Flea and Tick Treatment For Dogs: Proven Paths to Protection?

By: Dr Pippa Elliott
Last Updated:

Flea and tick treatment for dogs can be confusing with all the products claiming to be the answer.

Long gone are the days of a simple choice between flea and tick collar or a powder. Now there are spot-ons, tablets, and sprays, which not only kill fleas but other critters as well…plus worm the dog.

Indeed, the more cynical pet parent might think this is a triumph of marketing over need. Is it really essential to use a product all year round? Well, as it happens, it is.

Protecting a pet against parasites is far from a luxury and a basic responsibility for all owners.

Here’s why good flea and tick control for dogs is necessary, and how to find the option that best meets your pet’s needs.

Why Fleas and Ticks are Unhealthy ‘Guests’?

We all have a living to make, and parasites are no different. However, parasites make their living at the expense of their host. Not only do they have the ‘Yewh’ factor, but they make your pet sick.

Fleas and Ill Health

The most obvious problem about fleas on dogs is itchy skin. For some dogs flea bites can trigger an allergic reaction resulting in scabs, hot spots, and considerable distress. But even non-allergic dogs find flea bites irritating and are liable to scratch themselves raw.

Then there are problems such as:

  • Anemia: Fleas on dogs suck blood. A heavy flea burden can lead to anemia.
  • Tapeworms: Fleas carry tapeworm eggs inside. When a dog swallows a flea they can become infected with tapeworms.

Tick Borne Diseases

Ticks are not just unpleasant, they are downright dangerous to health [*]. They are responsible for transmitting a wide range of undesirable conditions such as:

  • Lyme disease
  • Babesiosis
  • Rocky mountain spotted fever
  • Canine hepatozoonosis
  • Ehrilichia

 These diseases can have a life-altering impact and in some cases are fatal. By far the best policy is prevention with good tick control.

[*] Dependent on geographical location.

And as for treating all year round…

In the old days it used to be fleas became dormant in the chill winter months. But these days it’s the norm to have indoor heating in the winter. This means it’s flea season all year round…making all year treatment necessary.

And as for ticks. Again, they can become dormant in winter…but only if the temperatures go low enough and there’s snow on the ground. But if the winter is unseasonably mild, ticks can persist in the environment.

Also adequate protection against tick-borne diseases means using an effective product in advance of the tick season. So in the average year the dog gets a month off treatment at best, which experts say is a needless risk.

The Safety of Flea and Tick Treatment for Dogs

You don’t want fleas on dogs, but you don’t want to harm the dog. Therefore it’s entirely reasonable for a pet parent to question the wisdom of repeatedly applying chemicals to their pet.

But there’s good news. When used correctly at the recommended dose, there’s a huge volume of evidence to prove these products are safe…in both the short and long term.

Every licensed flea and tick treatment for dogs has to go through rigorous clinical trials. These monitor the side effects and measure how well the product works. If you want to check the possible risks out, each product has a datasheet which lists what can be expected. Read this, before dosing your dog.

A Greater Risk…

But here’s a thought. The odds of an active dog that exercises in woodland picking up a tick (and possibly a tick borne disease) are very high. With tick-borne disease being potentially deadly, the greater risk becomes not protecting your pet against these parasites.

Protecting Your Dog Correctly Gives You Peace Of Mind When They Are Enjoying The Environment

A Spot-on is a Spot-on: Right?

There are so many products on the market, each with a subtly different spectrum of activity, that the choice is baffling.

For example, take two best-selling flea products, one containing fipronil (Frontline) and the other selamectin (Stronghold or Revolution). Both are spot-ons, which makes them pretty similar, right? Wrong!

The different active ingredients work against a different range of parasites. So although the method of application is the same, the result is not.

  • Fipronil kills:
    • Fleas
    • Ticks
  • Selamectin kills:
    • Fleas
    • Mange mites
    • Roundworms
    • But NOT ticks

Thus, selamectin (Stronghold/ Revolution) is a poor choice if you want to protect against Lyme disease in a tick infested area.

How to Choose the Best Flea and Tick Treatment for your Pet

To identify which flea and tick treatment for dogs is best suited to your pet takes a bit of thought. Your task is to work out what works for you, and then pass this wish-list onto the vet. It’s their job to match your requirements to the product.

Highly effective flea and tick products are available as:

  • Tablets
  • Spot-on products
  • Sprays
  • Collars

So there is something to match all needs.

Drawing up a Wish List

Ask yourself the following and draw up a wish-list:

  • How good am I at remembering when to apply a product?
    • If you always forget, then look for a long acting option. The Seresto collar works for 7 -8 months, therefore you could put it on in the early spring and forget about it until the autumn.
    • Chewable tablets such as Bravecto, give three months protection at a time. Again, a great option, simply set yourself a three-monthly reminder on your phone
  • Is cuddling or swimming likely?
    • Some products need to be applied to the skin and allowed to dry in for hours or overnight. A child hugging the dog immediately after application could rub the product off. If this is the case a tablet or collar might be better.
    • Some spot-ons aren’t water-resistant and can be deactivated by swimming, whilst others are waterproof after 48 hours.
  • Do you live in a tick hotspot?
    • Do you know that some products kill ticks more quickly than others?
    • Dogs that exercise in woods, scrub, or heathland, or indeed in certain geographical locations, are at greater risk of coming into contact with ticks. These dogs need a product that kills ticks quickly, before they transmit infection.
  • How important is cost?
    • If you have several dogs, all of different sizes, then purchasing tablets or spot-ons for each size can work out expensive. Great if cost is not option, but for those where it’s an issue, then consider a spray. This can usually be used on all sizes, since it’s just a matter of saturating the coat.

From this brainstorming write a list of your priorities, and then have a chat to your vet. They can match you up with the product that’s the best fit for your needs.

Flea and Tick Control without Pharmaceuticals: It is Possible?

Do you have to go down the chemical route?

Yes and no.

Browse the internet and you’ll come up against ‘all natural’ products that kills parasites. Some are better than others.

Some ‘natural’ products just don’t work, which leaves your pet exposed to the risk of tick-borne infections. If you’re tempted to trial one, then read the label carefully to see the product is FDA approved. If it doesn’t have approval, then it’s not proven to work. How comfortable are you gambling with your pet’s health?

However, some natural products do work. But there’s a catch. These extracts of essential oils have a limited persistence of activity, often no more than two hours. This means soaking the pet’s coat in product before both the morning and evening walk…not much fun, for anyone. And the dog will quickly get fed-up with being spritzed with essentials oils.

So what other alternatives are there?

The Daily Tick Check

Actually, the truth is a daily tick check remains essential, regardless of whether you use a product or not.

This is because ticks need to attach for 24 hours before they start feeding (and transfer disease). Thus, check for ticks every day, and use a tick hook to remove any critters you find. Of course, for hairy hounds this is easier said than done!

A Tick Removal Kit is an essential tool in your Anti-tick Armoury

The equivalent for fleas is a daily flea comb. However, this is less successful than for ticks, because fleas only feed on the dog (and live in your soft furnishings). Thus, for each flea you find with a comb, it’s reckoned there are another 20 living in the carpet. Yewh!

OK then, what about organic flea shampoos, surely that’s the best of both worlds? Sadly not. At best, the shampoo protects until it’s totally dry…then there’s little or no residual effect. At worst, the fleas drown in the water and the shampoo has little to do with it…

However, good housekeeping goes a long way to keeping fleas at bay. Vacuum daily and wash pet bedding regularly. This helps remove flea eggs and the dander flea larvae like to munch on, thus starving the critters of their first meal.

And in the yard, sweep up leaves and keep the shrubbery trimmed back, so there are fewer places for the ticks to hide and flourish.

The Big Catch Up

Using a safe product at the recommended dose is a healthier alternative to risking disease. And don’t be put off because you don’t like spot-ons; there are plenty of alternative ways to dose your dog that will fit in with your lifestyle.

When all’s said and done, for the good health of your dog, always protect them against fleas and ticks.

Photo of author


Dr Pippa Elliott
Dr. Pippa graduated as a veterinarian from Glasgow University in 1987. Since then she has worked in companion animal practice and has a special interest in internal medicine. Pippa is housekeeping staff to a naughty puggle, three cats, and a bearded dragon.

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