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

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Puppy protection: A new bill would require breeders to quit stacking caged dogs on top of each other

AP35609064522
Members of the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society of Charlotte assisted Rutherford County, N.C. Sheriff’s Office during the 20th puppy mill bust in three years in the state of North Carolina Thursday, June 12, 2014 at an undisclosed location in Rutherford County, N.C.

  • The Puppy Protection Action would establish new requirements for dog breeders.
  • It calls for puppies to be given room to stand up in their cages and time to socialize with humans.
  • The American Kennel Club has opposed similar measures, saying they impose “arbitrary requirements.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

One upside to the pandemic for many this past year was adding a new, four-legged member to their home. People love their dogs, and dogs love them. But new legislation addresses some practices seen as inhumane to pups waiting for a home.

The Puppy Protection Act, introduced this week by a dozen Democrats in the US Senate, aims to improve the conditions in which so many animals are produced: in so-called puppy mills, where caged dogs, one on top of the other, are often deprived of socialization, fresh air, and good hygiene.

Sen. Dick Durbin, a member of Democratic leadership from Illinois, said Tuesday his goal is to protect such animals “from neglectful breeders who have evaded proper oversight and inspection in the past.”

There are at least 10,000 puppy mills in the United States, with over 213,000 dogs kept solely to breed, according to the Humane Society. On average, each mother produces about nine babies a year, coming out to more than 13 million puppies to be sold annually.

But only about 2,000 commercial breeders are subject to regulation by the US Department of Agriculture. And that regulation – the subject of this bill – allows for conditions that animal rights advocates see as deplorable, such as permitting dogs to be kept in cramped cages, stacked on top of each other, in overcrowded rooms.

“We’ve seen animals never leave those stacked cages,” Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, told Insider. “How on Earth is man’s best friend supposed to be socialized and interactive with us if they don’t even have the opportunity to put their feet on grass?”

The bill introduced this week would establish new standards for cage sizes and prohibit their stacking; require that dogs over 12 weeks have unrestricted access to an outdoor play area; mandate 30 minutes a day of socialization with humans and other dogs; and ensure veterinary screening prior to each breeding attempt, limiting mothers to two litters every 18 months and six over their lifetime.

Breeders would also have to make reasonable attempts to find a new home for mothers who no longer produce puppies. Currently, many of these dogs are euthanized.

Sens. Cory Booker, of New Jersey, and Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, have also signed on; a companion bill, with bipartisan support, has been introduced in the House.

Puppies as commodities

Almost 50 million households in the United States have a dog, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. That number has surely risen during the pandemic, when shelters and breeders alike reported a surge in demand for furry companions amid the need for social distancing.

As with any business, the incentive of those involved is to make money. And one way to make more money from selling dogs is to have more dogs to sell. Accordingly, The Washington Post reported last year, “breeders were investing more heavily than usual in puppies they could raise into breeding age dogs,” with pet stores buying whole litters of puppies that were not yet born.

With minimal standards in place – and, generally, those who breed fewer than five female dogs are exempt from USDA oversight altogether, federal regulators treating what could be a $50,000 business as a hobby – the boom has meant some breeders have increased their capacity to churn out puppies to the detriment of they and their mothers’ quality of life.

“It’s been our experience with consumers that the rise in complaints about breeders and pet stores is very much tied to the fact that there is this increased pressure to generate more and more of these puppies,” Amundson told Insider.

Stacking animals’ cages helps disreputable breeders multiply their supply of product – living, breathing animals – and leads to some of the worst scenes at puppy mills. With wire cages, waste from one dog simply falls on the canine below, with the concentration of urine that results from storing too many puppies in one room producing not just a foul smell but potentially dangerous ammonia fumes.

Some states have gone beyond federal standards to address the worst of the worst. But advocates say the Puppy Protection Act provides an opportunity to improve conditions across the board. “Whether puppies are sold in pet stores or sold over the internet, they’re sentient beings,” Amundson said. “We want to know that these animals have been treated appropriately, from conception through their homecoming.”

But not everyone supports tighter regulation.

The American Kennel Club, which puts on the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dug Show and represents thousands of breeders, has opposed similar measures in the past.

When lawmakers tried to push a “Puppy Protection Act” last year, the group described its provisions – such as ensuring caged animals have enough room to stand on their hind legs without impediment and have enough space outdoors “to extend to full stride” – as “arbitrary requirements” that would prevent its members from advancing “the art and science of responsible dog breeding.”

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

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