How to Choose the Safest Flea Treatment for Your Dog

Jennifer Coates, DVM
By Jennifer Coates, DVM. Reviewed by Veronica Higgs, DVM on Apr. 10, 2023
brown and black dog lying in grass with his tongue out

Finding an effective, safe flea treatment for your dog is an important pet parent task. Here’s what you need to know to make sure your dog gets the flea protection they need with as little risk to their health as possible.

What to Consider When Picking the Safest Flea Treatment for Dogs

Keep in mind that no two pets are the same. Therefore, a product that’s commonly considered to be safe flea and tick prevention for dogs may be a great option for one pup but not for another. Factors to consider include:

  • Age: Flea treatments must be age-appropriate; many are not made for puppies younger than eight to 12 weeks of age. Look at the product’s label for this information.

  • Breed: Coat type may influence your decision. While topical flea preventions can be used with all fur coat types (even thick coats), it’s important that the product is applied directly to the dog’s skin. If you have a pet with a thicker coat, this can be challenging—and the medication won’t work correctly if it’s only applied to the dog’s hairs.

  • Your pet’s health history: Your dog’s medications or supplements, concurrent health conditions, and previous reactions to flea and tick preventatives should be taken into account. For example, if your pet has a history of seizures, some flea preventions may be safer than others. 

  • Your pet’s lifestyle: The presence of children and other pets (especially cats) in the household and your pet’s daily activities/exposure to the outdoors are important details.

  • Where you live: Which parasites are common in your area? Is resistance to certain preventatives a concern?

Your veterinarian will take these details into account and help you decide which flea and tick preventative is best for your dog. Many of the safest and most effective options require a veterinarian’s prescription, so have this discussion sooner rather than later.

Types of Safe Flea Treatments for Dogs

Veterinarians typically recommend dog flea and tick collars, topical flea and tick treatments, or oral flea and tick medications (sometimes in combination) to fully protect their patients. Here are a few of the safest flea treatments for dogs on the market today and some of their pros and cons.

Dog Flea and Tick Collars

Under many circumstances, newer dog flea collars are safe options for flea and tick control (unlike older collars, which were largely ineffective).

The Seresto® collar is a very popular and effective option. It uses flumethrin and imidacloprid to kill fleas at multiple stages of development, and kills ticks as well. The collar’s effectiveness lasts up to eight months (as long as you minimize its exposure to water), so it is a convenient alternative to monthly prevention treatments.

However, if you have small children in your home, do not let them play with a Seresto collar or the included reflector clips. Flea and tick collars tend to leave traces of the chemicals that make them effective around the dog’s environment and on your pet, so this may be a concern with young children who tend to put everything in their mouths.

Some dogs have had local skin reactions to the collar that resolve when it’s removed. Always consult your veterinarian before using any flea and tick product, including Seresto.

Topical Flea and Tick Treatments for Dogs

Several safe flea treatments for dogs are available as topical (or spot-on) treatments, and many offer protection against far more than just fleas.

For example, Advantage Multi® is a prescription treatment that uses the active ingredients imidacloprid and moxidectin to kill heartworms, hookworms, whipworms, roundworms, sarcoptic mange mites, and fleas. However, it doesn’t kill ticks and dogs should not be allowed to lick the application site for at least 30 minutes to avoid potentially serious side effects.

Frontline® Plus is an over-the-counter product that uses fipronil and (S)-methoprene to attack fleas and ticks at every life stage. It also eliminates chewing lice and helps to control sarcoptic mange infestations. While it shouldn’t be ingested, a few surreptitious licks by your dog won’t cause major problems.

As is the case with flea and tick collars, if you’re unable to keep your pet away from small children or animals who may come into direct contact with the medication before it has dried or absorbed into your pet’s skin, a topical treatment might not be the ideal solution.

If you have cats in your home, talk to a veterinarian before choosing a topical flea and tick medication for your dog. Some utilize ingredients such as pyrethrin or permethrin, which are incredibly toxic to cats.

Ideally, you should wait several days after application to bathe your dog. Topical treatments generally need to be applied monthly.

Oral Flea and Tick Medications for Dogs

There are several oral prescription flea and tick medications that are quite safe for dogs. These preventatives come in pill and chew forms, and your vet can help you find the right one for your pup’s age.

Simparica® is an excellent choice for flea and tick protection. The monthly chew also comes with an option for heartworm protection, too, as Simparica® Trio. But while Simparica® is usually safe flea and tick treatment for dogs, it shouldn’t be prescribed to dogs with a history of seizures.

Trifexis employs spinosad and milbemycin oxime to keep dogs protected from heartworms and intestinal parasites as well as fleas, but it does not work against ticks. Your vet will need to prescribe this treatment.

Bravecto chews (it also comes as a topical) offer long-lasting protection from fleas and ticks—up to 12 weeks per dose. It uses the active ingredient fluralaner, which kills adult fleas and ticks. Bravecto also requires a prescription from your veterinarian. But, like Simparica, Bravecto shouldn’t be prescribed to dogs with a history of seizures.

Oral flea and tick medications are great for households with small children or other small pets who may be in danger of coming into contact with the chemical residue from flea collars or topical medications. The most common side effect reported for prescription oral flea medications is vomiting.

No medication is without the risk of side effects, but leaving parasites untreated is far more dangerous, as your pet could develop flea-related or tick-borne diseases. Your veterinarian can help you pick out the safest and most effective flea and tick treatment based on your dog’s age, lifestyle, health status, and other unique characteristics.

Featured Image: iStock.com/Gabi Uhrova


Jennifer Coates, DVM

WRITTEN BY

Jennifer Coates, DVM

Veterinarian

Dr. Jennifer Coates is an accomplished veterinarian, writer, editor, and consultant with years of experience in the fields of veterinary...


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