Out, Out Darned Flea! The Best Flea and Tick Medications

Warm weather brings more than flowers and walks in the park. It also brings the dreaded flea and tick season, which can be detrimental to your dog’s comfort and health. These parasites are not only a nuisance, but they can spread disease and other parasites as well. Fleas have been known to transmit tapeworm, cause flea-related dermatitis, and in severe infestations result in anemia in some dogs. Ticks can spread bacteria, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and both human and canine Ehrlichiosis (which causes widespread inflammation and sometimes bleeding disorders). In some cases, a dog will be especially sensitive to the toxins found in tick saliva that may result in paralysis of the nervous system. Much more could be going on with your pet than incessant scratching and biting! Taking the necessary

precautions can result in relief for you and your pooch. But with so many flea and tick products on the market, how does one choose the right product for their needs?

There are many types of medications, shampoos, dips, sprays, collars and powders available to the fastidious pet owner. Understanding their limitations, effectiveness, drawbacks and just how they work is essential to determining which product to select.

Prescription Medications

These medications are prescribed by your veterinarian and are the leaders in the latest flea and tick preventative technology. They are extremely effective and work to prevent fleas and ticks from infesting your pet and subsequently your home. They include topical solutions that a person administers directly to the skin of the animal (which then penetrates the bloodstream). These medications are typically applied between the pet’s shoulders and/or base of the tail. Prescription medications also include pills or tablets, much like the heartworm medication you give your dog. These medications go beyond eliminating the parasites. Most contain Insect Growth Regulators (IGR’s) that prevent the hatching of eggs and maturing of larvae. In this way, they kill the critters before they have a chance to infest your carpet or other pets. They require limited amounts of application and work continuously for up to a month depending on the product. They may be a tad more expensive than other solutions, but considering their effectiveness and simplicity they can save you much time and money in the long run. Prescription medications include:

  • Advantage: this is a waterproof topical medication that lasts up to 30 days. One application is all that is required and it is said to kill 98 to 100% of all fleas within 12 hours. It kills fleas before they have a chance to reproduce and therefore breaks their lifecycle. It is safe enough for puppies 8 weeks and older. Fast and easy to use.
  • Frontline Plus: this is another waterproof topical medicine. One application works up to 3 months for fleas and 1 month for ticks. It is said to kill 100% of all fleas in 18 hours and 100% of all ticks within 48 hours. It penetrates the dog’s skin and spreads protection over his or her entire body. It is safe for puppies over 8 weeks old and is considered the #1 treatment preferred by most veterinarians.
  • Sentinel: this is a 3-in-1 oral parasite treatment. One beef flavored tablet will give your dog prevention from heartworms, intestinal worms and fleas for up to one month. This should be used year-round (like most medications) and is 100% effective for heartworm, 99.5% for roundworms, 98.8% for hookworms, 97% for whipworm and 100% for fleas. It also prevents flea eggs from hatching. It is safe for puppies 4 weeks and older who weigh over 2 pounds. The cost is at average $10 per month and will save you loads on individual treatments. However, your dog must be tested for heartworms before administering this medication. No mention of effectiveness on ticks.


Shampoos do provide relief for your pup, but usually only work to kill adult fleas. New fleas can infest your dog in a matter of days since they do not provide continuous protection. Also, if your pooch doesn’t care for a “b-a-t-h” you may be looking at a big mess in your bathroom. They can be time consuming and unpleasant. However, if you are comfortable with the idea of shampooing, or use this in conjunction with preventative measures, the following shampoos are effective:

  • Davis Triple Pyrethrin Shampoo: this is a thick blue solution that contains aloe and pyrethrin (a pesticide derived from chrysanthemums). It is safe to use on pups above 4 weeks old. However one must adhere to the dosage recommended and not over-dose, as toxicity is related to the overuse of pyrethrin. When used according to label directions, it is safe and effective. Generally with this product, a tablespoon will shampoo a dog weighing 15 pounds. It targets fleas and ticks and a 12 ounce bottle usually costs around $8. Keep this away from children and only use on pets.
  • Neem Bug Free by Ark Naturals: if the idea of a shampoo containing pyrethrins makes you nervous, this is an all-natural alternative. The key ingredient is neem oil, which is derived from the neem tree indigenous to India. Neem extracts are said to have antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties as well as being helpful in curing wounds. Therefore, it won’t irritate flea bites or skin sensitivities. It is gentle enough for puppies and normal pet-bathing requirements. An 8 ounce bottle typically runs for $12 and targets fleas and other blood sucking insects.
  • Citronella Oil: if you want to make your own flea shampoo, simply add citronella oil to the pet shampoo of your choice. It is organic (citronella is made from lemon skins) and inexpensive. Add 1cc of citronella per quart of shampoo or 4cc per gallon. It will linger on your pet to repel fleas and is safe for pups of all ages. Smells nice, too!

Powders, dips, sprays, foggers and collars

These more traditional methods of flea control can be messy, time consuming and sometimes even dangerous. It is best to limit the use of these products and use them in conjunction with preventative measures. If your home is carpeted, you may need to use a carpet and upholstery powder and vacuum religiously. Fogging one’s home should be a last resort in the case of serious infestations or if you have more than one pet since there are health risks to consider. They should be used only as directed. Most of these methods kill only adult fleas and have little or no residual activity, so it is important to keep reusing them at the proper intervals. Although I believe that there are more effective means for flea control, not all of the products out there are inadequate. When used properly and in addition to preventative medications, they can be quite effective. Among the more noteworthy products are:

  • Zodiac FleaTrol Carpet and Upholstery Powder: this powder actually kills fleas and ticks in all stages of life, including eggs, larvae and pupae. It will treat up to 400 square feet and controls against re-infestation for up to 12 months. A great way to get rid of fleas where your dog lies! A 1 pound bottle costs around $9.
  • Adams Inverted Carpet Spray: this carpet spray contains Nylar (an Insect Growth Regulator which aids in eliminating fleas in all stages of life) and Linalool (a botanically derived insecticide). The spray is safe for all carpets or rugs. 16 ounces costs around $13.
  • Zodiac FleaTrol Plus IGR Foggers: this fogger is sold in packs of three 6 ounce cans which together treat up to 2250 square feet. It penetrates carpets, drapes, upholstery, pet bedding and cracks in the floor and leaves no lingering odor. Since it contains an IGR, fleas are eliminated in all stages. It not only kills fleas and ticks but also roaches, ants, silverfish, spiders and mosquitoes. Use only as directed. The three pack costs around $11.

Never allow your dog to come into contact with a wet premise spray as it may be hazardous to their health. Always adhere to the directions on the label and use only as recommended.

It is always best to consult your veterinarian regarding flea and tick control. They can tell you what will be best for your pet and most effective in the home. Always consult your vet before mixing combinations of insecticide methods, since improper mixtures are usually more toxic than one alone. By being vigilant year round you can avoid problems as flea and tick season thickens. So stop and admire the flowers as you and your pup enjoy those springtime walks in the park…just be prepared to combat the wee bugs lurking next to them!

by Rebecca Ash