Fleas. Ticks. Doesn’t your skin begin to crawl just thinking about them?
In this post, you’ll learn more about these diminutive demons. And how to use the Best Flea and Tick Prevention for Dogs to vanquish them!
Few of us have actually read ‘The Art of War’ by Sun Tzu but most of us are familiar with this quote:
“know yourself, know your enemy, and you shall win a hundred battles without loss“
1 The Fearsome Flea
1.1 Flea – Introduction
Flea is the common name for the order Siphonaptera.
The order contains around 2,500 species of small (around 3mm) flightless insects that survive as external parasites of mammals and birds.
Fleas survive by consuming the blood of their host animal. They have strong claws that make it difficult to dislodge them and specialised mouthparts to facilitate blood consumption.
Fleas have a well-deserved reputation for being good at jumping. They are able to jump around 100 times their body height. This is facilitated by their powerful hind legs.
The Dog Flea (Ctenocephalides canis) is a species of flea that, as its name suggests, lives primarily on dogs. However, fleas are not species-specific and very often a dog will be found to have Cat Fleas (Ctenocephalides felis) rather than Dog Fleas.
1.2 Flea – Life Cycle
There are 4 stages to the life cycle of the flea:
Egg. The number of eggs laid depends on the species, and ranges between 2 and several dozen. However, note that in the lifetime of an adult female flea it can lay several thousand eggs! The eggs are laid either directly on the host or in areas where it typically nests. The eggs hatch after 2-14 days (depending on conditions).
Larva. After emerging from the eggs the larvae feed on any available organic material. They are blind and will avoid sunlight, preferring dark and humid environments (including carpets and bedding). This stage lasts 4-18 days.
Pupa. After consuming sufficient food, the larvae pupate. Within the cocoon, the larvae metamorphosise into adult form.
Adult. The primary objectives of the newly hatched adult are to find blood and to reproduce. The adult flea typically lives for 2-3 months (although without a host’s blood it can die within days).
1.3 Flea – Impact on Hosts
OK, so the very fact that fleas attach themselves to a host and drink their blood may seem bad enough but what other potential impacts are there?
Going it alone
On their own, fleas can cause an itching sensation in a host, causing a desire for biting or scratching to relieve the sensation.
However, the flea bites also cause swelling and irritation at the site of each bite and this can result in an itchy skin disease called flea allergy dermatitis (the allergic reaction is to the flea saliva). Symptoms include hair loss and rashes.
In extreme cases, fleas can cause anaemia.
With some help
As unpleasant as the above sounds, things get a whole lot worse when we consider the role of fleas as agents in transmitting pathogens.
Fleas can transfer viral and bacterial diseases, and various parasites (including tapeworms).
The most well-known example of this is probably the spread of the Bubonic plague at various times in history (during the Black Death pandemic it is estimated that it killed a third of the population of Europe).
2 The Terrible Tick
2.1 Tick – Introduction
Tick is the common name for the order Ixodida.
The order contains around 900 species of small (around 3-5mm) arachnids that survive as external parasites of mammals and birds (and sometimes reptiles and amphibians too).
Ticks have pear-shaped bodies that become greatly engorged when they consume the blood of their hosts (their weight increasing between 200 – 600 times). They locate their potential hosts by sensing odour, heat, moisture, or vibrations in the environment.
Note that, unlike fleas, ticks are not able to jump (nor fly). They tend to lay in wait on leaves or grasses, with their front legs raised in the air waiting to grasp a passing host – this is known as questing.
Have you heard the expression ‘Dug in like a tick.‘?
It means that something, or someone, is deeply entrenched and would be very difficult to remove. And the basis for the expression is that once a tick gets its mouthpiece into a host it is pretty difficult to remove it because of all the hooks that are used.
If you want to see exactly how this works take a look at the following video (It’s pretty gruesome!)
2.2 Tick – Life Cycle
Whilst there is some variation among tick species as to how many hosts (varying from 1 to 3) are used during the life cycle, the stages themselves are the same.
The 4 stages to the life cycle of the tick:
The adult tick lays between several hundred and several thousand eggs in its preferred environment.
The eggs hatch into larvae which immediately begin to seek a host to attach to and feed on.
Once fed the larvae turn into nymphs which remain on the host. The nymphs also feed on the blood of the host and then turn into adults.
The adults then, you guessed it, feed on the blood of the host before leaving the host and looking for somewhere to lays its eggs.
2.3 Tick – Impact on Hosts
The direct impact, of course, is the loss of blood caused by the unpleasant Dracula impressions.
If you want help visualising just how much blood a tick consumes take a look at the Before and After pictures below.
Now, you may be thinking ‘Come on, ticks are tiny. Losing a small amount of blood can’t be too bad.’
This is true.
However, imagine multiple ticks on a single host – all of them consuming its blood at the same time. It has been known for ticks attacking en masse to kill animals as big as cows by exsanguination!
Furthermore, as with fleas, ticks are transmission agents for a number of pathogens.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, some species of tick are also venomous and can cause paralysis.
And they are a common cause of tapeworms.
3 Best Flea and Tick Prevention for Dogs
So, now that we know a little more about our enemies, let’s consider how we deal with them. There are 2 elements to this:
- Flea and Tick Prevention
Let’s look at what we can do to avoid having these creatures take up residence in the first place.
- Flea and Tick Treatment
Either they got by the prevention somehow or you didn’t take any preventative steps (don’t make the same mistake twice!).
OK, let’s look at the steps that we can take to prevent flea and tick problems.
3.1 Medicinal Treatments
These come in 3 main varieties:
- Topical. The treatment is applied directly to the skin – usually at the back of the neck to reduce the chance of the dog licking it.
- Tablets. The treatment is given to the dog orally.
- Collar. The dog wears a collar that contains the preventative substance.
Topical applications include the ‘Big names’ in flea and tick treatment such as Frontline Spot On (Note that the linked item is for dogs that are 20-40kg, like our Labrador Harvey. If your dog is a different weight scroll down to the ‘Compare with similar items’ section and select the appropriate item.)
The key player in flea and tick prevention through tablets is Bravecto. Note that the nature of this treatment is such that it can only be obtained with a prescription from a vet.
The good old flea collar has been around for a long time. The collars are effective and are also designed to be waterproof.
Note that it has been suggested that ultrasonic flea collars could be used to keep fleas off pets but I have not been able to find any evidence that this is effective.
If you are in any doubt I would recommend discussing the matter with your vet to see what their preferred treatment is. This is particularly so in the case of puppies due to their age and size.
3.2 Natural Treatments
For some dogs, the above treatments aren’t an option because they have a bad reaction to them.
And some owners, have concerns regarding the potential side effects of these powerful treatments.
For example, whilst nothing has yet been proven there has been a class action filed against the manufacturers of Bravecto. And there are concerns relating to the flea collars manufactured by one supplier.
In these cases, there are also natural remedies that can be used in the fight against fleas and ticks.
One of the most popular such treatments is Billy No Mates (love that name!). It uses natural ingredients which fleas and ticks find repellent. Keep in mind that it takes a few weeks to become fully effective. In the USA you may like these chewable treats as an alternative if you can’t find BNM.
Also, keep in mind that many essential oils can help to repel fleas and ticks.
- Oregano. Studies have shown oregano oil to be excellent in combatting ticks.
The essential oils need to be diluted and used in a ‘carrier’ oil such as coconut oil.
Now, that said,the simplest way to make use of these is probably to use a soap or shampoo that incorporates them.
We’ve recently tried the soap at The Dog and I and can thoroughly recommend it. If you take a look at the product descriptions you’ll see that they incorporate coconut oil with lavender, lemongrass, citronella, and spearmint. So, you get a clean dog, a nice smell, and fleas and ticks are repelled. WIN, WIN, WIN!
You can even go the DIY route and make your own solutions:
3.3 Physical Inspection
Imagine that your dog is a nightclub and you are the bouncer. Your job is to identify any undesirables and turn them away.
The difficulty of this task will depend, in part, on your dog’s coat – the shorter and smoother the coat, the easier it is to spot anything that shouldn’t be there. Of course, the colour of the coat also has an impact here – because fleas are dark in colour, white is the easiest and black is the toughest.
You can make things easier here by employing a specialised flea comb. This will make it easier to spot fleas – either the fleas themselves, their eggs or their waste.
Remember to check the spots where fleas and ticks seem to know that it is difficult for the host to get at them – head, ears, eyelids, armpits, between the toes, tail.
3.4 Manage the Environment
The second most favourite place for fleas and ticks, after their chosen host, is the host’s bedding. You should regularly wash bedding to reduce the risk of any infestation.
If you have a garden that your dog uses then you may need to manage this too. Avoid having the dark, moist areas that fleas and ticks like to frequent. Also, given what we know about ticks and questing, try to keep your grass on the short side.
When you take your dog for a walk, be aware of the environment. If your dog runs through long grass, or rolls in a dead bird carcass (yuk!), then be sure to thoroughly check them over when the walk ends – the sooner your remove any pests, the better.
You should also consider your clothing when you are walking in areas known to have lots of ticks – don’t make yourself a target for questing ticks! Shoes or boots, not sandals. Long trousers (tucked into socks to be extra safe!), not shorts/skirts. Long-sleeved shirts/blouses, not T-shirts or vests. Light colours are useful as it makes it easier to spot the ticks.
You may find it helpful to consult a ‘Map of tick risk‘ to establish which UK geographical areas ticks are more prevalent in. If you are outside of the UK then use Google, or your preferred search engine, to find maps relevant to your country.
4 Best Flea and Tick Treatment for Dogs
Right, so either our prevention methods failed or we (foolishly!) didn’t take any preventative measures.
What do we do now?
4.1 Fighting Fleas
The treatment for fighting fleas is very similar to that for flea prevention. We just ramp things up a level!
Keep in mind that you are fighting a battle on 3 fronts:
Dog. OK, you could use a flea comb, like the one we mentioned in the previous section, and drop the removed fleas into a bowl of soapy water. However, I think that this would be quite a slow process and, because of that, not hugely effective.
A more effective method is likely to be the use of flea shampoo. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use.
You can also give the fleas a double-whammy by using one of the preventative measures, too.
Home. Next, you need a deep clean of your house. Definitely do anywhere that your dog goes but, to be on the safe side, probably everywhere as you may have inadvertently spread the fleas yourself!
Start with the obvious places – your dogs bedding, rugs and blankets, and any favourite resting spots.
Use a vacuum cleaner on all carpeted areas – and immediately throw away the contents afterwards otherwise the fleas will harness their inner Harry Houdini! This is likely to need repeating on a regular basis until you are sure the war is won!
You may also wish to use a steam cleaner on the carpets if you have easy access to one.
Now, after that initial assault, it’s time to follow-up with a good flea spray. You may wish to use one of your pandemic face-masks while you are spraying so that you don’t inhale any of the spray.
An alternative to the spray option is to use a flea room fogger. You activate these foggers and leave them in the designated area to do their thing (kill the fleas!). As with the other products, read the manufacturers recommendations carefully – it is likely that you will need to vacate the room for a couple of hours.
Outside. Fleas, and especially flea larvae, like shaded, humid areas. So, in your garden, keep your grass cut short and your plants well pruned. Clear away any old debris and waste and dispose of it. Expose them to the elements, be it rain or shine!
You may also want to think about discouraging wildlife visitors to your garden for a while – many of them are basically a taxi service for fleas and ticks, dropping them off in your garden ready to find the next party hosts (you and your dog!).
Remember, if your dog travels in your car then you need to take action in there too.
4.2 Tackling Ticks
There are many folk remedies and supposed ‘miracle hack’ methods for removing ticks.
They don’t work!
Not only that but they actually increase the risk of the tick infecting the host with all of the lovely things discussed earlier.
So, before we move on to what to do, this is what you DON’T do:
- Smother the tick in petroleum jelly (whether or not its skin looks dry!)
- Apply baby oil to it (regardless of what stage in its life cycle it is at!)
- Coat it with nail varnish or nail varnish remover (either on their own or one after the other!)
- Burn it with a match, lighter, cigarette, soldering iron (or flame-thrower!)
- Freeze it with an ice cube (or dry ice!)
- Put alcohol on it (with or without the ice cube from above)
Ok, so what DO you do?
You remove the tick(s) as soon as possible after spotting it. Whilst some people are adept at doing this with bare hands the recommended approach is to use tweezers or a tick remover tool (ideally while wearing disposable gloves in order to minimise the risk of becoming infected yourself).
Now, as quick as Amazon deliveries are (especially with Prime), you don’t really want to be waiting for a delivery before you can take action. So, plan ahead! Buy some basic tools now (you could even use the opportunity to make your own canine first aid kit).
To remove the tick with tweezers, grasp it low down on its mouthparts, close to the point where it is connected to your dog. Then pull it straight out using firm pressure.
Do not twist or jerk the tick – the last thing we want is to leave behind the mouthparts embedded in the dog, as this may cause the tick to expel infected fluid into it.
If you are using a tick removal tool, rather than tweezers, then read the manufacturers instructions carefully. You will probably find that the recommendation is that you do twist the tool as part of the removal process.
Do not be tempted to crush the tick in your hand in an attempt to exact some sort of revenge! Again, we do not want infected fluid being spread around. Instead, just place the tick inside a screw-top jar (this enables you to take it to your vet if it becomes necessary to analyse it).
Where possible, consider enlisting the help of a partner to help calm the dog while you are carrying out the removal process. The calmer the dog, the easier your job will be.
Once finished with the removal process, disinfect the bite area on your dog, then bin your gloves and wash your hands thoroughly as an added precaution. Then sterilise your tick removal equipment ready for next time!
The following 2 videos show tick removal with tweezers (albeit from a human rather than a dog!) and then with a tick removal tool.
5 Best Flea and Tick Prevention for Dogs – Conclusion
So, having looked at:
- Why fleas and ticks are so undesirable (both for our dogs and for us)
- The best flea and tick prevention for dogs, and
- The best flea and tick treatment for dogs (in case the prevention failed)
What conclusions can we draw?
- Whilst having a minute vampire attached to you or your dog is fairly unpleasant in itself, the real danger lies in the ability of fleas and ticks to transmit a range of undesirable pathogens.
- Taking a range of preventative measures can greatly reduce the risk of fleas or ticks taking up residence.
- The rapid removal of any fleas or ticks that manage to survive the preventative measures will help to minimise any health risks.
- The removal methods themselves are pretty straightforward. However, as with all matters concerning the health of your dog, if in any doubt – consult your vet!
At the risk of tempting fate, our Labrador Harvey has never had ticks or fleas.
I put this down to the fact that the incidence of these pests is pretty low in the area that we live in, we have always used preventative measures outside of the winter season (initially Bravecto tablets but in more recent years Billy No Mates), and Harv has a short, light-coloured coat that is regularly brushed.
6 Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some FAQs related to the Best Flea and Tick Treatment for Dogs. If you have any questions that you’d like to ask please let me know in the Comments section below.
Which Dog Flea and Tick Control is Best?
The best flea and tick prevention for dogs is the one that you use! That is, make your choice and use it appropriately. Correspondingly, the worst option is doing nothing at all. Whichever treatment you choose, remember that you should still check your dog for fleas and ticks on a regular basis – the sooner any ‘super pests’ that manage to survive the treatment are spotted the easier it is to get rid of them.
What Months Should you Give Your Dog Flea and Tick Medicine?
Fleas and ticks are, generally, less prevalent during the colder months of the year. Therefore, many owners give their pets a rest from treatments during these months and then re-introduce them as the temperature begins to rise again. In the UK, for example, you might start treatment in April/May and then stop again in October/November.
What do Vets Recommend for Fleas and Ticks?
It will depend on where you live, the age and health of your pet, and what personal preferences the vet has (as with many things, opinions vary). For example, some treatments will not be appropriate for very young puppies. And some dogs are less tolerant of certain treatments than others and may require natural remedies.
Why do Some People Seem to be More Attractive to Fleas Than Others?
Creatures that feed on the blood of host animals are attracted to chemicals released from the host’s body. The chemical mix varies from person to person and it is this difference that determines the relative popularity with fleas. People also react differently to the saliva of the flea when it bites, with some developing an allergic response.
Can I Use the Same Flea and Tick Treatment for my Dog and Cat?
No! Different products, or strengths of products, are required for dogs and cats. Mixing them up could make your pet very ill, or even kill it. If in doubt, discuss with your vet before use.
8 The End
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