How to Prevent and Get Rid of Fleas and Ticks on Dogs

Katie Grzyb, DVM
Written by:
Published: July 18, 2022
How to Prevent and Get Rid of Fleas and Ticks on Dogs

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Fleas and ticks are pesky external parasites that love to hide in your dog’s fur and attach themselves to the skin for feeding. Dogs that spend time outdoors, especially in high grass or wooded areas, are at risk, but they can also be found in shorter grass and around shrubs in your yard.

Ticks and fleas are commonly seen in warmer months, but some can also survive freezing temperatures. They also jump from pet to pet, so even if your dog stays indoors most of the time, these parasites can find a way to infest her body.

Fleas and ticks often carry other parasites and diseases that can be harmful to your dog’s health and in some cases may be fatal. Humans are also at risk of medical issues since these parasites are interested in feeding on blood from animals or humans and they can live in your home in search of their next host.

It’s critical to learn proper flea and tick removal as well as prevention to stop disease transmission from occurring, keeping you and your pet healthier and happier.

How To Get Rid of Ticks and Fleas on Dogs

To get rid of ticks and fleas on your dog, know how to look for them.

Ticks tend to be larger than fleas, though they often like to move to warm, dark, moist areas on the body. It is important to frequently feel your dog all over, including in between the toes, ears, armpits, groin, and facial folds. Try to check daily if your pet is often outdoors, or a few times weekly if they only go out for walks.

The sooner a tick is located and removed, the less likely it is that medical issues will occur, since it takes several hours (usually up to 36 hours) for disease transmission to occur once a tick attaches to the skin. Brushes and combs may be helpful to search for ticks, but a thorough once-over with your hands is the best way to find a tick on your dog. Always wash your hands after checking your dog for ticks.

Removal of Ticks on Dogs

Once a tick is located, use small tweezers to grab the tick at the base where it has burrowed into the skin and lift with steady, firm upward pressure. Once the tick mouth is removed from the skin, place this tick in a container or a plastic bag and contact your veterinarian. Use a small amount of alcohol or antiseptic to dab the affected area of your dog’s skin after removal.

Removal of Fleas on Dogs

Fleas are smaller than ticks and typically infest many areas of the body. Symptoms include intense itching, hair loss, skin redness, and scrapes on the body. The first place to start your search is at the base of your dog’s tail or neck, parting the fur and looking closely for any small, dark, jumping bugs. Sometimes adult fleas are not found actively hopping. You may also see small white specks at the base of the hair, which are flea eggs, or dark specks on the skin, which are flea droppings.  

The easiest way to find fleas on your dog is by using a flea comb. When you comb through the fur, flea eggs or droppings may be visible, which is confirmation of flea infestation. Fleas tend to be more difficult to remove than ticks, because they are smaller and more numerous. Even if you remove the adult fleas with simple bathing, the eggs will eventually hatch or fleas in the home will jump back onto your dog, causing another infestation.

Medicated baths, flea medications, and flea/tick preventatives are necessary to ensure there are no further issues. 

Medications for Fleas and Ticks on Dogs

There are no current medications that kill ticks on contact with the skin, but some medications kill adult fleas and flea larvae on a dog. The flea must be attached to the skin for the medication to be effective. Specifically, Capstar and Advantus kill fleas on your dog but only work for a short time. This is often a first line of therapy recommended by your veterinarian when there is a severe infestation and the fleas need to be eradicated quickly.

Following this treatment, your veterinary team will often recommend bathing your dog by using unscented Dawn dish soap if you don’t have doggy shampoo at home. This will be followed by a thorough combing of the fur to remove all dead fleas, larvae, and eggs.

These treatments must be followed by prescription flea and tick prevention medicine, since they don’t last long. Also, the home needs to be treated to prevent fleas from jumping back onto your dog, causing the same issue.

Shampoos and Sprays for Fleas and Ticks on Dogs

Flea and tick shampoos must be used with caution and under the supervision of a veterinarian. Many of these over-the-counter products can cause toxicity if they are ingested or if an inappropriate product is used. These shampoos are not usually recommended treatments for dogs with flea/tick infestation, as they tend to not last long and are often ineffective.

Frontline and Advantage offer shampoos/sprays that will kill fleas and ticks, but without continued use, the parasites will recur.

Other Products for Fleas and Ticks on Dogs

Flea collars tend to only prevent fleas around the neck, where the collar is placed, and don’t protect elsewhere on the body. The Seresto collar is a great option for flea and tick prevention, but not once a flea infestation is found.

Flea and tick dips and powders are not used often anymore because they can cause more harm through toxicity and don’t have a long-lasting effect.

How To Get Rid of Fleas and Ticks in Your Home

Treating your yard and home for ticks and fleas is one of the best ways to prevent infestation or re-infestation. Ways to protect your yard include:

  • Keep grass mowed and trim all shrubbery.

  • Seal all open spaces where outdoor animals could nest. Avoid leaving food out for neighborhood animals such as feral cats or other critters like raccoons and opossums.

  • There are effective OTC flea and tick yard sprays, but it is important to discuss these options with your veterinarian or landscaper first to make sure these products are safe for your pets if ingested.

Flea infestation in the home can become more of a problem than ticks, since fleas are often found in high numbers. Ways to protect your home during a flea infestation include:

  • Frequent vacuuming to rid common places for these parasites to live.

  • Vacuuming furniture like fabric chairs and couches, as well as baseboards and under any dog beds in the house.

  • Changing vacuum bags or emptying the vacuum container often and in an enclosed environment outside of the home.

  • Washing your dog’s bedding and toys in hot water a few times weekly to kill any immature fleas.  

In cases of severe home infestation or if your dog continues to have recurrent flea/tick infestations, contact an exterminator to discuss pet-friendly options for flea bombing the home environment.

How To Prevent Fleas and Ticks on Dogs

Prevention of fleas and ticks is much safer and simpler than treatment of possible issues once your dog has been infected. There are many options on the market that work to prevent flea and tick infestation, though none are 100% effective, which means routine body checks and home cleaning are still important. Preventative pills, topicals, and collars should be discussed with your veterinarian to determine the best options based on your pet’s lifestyle.

Flea and/or tick preventative pills for dogs include:

  • Isooxazoline ingredient products:

    • Bravecto, NexGard, Credelio, and Simparica Trio

    • The active ingredient in these products kills fleas and ticks once they bite your dog, by attacking the parasite’s nervous system. These are safe, effective products, though vets have noted a low risk of seizures, which seems to affect those dogs with a tendency for seizure behavior (such as epileptic dogs).

  • Spinosad ingredient products:

    • Comfortis and Trifexis

    • These products are only for flea prevention and are not effective against ticks. The active ingredient in these products is an insecticide that targets the flea’s nervous system. These products have a high safety margin with little concern for toxicity.

  • Lufenuron ingredient products:

    • Sentinel

    • This is an insect-growth regulator (IGR) that does not kill adult fleas but prevents flea eggs from hatching. It is a good choice for controlling infestation. Sentinel is not effective against ticks and has a high safety margin with little concern for toxicity.

All these products are used monthly, except for Bravecto, which is dosed every 12 weeks.

Topical flea and tick preventatives include:

  • Frontline

  • Revolution

  • Advantix

  • Advantage Plus

These were once the main line for prevention, but recent studies have found these products to be less effective. Many veterinarians now believe that this is due to resistance against the active ingredients since they have been around for so long, inappropriate application (applying immediately before or after a bath can decrease efficacy), or the pet rubbing or licking the product off.

Flea and tick collars have been shown to be effective in the control of these parasites if used and replaced correctly. The most successful products are prescribed by your veterinarian. OTC products aren’t very effective and can allow breakthrough infestations

Even though fleas and ticks are annoying creatures that like to feed on your doggies or even you, there are many options for protecting your dog and yourself from these parasites. It is important to discuss all options with your veterinarian to determine the best course of action based on your pet’s medical history, the degree of infestation, and their lifestyle habits.

Featured Image: iStock.com/AleksandarNakic


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