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Flea Treatment and Prevention for Dogs

Medications to Keep Dogs Flea-Free

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No dog owner wants to see fleas. However, if you feel that fleas are just annoying, think again. Fleas pose a significant health risk to dogs and other animals, including humans. These tiny external parasites feed on the blood of mammals, and their bites can lead to several health issues.

When it comes to fleas, prevention is the the best method. However, when fleas are detected, swift action will help prevent a major infestation. Fortunately, in this day and age, even a major infestation can be dealt with.

Flea prevention is seen in many forms. Some are only available with a prescription, while others come over-the-counter. Some flea prevention products also include heartworm prevention and protection from intestinal parasites. Many owners prefer to give one of the "all-in-one" products because they are easier to keep track of and ultimately less expensive. This list can help you tell the differences among the various product types. However, be aware that there are always new products coming on the market. Before you make a final decision, be sure to talk to your vet about the best options for you and your pet.

Oral Flea Prevention

Oral flea prevention/treatment typically comes in the form of a tablet. It may or may not be chewable (flavored). The pill releases a chemical into the dog's bloodstream that affects the flea after it bites the dog. Some drugs (like Program and Sentinel) simply cause the flea to become sterilized. Others actually kill the flea (like Comfortis, Trifexis and Capstar). These products are typically given once a month, with the exception of Capstar (which only lasts 24-48 hours). Most oral forms of flea prevention are available by prescription only. No more than one type of oral treatment should be used at the same time. However, certain oral treatments can sometimes be used in conjunction with a topical treatment.

Topical Flea Treatments

"Spot-on" topical treatments like Advantage, Frontline, Revolution and Vectra 3D are distributed in the dog's natural skin oils and work to kill adult fleas. Some have additional ingredients that sterilize fleas. Typically, the spot-on treatments need to be applied monthly. They are usually water-resistant, meaning you can bathe your dog with a mild shampoo 3 or more days after applying the product. Be aware that not all "spot-on" products are equal. Generally, those sold in grocery stores are ineffective. When it comes to topical flea prevention, you typically get what you pay for. Talk to your vet about the best options. No more than one type of topical treatment should be used at the same time. However, a topical treatment can sometimes be used in conjunction with an oral treatment.

Shampoos, Dips and Sprays

Shampoos, dips and topical sprays designed to kill fleas may work when it comes to removing fleas from your dog at that moment, but they rarely last longer than a day or so. When your dog is again exposed to newly-emerged fleas, he will easily become re-infested. Flea shampoos, dips and sprays contain toxic chemicals that, in high enough doses, can actually harm dogs (especially small or sensitive dogs). In addition, these products should not be used in conjunction with topical spot-on treatments, as they may cancel each other out or increase the risk of chemical toxicity.

Flea Collars

Flea collars are relatively ineffective. They might kill or repel some fleas around the area of the collar, but rarely prevent the fleas from jumping on other parts of the pet.

Natural Flea Prevention

For ages, people have tried to come up with home remedies and natural products to ward off fleas. While natural remedies are useful for a number of issues, generally flea treatment is not one of them.

Some say a bit of garlic in the diet helps to prevent flea infestations. In reality, this is not typically affective. In addition, excess garlic in the diet can lead to toxicity for some dogs. Another natural method is the use of essential oils and/or herbs on the pet's skin and coat. Unfortunately, there is not sufficient documented evidence regarding the effectiveness of this method.

If you choose to go the natural method, just remember three things:

  1. Take care not to poison your pet.
  2. Know when to give up; if you have an infestation, it's time to move on to the chemicals.
  3. Talk to your vet about the best options for your pet.

More Information

For more complete information about flea control products, see these descriptive flea product comparison charts. To determine which flea prevention product is best for your dog, talk to your veterinarian. And remember, a flea infestation is more than just a nuisance, it is a risk to your dog's health. The time to act is before you ever see fleas. Prevention is key!

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