle at its top. It is also too large to fit under the seat in the cabin of an airplane, as is the smaller version of the carrier. While some may find it too bulky, its size, shape, and versatility make frequent travel with a cat convenient and comfortable for both of you.

What else we considered

other cat carriers we tested

Soft-sided cat carriers for air and car travel

  • Wild One Travel Carrier: We really like this modular travel carrier and chose it as the best option for air travel with a cat due to bells and whistles like a shoulder strap that converts to a leash and a fold-out bed. For everyday use, this is also an excellent carrier but costs about twice as much as our best overall cat carrier pick, Mr. Peanut’s Gold Series Expandable Carrier.
  • Sleepypod Atom: Although this Sleepypod carrier earned a five-star crash-test rating from the Center for Pet Safety, it has only an elevated, top-entry opening for loading and unloading. I also found its shoulder strap, which had a buckle at exactly the wrong spot on my shoulder, uncomfortable to carry.
  • Frisco Travel Carrier: This carrier by Frisco was originally our top choice in the budget category before we tested the Elite Field. The bag is top- and front-entry, has an interior sherpa mat and privacy flaps, and held up well in testing. But when compared to the Elite Field, Frisco’s carrier had less than half the ventilation and an uncomfortable shoulder strap with no padding.
  • Petmate Soft-Sided Carrier: This bag has a lot of good features, including top- and front-loading entries and a design that folds flat for storage. However, on our walk test, this was the only carrier of the bunch where the floor mat dislodged and flipped up, leaving the 10-pound weight in the bottom of the bag to drop almost to my knees without any support, a serious safety hazard if it had occurred with an actual cat. 
  • Neocoichi Ultralite Pop-Up Cat Carrier: This cleverly designed pop-up carrier is feather light and super cute, to boot. Unfortunately, its thin walls are extremely flimsy compared to the other carriers we tested and could be easily breached by a set of determined claws. 
  • Mr. Peanut’s Platinum Series Double Expandable Carrier: I love the expandability of this carrier, which nearly triples in size when fully unzipped. It performed just as well as our top pick, the Gold Series Expandable Carrier, in our tests and had all of the same features but with slightly less ventilation, just 17% of the bag versus 18% for the Gold Series. It also costs about $4 more.
  • Mr. Peanut’s Gold Series Carrier: Like the Gold Series Expandable, this carrier has nearly all of the features I consider essential: two points of entry, safety tether, luggage strap, padded shoulder strap, ID tag, and more. But it lacks an expandable section to increase the carrier’s size on long travel days, one of my favorite features of our best overall choice.
  • Mr. Peanut’s Soft Sided Carrier: This carrier is the same as the Gold Series model but without the privacy flap over the top mesh door.
  • Gen7Pets Commuter Carrier: Crash-tested and fitting the dimensions of most in-cabin airline requirements, this carrier has almost all of the features I consider essential. It’s missing two big things that a pricey $100 bag ought to have, though: a shoulder strap for convenient carrying and exterior pockets for holding essentials. It also does not fold flat for storage. 
  • Good2Go Expandable Pet Carrier: I like this expandable carrier. A few years ago, I twice traveled 1,000 miles by car with my cats each tucked safely inside one. It is top- and front-loading and has an interior tether and large zipper back pocket. Unfortunately, it’s relatively pricey compared to Mr. Peanut’s carriers and does not collapse for storage. 
  • Bergan Comfort Carrier: This affordable carrier is quite comfortable according to my cats, with a cozy fleece bolster bed and two no-escape petting holes. And while it has no interior tether, its exterior zippers have buckles to keep them from accidentally opening. However, this carrier was one of two to earn the lowest score on the luggage test. I had to stop and rebalance the bag four separate times on top of my suitcase as I rolled it a single city block. It also does not fold for storage. 
  • Frisco Basic Carrier: The Basic Carrier has multiple pockets, an interior D-ring for attaching a safety tether, and comes with an ID tag. However, unlike the Mr. Peanut’s carriers, it has only one point of entry at the front of the bag and is not equipped with a luggage strap.
  • Sherpa Ultimate on Wheels Carrier: I like this carrier that can be carried like a traditional soft-sided kennel or converted into a rolling bag by rearranging the shoulder strap into a luggage pull. I also appreciate the privacy flaps over the mesh ventilation on the carrier’s sides and back. However, it does not come with an interior safety tether or ID tag, and at 20 inches long and 12.25 inches wide, it’s too big to fit most in-cabin airline requirements. 
  • Sherpa Original Deluxe Carrier: This is a solid cat carrier with most of the essentials, including a fleece mat, two doors for loading, large back pocket, and luggage strap. Unfortunately, it lacks a safety tether and padded shoulder strap. Because I’m only 5-foot-4, when I adjusted the strap for long-distance carrying, the buckle landed right at my shoulder where it dug in. This carrier also had less ventilation than our top pick and failed to balance during the luggage test, especially when stepping off of a curb. Because I had to stop and reset the bag four separate times during our one-block walk, it was one of two to earn the lowest score in the trial. 
  • Sherpa Element Carrier: For nearly the same price, this carrier offers little more than the Sherpa Original Deluxe. Like the Original Deluxe, it has no interior safety tether and no padding in the shoulder strap, causing the buckle to dig into my shoulder on our walk test. It has only a single tiny zip pocket and the second least ventilation of the bags that went on to the second phase of testing — just 15.5% of its surface area is mesh. It is also tiny compared to the other carriers, measuring 14.75 inches long, 12 inches wide, and 10.5 inches tall.
  • Sherpa To-Go Carrier: Of all the Sherpa bags, I liked this no-frills bag the least. With only a single tiny zip pocket and sans luggage strap, not to mention the lack of a safety tether and ID tag, this carrier did not make it to the second round of testing.
  • Petmate See and Extend Carrier: This top- and front-loading carrier was just okay, especially for the price. I like the expandable section that nearly doubles the size of its interior, but the carrier has only a single mesh pocket and no safety tether, ID tag, and luggage strap.
  • K&H Lookout Pet Carrier: The worst of the carriers I evaluated, the K&H Lookout’s design consists of a single zipper that wraps all the way around the carrier and serves to open and close its entry door. If it breaks or becomes stuck, the entire carrier would be unusable. The Lookout also lacks pockets and has a slim tent-like interior. While I was able to pop its plastic bubble window back out after it arrived collapsed, it left permanent unsightly evidence of its collapse.

Hard-shell cat carriers

  • Gunner G1 Medium Dog Kennel: For airline travel in the cargo hold or long car journeys, there’s no better kennel than the ultra-strong, five-star crash-tested Gunner G1 Kennel. But for everyday use, this heavy, extremely pricey crate is not the most practical option for a cat.
  • Petmate Two-Door Top-Load Kennel: Petmate’s kennel is great. In fact, it is the same as the Frisco Two-Door Top-Load Kennel in nearly every way — it even broke the same way in our drop test. But while this kennel weighs slightly less than the Frisco version and is available in four colors instead of two, it costs almost $10 more. 
  • Petmate Sky Kennel Pet Carrier: This is a sturdy crate that fits the requirements for airline cargo pet travel. Our tests showed that it’s more durable than the Frisco Two-Door Top-Load Kennel, but it’s also significantly more expensive and has only one loading door at the front.
  • Petmate Ultra Vari Kennel: This kennel is remarkably similar in design, price, and size to the Petmate Sky Kennel but fared worse in durability testing.

Backpack cat carriers

  • Mr. Peanut’s Backpack Carrier: With multiple pockets, an interior tether, and a shoulder strap that converts the backpack to a standard carrier, Mr. Peanut’s earned a high score in our features comparisons. However, its interior may be too small for many cats to be comfortable for long periods of time. 
  • Sherpa 2-in-1 Backpack Carrier: The shape and size of Sherpa’s backpack is very similar to Mr. Peanut’s, but it has ingenious removable backpack straps, one of which converts into a shoulder strap to turn the whole thing into a traditional carrier. The Sherpa backpack, however, lacks a luggage tag, includes a smaller mat, and has only a safety tether D-ring instead of a full tether. Unlike Mr. Peanut’s backpack, it was missing safety buckles on the zippers, a privacy flap over the top, and a chest strap to help balance the pack’s weight.
  • Kurgo K9 Carrier Backpack: This backpack carrier by Kurgo is stylish but falls short in several categories including ventilation and carrying comfort. In the goop test, both the interior and exterior were left looking worse for wear.

How we tested

how we tested cat carriers

All of the carriers evaluated in this guide went through four tests: a basic comparison of features, a drop test, a goop test, and a cat-approval test. 

Feature comparison: Interviews with Wolko and Gadd helped me determine the essential features a cat carrier should have. I created a scoring system for the soft-sided carriers based on the qualities listed below. Hard-sided carriers were subject to slightly different criteria. The bags that scored the highest went on to additional testing.

In the “What to consider when shopping for a pet carrier” slide, I describe each of these features in more detail:

  • Shape and design
  • Interior mat
  • Loading doors
  • Carrying straps and handles
  • Pockets
  • Ventilation
  • Interior safety tether
  • No-escape petting hole
  • ID tag
  • Luggage strap
  • Dimensions and in-cabin airline capability
  • Safety certifications
  • Storage

Drop, stomp, and roll test: In this test, I brought the carriers that did best in the features comparison to a local park. I placed a 10-pound weight inside each bag and, with the help of my partner, dropped each one twice from a 10-foot-tall play structure, first releasing it straight down, then flipping it end on end.

Once on the ground, I rolled the bags several times with the weight still inside, looking for any damage to the stitching, mesh, or zippers. Later, I conducted the stomp test at home, placing each carrier on a rug, then stomping on it a dozen times with bare feet, noting whether the frame changed shape or the bag showed any damage.

Goop test: Because it’s not uncommon for cats to vomit or defecate in their carrier, I devised the goop test to determine how easy the carriers were to clean. I made my goop by mashing together cat kibble, canned food, and water with a mortar and pestle, then spread a tablespoon on the exterior walls, the interior walls, and the mats of the contenders. After 48 hours, I used dish soap and water to wipe the goop from the walls and cleaned the mats in the washing machine or by hand, depending on care instructions. 

In-cabin airline fit test: I measured the exterior of each carrier to determine whether it would fit under the seat in the cabin of most major airlines. I used United Airlines’ recommended maximum dimensions for a soft-sided pet carrier of 18 inches long, 11 inches wide, and 11 inches tall as the standard by which to assess them.

Ventilation test: Wolko explained that a carrier’s ventilation is important for preventing a cat from overheating during travel. I measured the mesh panels on each carrier and calculated the percentage of the total surface area they comprised. Those with more ventilation were scored higher than those with limited mesh. 

Walk test: I took each of the top soft-sided carriers on a 15-minute walk around my neighborhood, carrying a 10-pound weight inside. Each was carried using its shoulder strap and held at the front of my body, as if I had precious cat cargo inside. The last block of the walk, I switched to using the bags’ hand-carry straps.

Throughout the walk, I paid attention to how comfortable the carrier was to carry by shoulder and by hand, as well as how well it held its shape as it bounced against my legs. I took the same walk with the backpack carriers, noting how well the backpack fit against my back and how comfortable its straps were. 

Luggage test: I placed each of the top carriers with luggage straps on top of a standard rolling suitcase and walked a single city block, pulling them off of a curb and going up a steeply ramped driveway entrance along the way. I watched closely to see how well the carrier remained balanced with a 10-pound weight inside.

Scrape test: To test the durability of the mesh, I scraped a section of each bag 50 times with a fork, noting any damage or discoloration.

Zip test: I tested the durability of each carrier’s zipper by completely zipping and unzipping one of its loading entrances 50 times, noting any changes in the zipper’s ability to smoothly run its course.

Cat-approval test: Over a period of several weeks, I left the top carriers sitting open around the house to assess their comfort. I frequently found my cats nestled inside fast asleep. Any carrier they didn’t choose to enter on their own, I baited with treats to encourage their entry and relaxation to see how well they fit inside. 

Vet test: A few of the carriers — Mr. Peanut’s Gold Series Expandable Carrier, Bergan Comfort Carrier, Good2Go Expandable Carrier, and Mr. Peanut’s Backpack Carrier — were put to the test on trips to the vet. Because I was unable to test all of the top carriers in this way, I considered what I learned from these trips to be supplemental information. This included how well they fit at the foot of my car’s back seat on the passenger side, how well my cat fit inside the carrier, and in one case, how it held up to cleaning when one of my cats vomited and defecated on the trip.

What to consider when shopping for a pet carrier

shopping for a good cat carrier

A high-quality cat carrier needs to be comfortable, convenient, and safe for use by both human and cat. After speaking with Wolko and Gadd, I determined the following features to be the most important:

Shape and design: A carrier should be large enough for a cat to comfortably lie down and turn around but not so large that they don’t feel secure, according to Gadd. Because they are made with airline cabin dimensions in mind, most cat carriers nail this, but some vary in how cramped or spacious they are. Some cat carriers have built-in expandable sections that can double or even triple the size of a carrier. These are ideal for giving your pet the opportunity to safely stretch out on long travel days.

Loading doors: Gadd recommends carriers that have two doors. Because cats like options, they may prefer to enter and exit out of different openings. And if they refuse to come out, it may be easier to gently lift them from a door in the top of the carrier than to drag them out the door in the front, Gadd said.

Floor mat: Most carriers come with some type of soft floor mat. Ideally, a floor mat will be machine washable and can be attached to the interior of the bag to prevent it from sliding around.

Pockets: Pockets are essential for keeping your cat’s gear as well as yours close at hand. A good cat carrier should have more than one pocket and at least one should be secured by a zipper, button, or hook-and-loop closure. 

Straps and handles: A quality carrier should have both a removable shoulder strap, preferably padded for comfort, and a double handle for lifting. A button or hook-and-loop strap that wraps around and secures the handles is helpful for keeping them balanced and out of the way.

Ventilation: Mesh panels fitted into the sides or top of a carrier provide much-needed ventilation. Too many of them, though, can make a frightened cat feel overly exposed. Wolko said a good general rule of thumb is for mesh to cover approximately half of the carrier. Some carriers feature a privacy flap that can be lifted or lowered depending on temperature and a cat’s specific needs.

Interior safety tether: A cat that does not want to be in a carrier may shoot out of its open door when it’s time for a break. An interior safety tether can prevent them from door dashing. “We recommend only connecting to the collar or harness when you stop to feed or water your pet,” Wolko said. “The tether inside the carrier should not be used during active travel, as the pet can become tangled.” Some carriers that do not have a full safety tether have an interior D-ring to which a leash can be secured.

Luggage strap: For easy airport maneuvering, look for a carrier with a luggage strap that can be slipped over a telescoping suitcase handle. “That’s a huge convenience,” said Wolko, and something she likes to see. Some carriers also have exterior straps for securing to a car seat belt. However, Wolko explained that unless the carrier has been crash-tested and third-party safety certified by an organization like the Center for Pet Safety, a cat carrier should always be placed on the floor of a vehicle beneath the back seat instead of on the seat, itself. “It minimizes the impact and provides a lot of protection,” she said. “If you do get into a sudden stop, they’re not going to fly all over the place.”

Airline-friendly dimensions: Most carriers these days are made with airline cabin regulations in mind. However, airlines differ in the carrier sizes they’ll accept on a flight. For example, on Southwest Airlines a carrier can only be 18.5 inches by 8.5 inches by 13.5 inches whereas on United Airlines a carrier must be no larger than 18 inches by 11 inches by 11 inches. If you plan to fly with your pet, investigate your preferred airline’s requirements before purchasing a carrier.

Crash-tested safety certification: A crash-tested safety certification is important if you plan to travel by car with your cat’s carrier placed on the seat. Just because a carrier has a seat belt strap doesn’t mean it’s safe to transport them that way. While independent companies may crash-test their products, the Center for Pet Safety is the leader in crash-testing and safety-certifying pet carriers. In collaboration with Subaru of America, Inc., the Center for Pet Safety conducts specially designed crash tests with dummy dogs to study a carrier’s structural integrity and the reliability of its doors and latches. 

Storage: Unless you’re frequently traveling with your cat, look for a carrier that can be quickly and easily deconstructed to fold flat for storage.

ID tag: Because you never know when you might accidentally end up separated from your best friend. It’s also crucial for any traveling pet to wear a collar with ID tags in case they become separated from their carrier.

How to encourage a cat to like their carrier

how to introduce a cat to a pet carrier

To get a cat to love their carrier, it’s important that pulling it out of a closet doesn’t predict something your cat would prefer to avoid, like a visit to the vet. By leaving the carrier accessible at all times, it can be paired with the positive experiences that turn a carrier into a safe, snuggly, magical place to be.

Begin by giving the open carrier a permanent spot in an area of the home where your cat likes to relax. “Make it comfortable,” Gadd said. “Leave the door open or even take the top off, then play games around the carrier so it isn’t scary to them.” Wolko also suggests throwing treats and toys into the carrier to make the space rewarding.

When your cat is no longer intimidated by the carrier, begin closing the door while they are inside for short periods of time, just a few seconds or a few minutes, depending on the cat. Over time, gradually increase the period for which they are enclosed. Pairing these sessions with a Lickimat spread with a cat-friendly treat paste like Churu can help them to feel better about confinement. Spritzing the carrier with a pheromone spray 15 to 30 minutes before the cat enters can also help promote calm, according to Gadd.

When it’s time to actually travel, Gadd recommends placing a piece of clothing with your scent on it inside the carrier and covering the exterior with a towel or blanket. Instead of dangling the carrier by its handles, lift it from the bottom and hold it against your body for a more secure ride. 

If your cat experiences anxiety in the carrier, talk to your vet about an anxiety-decreasing medication for travel. Signs of anxiety include crying, panting, vomiting, defecating, or pushing their face against the carrier’s interior. Some cats who experience these symptoms may be suffering from car sickness in addition to, or instead of, anxiety. The vet can help there, too, by prescribing an anti-nausea medication.

Best safety practices for car travel

car cat carrier

Although several of the cat carriers tested for this guide were outfitted with straps for attaching to a car seat belt, Wolko recommends against using them unless the carrier has been crash-tested and safety certified. “It’s counterintuitive, but you do not want to strap them in with a seat belt,” she explained. This is especially important if you are using a hard-sided carrier. When strapped in, a collision or sudden stop can cause a plastic kennel to flex, fracture, or even break apart.

If your carrier has not been crash-tested or safety certified, the safest way to travel with a cat in the car is to place them on the floor behind the driver or passenger seat, said Wolko. In that location they are less likely to shift around or take a tumble if you have to stop short or get into a collision.

For car travel, Wolko also recommends selecting a carrier that is not a dark color and has plenty of ventilation. “We don’t recommend black carriers in general because when you’re in the sunshine, it absorbs heat,” she explained. All but our budget pick, the Frisco Travel Carrier, are available in colors other than black.

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