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The best flea treatments for dogs

Updated June 23, 2020

Created By

Kristen Bobst,, Andy Bowen

How we picked our favorites

We avoided products with Fipronil — There’s a consistent message among vets: Fipronil is no longer effective for killing biting pests. That’s why you don’t see Frontline or Sentry in our list of favorites.

We made recommendations from every category — It’s important to consider multiple types of flea medications. For example, your pet might develop a rash to a topical solution. In that case, our vets recommend switching to a different method or active ingredient. We picked at least one favorite from all six categories: oral meds, shampoos, sprays, collars, powders, and topical treatments.

The essentials

  • You have options. Choices include tablets, topical medications, powders, sprays, shampoos, and collars. If your dog responds poorly to one, try another.
  • Some flea control solutions also prevent ticks, heartworms, and other parasites, too. Depending on your pet’s needs, the flea control you choose can check multiple boxes.
  • Natural products are an option. Some collars, sprays, powders, and shampoos rely on non-pesticide ingredients to deter fleas.

Flea treatment options and how each works

Ask any dog who has ever had a flea infestation, and they will tell you that flea control is not optional. At the least, flea bites are unpleasant. At worst, they can lead to serious problems, especially in dogs with flea allergies. Flea allergies are not rare. According to VCA Hospitals, flea allergy dermatitis is one of the main causes of allergies in dogs. Even if your pooch isn’t allergic, you still want them to be happy, healthy, and bite-free.

The good news is that options abound for flea control! Because there are so many types of flea control on the market, so you have to consider a few things before settling on a solution.

Some factors that might influence your flea control decision include:

  • Vet recommendations
  • Budget
  • Your dog’s sensitivities
  • Potential drug interactions with your dog’s other meds
  • Your personal preferences
  • Consideration of other pets in your household
  • Consideration of children in your household
  • Whether you prefer all-natural products versus prescription solutions

Not all flea treatments work the same way. Some flea control treatments treat just your dog — others you use around the home and yard. There are a lot of flea control products out there. Long story short, finding the right flea control solution comes down to figuring out what works best for you, your dog, and your other pets and family members. Don’t worry! We are here to help you fend off those tiny jumping vampires. We’ve got information about your flea control options. Our betterpet experts have also chosen their top recommendations.

Oral flea medications

Typically taken monthly, oral medications come in pill or chewable form. Some oral medications kill off current flea infestations but are not preventative. Others serve as both a treatment for a current infestation as well as preventing future fleas from biting your dog. Some work just for fleas. Some oral medications prevent ticks, mites, and worms.

Pros 👍 Effective, goes to work quickly, some are preventative, can protect against ticks and worms in addition to fleas, can be washed off with bathing

Cons 👎Expensive, some oral meds might cause stomach upset

Oral Flea Medications

Common active ingredients and what they do

Lufenuron Kills flea larvae
Spinosad Kills adult fleas
Nitenpyram (also known as Capstar and Bestguard) Kills adult fleas and fly larvae
Milbemycin oxime Prevents heartworms, kills heartworm babies (microfilaria)
Praziquantel Kills tapeworms
Sarolaner (also known as Simparica) Kills fleas and ticks
Fluralaner (also known as Bravecto) Kills fleas, ticks, and mites
Afoxolaner (also known as NexGard) Kills fleas and ticks; May be used off-label to kill mites, too

Topical flea medications

You apply these drops between your dog’s shoulder blades once a month. Topical medications are sometimes called “spot-on” or “one-spot” treatments. Many topical flea meds can not only kill current flea infestations but also prevent your dog from getting bit again. Many works against ticks and heartworms, too.

Pros 👍 Effective, easier than giving a pill (for some dogs!), great for dogs with food allergies

Cons 👎Can be messy, water dogs will need a waterproof topical, some dogs can rub it off by rolling or scratching, can cause skin irritation, extremely toxic/lethal to cats (if your dog comes in contact with their kitty friends)

Topical Flea Medications

Common active ingredients and what they do

Imidacloprid Kills adult fleas, flea larvae, and flea eggs
Fipronil Kills fleas and ticks
Metaflumizone Kills fleas and ticks
Selamectin Kills fleas, heartworms, ticks, and some mites
Dinotefuran Kills fleas on contact
Permethrin Kills fleas, prevents ticks
Etofenprox Kills fleas, prevents ticks

Flea sprays

Some flea sprays are applied directly to your dog. Others are used to spray furniture and bedding. Be careful to note the difference!  Several flea sprays, like these eco-friendly sprays (that work as repellents rather than as true preventatives), also fight against other pesky bugs like mosquitos.

Sprays come with a bonus for those who derive great joy from spritzing things but who would like a more natural or herbal product. You have more natural options with sprays than with some of the other methods of flea control.

Flea Sprays

Common active ingredients and what they do

Pyrethrins Kills fleas and ticks
Permethrin Kills fleas
Pyriproxyfen Kills fleas and eggs
Essential oils (peppermint, cedarwood, lemongrass) Deter fleas

Flea powders

This type of treatment is either sprinkled into your dog’s coat or around your home. Again, similar to flea sprays, many flea powders use all-natural ingredients. However, some contain what may be considered as harsh chemicals.

Pros 👍 All-natural options, easy to use

Cons 👎Some contain harsh pesticides, less effective than other methods

Flea Powders

Common active ingredients and what they do

Pyrethrins Kills fleas and ticks
*Diatomaceous earth Kills fleas
Essential oils (thyme, lemongrass, rosemary, etc) Deter fleas

*Diatomaceous earth must be used carefully. Our betterpet veterinarian Erica Irish notes that “If applied or handled too much, diatomaceous earth can be breathed in and cause nste and throat irritation. It can also cause eye irritation and exacerbate lung conditions.”

Flea collars

Flea collars can work in a couple of different ways. Some flea collars give off a pesticide that deters fleas from jumping on your dog and biting. Others include medicine that is absorbed into your dog’s skin. There are a few natural flea collar options that use scent to deter fleas, too.

Pros 👍Inexpensive, natural options available, long-lasting

Cons 👎Might not protect the whole dog, can cause skin irritation around the neck, can fall off

Flea Collars

Common active ingredients and what they do

Amitraz Kills fleas and ticks
Geraniol Deters fleas
Citronella Deters fleas
Cinnamon Deters fleas

Flea shampoos

Flea shampoos have been around for quite a long time. They’ve also come a long way. Keep in mind that some shampoos only kill off a current infestation. Others also prevent future bites.  There are many natural options when it comes to flea shampoos, too. Pay attention to the label to see how long the suds of your choice last when it comes to keeping your pup flea-free.

Pros 👍 Easy to use, inexpensive, natural options available

Cons 👎Limited effectiveness, many ingredients are toxic to cats, shampoos may strip oil from the skin making other topical products less effective

Flea Shampoos

Common active ingredients and what they do

Pyrethrins Kills fleas and ticks
Pyriproxyfen Kills fleas and eggs
Piperonyl butoxide Kills fleas and eggs
Phenothrin Kills fleas and ticks
Dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate & undecylenic acid Softens flea exoskeleton, then kills fleas
Essential oils (peppermint, cedarwood, lemongrass, etc)Essential oils (peppermint, cedarwood, lemongrass, etc) Deter fleas

Everything you need to know about your dog's least favorite insect a.k.a the flea

Fleas are insects that survive by feeding off of other animal’s blood. This makes them tiny little parasites. Fleas have four stages of life: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Eggs take about two weeks to hatch. Our betterpet expert Erica Irish, DVM, has a flea egg not-so-fun fact for you. She explains, “[Fleas] can hang around in the egg stage for MONTHS until heat, humidity, and movement are detected. For example, if you move into a vacant apartment with carpeting and the eggs sense your dog? Boom. Flea terrorism.

After hatching, the larval stage lasts from four to eighteen days. The larva then forms a cocoon, and while they are transforming into an adult flea, they are called pupae. It takes as little as five days for fleas to go from pupa to adult. Once they’ve reached adulthood, fleas can live up to three months. The more they feed on your dog, the longer they live. According to VCA Hospitals, a single female flea can lay 40 eggs a day. There are over 2000 known species of flea.

FAQs

How can I recognize a flea infestation on my dog?

If your dog is itching, fleas could be the culprit. However, lots of things make dogs itch, so you have to take a good look at your pup’s skin to be sure. Flea bites leave raised red dots on your dog’s skin. If your dog has an infestation, they will chew or even bite their skin. Hair loss and scabs are symptoms of a serious flea problem. Fleas can even lead to bacterial dermatitis.

Is there a way to see if there are fleas in my yard?

One low-tech way to do this is to put on white socks. Then walk around the lawn for a bit. If you have an infestation, your socks will be covered in little dark dots. Also, if you live in an area with feral cats or lots of wildlife, you have an increased risk of fleas. Fleas also like shady, sandy areas, so be on the lookout.

Are flea medications safe?

The danger with flea medications relates to if your dog has an allergy to the medication or a history of seizures. This is why it’s of the utmost importance to always consult with your pup’s vet before using any kind of treatment, flea, or otherwise. Generally, if you use a vet-recommended product and follow the instructions, you and your pup will be A-OK. However, if you have children or other pets, you will want to be certain that whatever you are using is safe for them, too.

Do fleas bite humans?

Yep…If you’ve never been bitten by a flea, you are lucky. Flea bites leave tiny red marks, but they can itch like crazy.

How can I tell if my dog has a flea allergy?

Instead of just having little red marks, your dog’s skin will be red all over. Your pup will scratch and chew and let you know that there is something wrong. Fleas love to bite dogs’ lower backs and tail bases. That’s where your vet is likely to look first for skin lesions related to flea bite dermatitis.

Do natural/organic treatments work, as well as treatments with more powerful chemicals?

This all depends on a few factors. Depending on where you live and what you do, your dog might be OK with all-natural treatments. Some dogs who live where fleas thrive might require a more potent solution. Our betterpet expert Erica Irish, DVM, has this to say about natural flea treatments, “Are they better at repelling fleas? Some. Are they better at killing fleas? Definitely not.”