The 7 Best Flea and Tick Medicines for Dogs (2020 Reviews)

One of the great mysteries of nature is how some things that are so small can cause so much harm. Such is the case when it comes to fleas and ticks. Though often small enough that one has to search arduously to find them, fleas and ticks are a serious health concern for dogs and dog owners.

Because of the many dangers they pose, it is important to invest in a high-quality flea and tick treatment for your dog if you live in an area where these insects are common. But with so many different options, you may be wondering about the best kinds of flea medicine. To help, we reviewed hundreds of products to find the 7 best options. Here’s our list:

Our Picks for the Best Flea and Tick Medicine for Dogs

1. Bayer K9 Advantix II

k9 advantix flea tick medicine

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Bayer K9 Advantix II is a best bet for flea and tick medicine for dogs. The product comes in an easy application tube administered once per month, and protects against fleas, ticks, lice, biting flies, and mosquitos. It’s also available for small dogs and extra large dogs.

Key Features:

  • Kills and prevents fleas, ticks, lice, and mosquitos
  • Once per month application
  • Each application starts working in 12 hours and lasts for 30 days
  • Active ingredients: imidacloprid, permethrin, and pyriproxyfen
  • Cannot be used on cats

Pros:

  • Kills fleas and ticks, as well as mosquitos (which other products do not prevent)
  • After 24 hours the medicine becomes waterproof, allowing your dog to swim, bathe, etc.
  • Easy application on the back of the neck. For detailed instructions, see our guide below.

Cons:

  • Similar to other flea and tick applications, this product cannot be ingested. If you have multiple dogs, makes sure one does not lick the product off the other soon after application.
  • Should not be used around cats

2. Frontline Plus Dog Flea and Tick Treatment

frontline dog flea medicine

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Another solid choice for topical flea and tick medication is Frontline Plus. The medicine kills and prevents fleas, flea eggs and larvae, lice, and ticks for 30 days per application. Also, similar to Bayer K9 Advantix, Frontline should not be used on or around cats.

Key Features:

  • Kills and prevents fleas, flea eggs, lice, and ticks
  • Once per month application that lasts for 30 days
  • Active ingredients: fipronil and (S)-methoprene
  • Available for every size and weight of dog
  • Cannot be used on cats

Pros:

  • After 24 hours, medicine becomes waterproof.
  • Easy application on the back of the neck. For detailed instructions, see our guide below.
  • Two active ingredients kill both fleas and ticks, as well as flea eggs and larvae to prevent infestations before they start.

Cons:

  • Does not prevent against mosquitos
  • Should not be used around cats

3. NexGard Chewables Flea & Tick Medicine

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NexGard is the top rated prescription medication to kill and prevent fleas and ticks. Similar to other flea treatments, this chewable tablet is given once per month and lasts for 30 days. In our research, NexGard was considered one of the best options to prevent fleas and ticks year-round, however does require a prescription from your vet in order to purchase.

Key Features:

  • Prescription-only medication; pet and veterinarian information required to checkout
  • Kills fleas and ticks, and prevents infestations
  • Beef flavored chew given orally once per month, protecting for 30 days
  • Active ingredient: afoxolaner
  • FDA approved and recommended by veterinarians
  • Also available for large dogs (60-120 lbs) and small dogs (10-24 lbs)
  • Cannot be used on cats

Pros:

  • Suitable for all dogs over 4 pounds, and for puppies 8 weeks and older
  • Taste good to dogs, and easier to administer than an oil

Cons:

  • As with any prescription medication, there may be possible side effects for certain dogs. Your veterinarian will evaluate your options before prescribing this medication.

4. Capstar Oral Flea Treatment for Dogs and Cats

capstar dog flea and tick medicine

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If you’re looking for a one-time use pill to end an existing flea infestation, take a look at Capstar. It’s a fast acting oral tablet that starts working with 30 minutes, and can be purchased without a prescription. Capstar is effective as an acute measure to kill fleas, but is not a substitute for ongoing monthly preventative medicine.

Key Features:

  • Fast acting flea treatment that kills an existing infestation of fleas (not a monthly pill)
  • Administered as an oral tablet
  • Active ingredient: nitenpyram
  • Works for both dogs and cats

Pros:

  • Starts working 30 minutes after taking the tablet
  • Does not require a prescription from a veterinarian
  • Suitable for all dogs, puppies, cats, and kittens 2 pounds of body weight or greater over 4 weeks of age

Cons:

  • Does not prevent against ticks or mosquitos
  • Is not an ongoing preventative medication. Works to kill an existing infestation of fleas, but does not provide ongoing protection after 24 hours.

5. Bravecto Chews for Dogs

bravecto

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Bravecto is another prescription-only flea and tick prevention chewable. What makes this medicine stand out from the rest is its ease of application – one chewable protects against fleas and ticks for up to 3 months.

Key Features:

  • Prescription-only medication; pet and veterinarian information required to checkout
  • One application protects for up to 12 weeks against fleas and ticks, and kills Lone Star ticks for up to 8 weeks
  • Given as a flavored chewable
  • Active ingredient: Fluralaner

Pros:

  • Extra convenient application once every 3 months
  • Suitable for dogs between 4-124 pounds. Need to purchase the corresponding correct dosage for each weight type.

Cons:

  • As with any prescription medication, there may be possible side effects for certain dogs. Your veterinarian will evaluate your options before prescribing this medication.
  • Does not protect against mosquitos

6. PetArmor Plus Flea & Tick Prevention for Dogs

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If you’re looking for the generic version of a name brand dog flea medicine, PetArmor Plus is the best bet. PetArmor has the same active ingredients as Frontline at a fraction of the price. This medication is exactly the same as its name-brand counterpart; it kills and prevents fleas, ticks, and lice for 30 days after one topical application, and should be used only on dogs.

Key Features:

  • Monthly topical medicine that kills and prevents fleas, ticks, and lice for 30 days after application
  • Active ingredient: fipronil and (S)-methoprene
  • Becomes fully waterproof after 24 hours
  • Cannot be used on cats

Pros:

  • Generic brand with same active ingredient as Frontline Plus
  • More affordable product compared with other name brands
  • Begins killing fleas within 24 hours
  • Available for every size and weight of dog

Cons:

  • Does not prevent against mosquitos
  • Cannot be used on or around cats

7. Bayer Seresto Flea and Tick Collar for Dogs

seresto dog flea collar

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If you’d prefer the convenience and price of a flea collar, a top choice is the Bayer Seresto Flea and Tick Collar. The product provides 8 months of flea and tick protection, in an odorless and non-greasy collar.

Key Features:

  • Flea collar that kills and prevents fleas, ticks, and lice
  • Each collar protects for up to 8 months
  • Water resistant
  • Active ingredients: imidacloprid and flumethrin

Pros:

  • Starts working to kill fleas in 24 hours
  • Non-greasy and odorless collar
  • Less expensive per month compared with other monthly preventive medications
  • Can be used in conjunction with other id tags
  • Also helps to control sarcoptic mange and kills lice

Cons:

  • Medicines in flea and tick collars tend to congregate around the neck. Though this is a hotspot, it is less effective than other treatments for the whole body. Consult our buying guide below for more information on pros and cons.
  • As this is a constant medicine delivery method, it may be easier to get medicine on you. This should be considered if you have children in the household.

Dog Flea & Tick Medicine Buying Guide

Guide provided by Marguerite Larsen

The purpose of this guide is to help you learn a bit more about the dangers of fleas and ticks, the ways your dog can get them and/or pass them onto you and other pets, and the various options available for flea and tick prevention and treatment. We will discuss oral flea and tick pills, topical sprays and ointments, and other effective flea treatments for dogs, including how much they might cost and what you should look for when buying flea and tick medicine for your dog.

Why Might Your Dog Need Flea or Tick Medicine?

When you start looking into the cost of flea and tick prevention medicine, the prices might make you wonder whether or not fleas and ticks are such a big deal. You might even wonder whether or not your dog even really needs medicine.

Fleas and ticks can cause very serious health risks to your dog if left untreated. Fleas, for example, can cause serious allergies in dogs. Flea allergy dermatitis is the most common skin disease among dogs, and can develop even after exposure to only a few fleas. Fleas can also transmit tapeworms to dogs or cause anemia, especially in small puppies.

Ticks are of concern as well because they are common disease-carriers. Although there are only about 15 varieties in North America you need to be concerned about (compared to over 2,200 types of fleas), they are carriers of several serious blood-transmitted diseases including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Not only are these diseases life-threatening for your dog, but if the tick spreads the disease to you or other family or pet members, they too can be at risk of developing a serious illness.

This is why it is so important to understand how to prevent your dog from getting fleas and ticks and how to select an effective treatment if you live in an area where they are common.

How do dogs get fleas and ticks?

Dogs get fleas either directly or indirectly from other animals. Fleas can actually jump from one animal to another, so if your dog comes into contact with another who is infested, such as a dog, cat, or even a wild possum, your dog can get fleas from them. They can also get them directly from the environment around them.

Fleas like warm, moist environments, so summer climates are when your dog is most likely to end up contracting them. This can happen when fleas that were on another animal lay eggs that get scattered throughout the environment—in the grass, on weeds, etc.—that hatch and jump onto your dog.

Dogs usually get ticks from the environment, much in the same way we do. Ticks like to hang out in plants that are about 18-24 inches off the ground, and when a dog brushes past them, they attach to our dogs and begin to burrow into their skin to feed.

Ticks can be a little harder for your dog to catch than fleas because ticks cannot jump; they can only crawl. However, ticks are more likely to be active for several seasons of the year, possibly even year-round in climates where it doesn’t freeze, whereas fleas are most common only during the summer months.

Signs that your dog has fleas or ticks

Although the treatments are often talked about together, the signs that your dog might have fleas are quite different from the signs that your dog has one or more ticks.

Ticks

Ticks burrow themselves into a dog’s skin and attach firmly. For this reason, you are most likely to feel a tick on your dog before you see it. If you feel a small, hard bump on your dog’s coat that is new, investigate to see if it could be a tick. Other signs to watch out for are itching or biting at a particular spot, signs of skin irritation, or signs of Lyme disease, which include lethargy, loss of appetite, and fever.

Fleas

It’s easier to miss the signs of tick bites than it is to miss fleas. When a dog has fleas, they will itch incessantly and you may even see the fleas on their coat. You will also likely notice what’s known as “flea dirt,” which is a dark residue left by fleas on other surfaces. You may see this on your dog’s coat, your carpet, or any upholstery/bedding your dog lies on.

Where to Look for Fleas and Ticks on Your Dog

Both fleas and ticks can be difficult to find, especially if your dog has a long, thick coat. Ticks attach firmly to the skin so tightly that they can be extremely difficult to spot. If your dog only has a few fleas, you might miss them buried within your dog’s coat because they are so small that they too are easy to miss, but when there are enough of them, you’ll probably notice them scuttling about on your dog’s coat.

Look for ticks in the warm, dark areas of your dog’s body, such as their “armpits” (under their front legs), near their groin, between toes, in and around ears, near their eyelids, and under their collar. They are usually round and dark and can be easy to mistake for skin tags or small scabs. Fleas also like dark areas, so if you think your dog might have fleas, look on his belly or under his legs.

What Options Are There for Flea Medicine?

There are many options when it comes to flea and tick medicine. Some medicine is aimed at flea and tick prevention, while others are aimed at treatment. There are oral medications, pills, topical medicines, and special medicated collars. Which option you choose will ultimately depend on you and your dog, but factors like lifestyle, climate, and dog breed all affect which option you might ultimately choose.

Flea and Tick Prevention Medicine

Your first defense against fleas and ticks is prevention. It’s important to know that most preventative treatments are marketed as flea medicine, but are formulated to prevent both fleas and ticks. Be sure to check the label on whatever product you look at to be sure what kinds of insects and what insect life stages the medicine treats.

There are three main types of preventative tick and flea repellent for dogs: flea pills, topical applications, and collars. Each one has pros and cons that might make it a better choice for your dog.

Topical Flea Medicine for Dogs

Topical flea medicines are one of the most popular and effective flea treatments for dogs. They are typically applied once a month to a dog’s back, behind their collar. The treatment then spreads to the rest of the dog’s body as it dries and protects them against fleas, flea larvae, and ticks for the entire month. Here’s a video tutorial on how to apply the treatment:

Pros:
Topical medicines are a great choice for many dogs because they are safe, effective, prevent flea and tick problems before they start, and only need to be applied once a month. They also work well for most dogs, even large breeds or senior dogs.

Cons:
Topical flea medicines are are messy and can be dangerous for other members of the family if accidentally ingested. When applying the medicine, you’ll have to be careful to not accidentally get it on yourself. You’ll also need to wait until the medicine has dried before petting your dog, letting them get on the furniture, or allowing them to interact with children or other animals. If you have multiple dogs, it’s important to make sure they don’t lick each other’s medicine off, because it can make them very sick and render the medicine ineffective.

Flea Collars

Flea collars themselves come in several varieties. The most common types are ones that rely on an absorption method similar to topical treatments, but there are also natural flea collars that use rosemary oil to repel fleas and other insects, and there are even newer, high-tech collars that use sound waves to deter pests.

Pros:
Absorption-type flea collars are a great option for those who are on a budget, as they can be less expensive than other types of preventative medicine. Flea collars are also great because some of them last for as long as eight months, which requires much less frequent management on the part of the owner than topical treatments or flea sprays and washes.

Cons:
Flea collars are not necessarily as effective at protecting your dog’s whole body from fleas and ticks when compared to other options. Because of the medicine delivery method, most of the medicine congregates around the dog’s head and neck rather than spreading evenly throughout the body. While the neck is a major hotspot, it’s important to know this distinction.

Another major downside to flea collars is that they shouldn’t be touched because some of the medicine can be harmful to humans. If you have kids at home, for instance, this could be a challenge.

Flea and Tick Treatments

If the preventative measures above don’t work, there are additional medicines that treat dogs who have already been infected with a tick bite or an infestation of fleas. These types of treatments also come in several varieties with their own pros and cons.

Flea Pills for Dogs

Flea pills are typically given to dogs to kill fleas that have already attacked your dog. Different pills kill different kinds of fleas depending on the active ingredient – some kill adult fleas, while others kill flea larvae or prevent eggs from being laid.

Because there are so many different kinds of oral flea pills and because they can perform a variety of different functions, it’s best to ask for your veterinarian’s input to select the best flea pill for your dog.

Flea and Tick Shampoo

Another alternative for treating your dog if they get infested with fleas or ticks is to wash them with a flea/tick shampoo. This is one of the cheapest options for treating your dog if they get fleas, but it’s not a great total solution for several reasons.

Flea/tick shampoos are a great way to quickly kill a large number of fleas if your dog ends up getting a bad flea infection or if you bring home a stray who already has a large number of fleas that you need to get under control before the dog can safely move about your house.

However, flea shampoos for dogs are labor-intensive and usually involve multiple applications. They are best used in conjunction with another flea treatment like flea pills.

Flea Sprays

Flea sprays have many of the same pros and cons of flea shampoos as well as some of the cons of topical treatments. They are easy to use and cost-effective, but they also can be labor-intensive, require multiple applications, and are dangerous if ingested by children or other animals. The fumes can also be dangerous if inhaled. You should only use flea sprays in well-ventilated areas.

What To Look For (& Look Out For) When Purchasing Flea and Tick Medicine

Active Ingredients

Because you are purchasing a medicine, it is important to consider the active ingredients in the product before making a purchase. There are varying opinions about what ingredients are the most effective. Some of the most popular and effective active ingredients in flea and tick medicine are:

  • Afoxolaner (Brand name NexGard)
  • Fipronil (Brand name Frontline)
  • Fluralaner (Brand name Bravecto)
  • Nitenpyram (Brand name Capstar)
  • Spinosad (Brand name Comfortis)

Beyond varying reputations for effectiveness, different ingredients can also affect your dog differently. If your dog has an allergy to one type of medicine or is more at risk of developing its severe side effects, you can opt for a treatment with a different active ingredient.

Potential Toxins

Some common active ingredients, especially those in flea collars and some topical applications, are considered toxic and can be harmful to children, pregnant women, and other animals. Discuss different options with your vet to make sure all members of the family are safe. Some classes of drugs and ingredients to be aware of are:

  • permethrin and pyrethrins (toxic to cats)
  • tetrachlorvinphos, carbaryl, and propoxur (insecticides common in flea collars)
  • fipronil, permethrin, pyrethrins, or imidacloprid (potential carcinogens and nervous system toxins)
  • Isoxazoline (can cause seizures and other neurological problems in some dogs and cats)

Potential Side Effects

Most flea and tick medicines are considered safe by the FDA and have only mild side effects, but as mentioned above, some flea and tick medicine, especially some types of topical preventative treatments, can cause serious side effects like seizures. These side effects are rare, but something you should be aware of, especially if your dog is already prone to seizures or if they are older.

The FDA has specifically identified Bravecto (fluralaner) tablets for dogs, Bravecto (fluralaner) topical solution for cats and dogs, Nexgard (afoxalaner) tablets for dogs, Simparica (sarolaner) tablets for dogs, and Credelio (lotilaner) tablets for dogs as potentially likely to cause seizures.

Medication Interactions

Another consideration when looking for flea and tick medicine for dogs is medication interference. Some flea and tick medicines can render other medications either ineffective or poisonous. Always check with your veterinarian before starting any flea and tick medicine regimen to make sure you choose a treatment option that works with your dog’s current meds.

Specific Medicine for Size and Weight

Some medicines will work better for dogs that are smaller or larger. Most medicines have different formulations for dogs of different sizes. Be sure to use the dosage that is appropriate for your dog’s size and weight. There are even some breed-specific medications based on breeds that have specific sensitivities to different kinds of active ingredients.

Other Ways to Prevent Your Dog from Getting Fleas and Ticks

If you live in an area where fleas and ticks are common, you should work with your veterinarian to find a medicine that will work for your personal needs as a pet owner, as well as for your dog and other members of your family.

However, in addition to choosing a good medicine, you should employ a few other strategies to prevent your dog from getting fleas and ticks. One important step is to be sure to regularly wash your dog’s bedding and vacuum rugs and carpets — ideally once a week.

You should also be sure to regularly inspect your dog, particularly after they’ve been outside in areas where fleas and ticks like to inhabit. Any time your dog goes hiking or walking through tall grasses or small shrubs, give your dog’s coat a once over to make sure they are free and clean.

Refer to the CDC’s guide on how to check for ticks. The same graphic (below) can be used to check for fleas as well.

Conclusion

Finding an effective flea treatment for your dog can be overwhelming. There are so many different types of medicine, including those that are used to prevent fleas from attacking your dog and those that are used to treat your dog once they’ve already been exposed.

When considering which option is right for you, think about the unique needs of your dog as an individual, including your dog’s size and weight, age, special breed considerations, and any other medications your dog is taking.

You should also think about how likely your dog is to encounter fleas and ticks and weigh the pros and cons of different treatment options against the needs of your family. If you have children or other pets, some treatment options may be safer than others.

Overall, it’s best to consult your veterinarian before making a final decision. A vet will be able to help you make the best decision for you, your family, and your dog in order to keep them free of fleas and ticks all season long.

References

Info on Fleas and Ticks

https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/guide/dog-ticks-and-fleas

https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/ticks-in-dogs

Finding Fleas and Ticks

https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/avoid/on_pets.html

https://pets.webmd.com/spot-fleas

Flea and Tick Medicine

https://www.nrdc.org/stories/nontoxic-ways-protect-your-pet

https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/fact-sheet-pet-owners-and-veterinarians-about-potential-adverse-events-associated-isoxazoline-flea

https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/flea-pills-dogs/

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