Seasonal vs All Year Round
We won’t go in to all of the nitty-gritty inner workings of a flea and its life cycle during this article. If you are interested in this, we will write a separate blog post (leave a comment below). Whilst fleas are most active in Australia during the warmer spring and summer months, with indoor heating these days, fleas are surviving all year round in and around Australian homes.
Flea eggs and pupae can live in your pet’s environment for up to 30 weeks, including over winter, while they wait for the right environmental conditions to become active. Given their rapid reproduction, that means that each adult flea can leave you with anywhere up to 4,500 little egg presents waiting for next year. For this reason, year-round flea prevention is crucial.
Which type of protection does your dog need?
Whilst it’s a good idea for all dogs to be on some form of flea prevention year-round, the type of flea product you give will vary. This depends on where you live and what other medications your pet is currently receiving.
In addition to fleas, a product may cover:
- Intestinal worming
- Heartworm prevention
- Tick control, including paralysis tick
- Mite treatment
Gastrointestinal worms such as hookworm, whipworm, roundworm and tapeworm attach themselves to wall of your dog’s intestine. Here they feed from your dog’s blood stream.
It’s a common misconception amongst pet owners that because they don’t see worms in their dogs’ stool, they believe their pet is free from these parasites. However only rarely will an adult worm be visible in the stool. For the most part these worms spend their life cycle firmly attached to the inside of your pet.
When worms lay eggs, the eggs are microscopic and not visible with the naked eye. Eggs can be present on dirt and vegetation and distributed by other pets or even wild animals.
Therefore, routine intestinal worming for dogs is a critical essential to be added to your pet’s flea control.
Flea products that already have active ingredients that covers worming treatment include: Advocate, Comfortis Plus, Nexgard Spectra, Revolution (when used with the included Canex wormer) and Sentinel Spectrum.
Stand-alone worming products, that do not include flea control your pet may be taking include Drontal, Paragard, Endogard, Popantel or similar. Usually these stand-alone wormers are given every 3 months.
It is interesting to note in the chart above that all products, except for Sentinel Spectrum, do not cover for tapeworm. Tapeworm is mainly spread by fleas and so effective flea control will usually limit the spread of tapeworm. However, a tapeworm only tablet such as Droncit tapewormer can be added to your pet’s healthcare regime for total prevention.
Another misconception commonly encountered is that worming products cover Heartworm, considering “worm” is in the name. However, unlike worms that live in the intestinal tract, heartworm lives in the blood stream, blood vessels and chambers of the heart. They need their own treatment.
Heartworm is spread by mosquitoes so it doesn’t require your dog making direct contact with another animal.
Your veterinarian may be administering a yearly injection called Proheart with your pet’s annual vaccination. If this isn’t the case, then adding a heartworm preventative is considered an essential part of your pet’s healthcare.
Flea products that already include heartworm prevention include: Advocate, Comfortis Plus, Nexgard Spectra, Revolution and Sentinel Spectrum.
Stand alone products for heartworm that you may encounter include: Heartgard Plus, Nuheart, Milbemax and others.
While we are talking about heartworm it is important to mention about heartworm testing. It is best practice to have your pet tested at your veterinarian for heartworm before they start on heartworm prevention. With certain products rare anaphylactic reactions may be possible if your pet is already carrying heartworm. However, most over the counter products only target the juvenile heartworm forms. This reduces the risk of a problem occurring. However, please refer to your vet, the specific product inserts and the chart above for manufacturer guidelines before administering.
Ticks and Paralysis Tick
Tick prevention is one of the components that’s probably most optional, depending on where you live. Some areas have very few ticks and so a product covering this may not be necessary.
If you’re lucky enough to live in Western Australia for instance, paralysis tick does not live there. Australia wide though, there are also other less deadly ticks such as bush ticks, brown dog ticks and cattle ticks.
Along the eastern seaboard of Australia, however, paralysis tick can be a big problem. It only takes one small paralysis tick to bite your dog for them to be poisoned. A bit from a paralysis tick can cause paralysis of your pets’ muscles, starting from the hindlimbs and working their way up to include the respiratory muscles. These can be extremely fatal, and require an antidote to be administered to your pet by a vet as soon as possible.
Tick types and distribution in Australia. Paralysis tick along eastern coast – Source: Virbac
When it comes to tick control, coverage amongst flea products varies quite dramatically. Some do not cover paralysis tick at all. Some do, but you have to give them every fortnight instead of monthly. Obviously, this can become very expensive! However, some of the newer products can cover your pet’s for paralysis tick for 1 month or more.
It’s important to note that even though your dog may be on a tick preventative they can still be bitten by a paralysis tick. It’s not a 100% guarantee from tick paralysis. It’s essential if you live in paralysis tick areas to routinely check your pet for ticks by running your hands all over your pet. Pay particular attention to dark, warm spots such as in between your dog’s toes, near the base of their ears and under the armpits. Contact your vet if you find a tick if you live in one of these eastern state areas.
Flea products that contain tick control include: Bravecto chews, Bravecto Spot-on Nexgard, Nexgard Spectra and Simparica. Advantix and Frontline Plus also cover paralysis ticks, but only when given every fortnight.
There are stand alone tick collars available, however our experience with these is very poor. They sit on your pet’s neck and can be a long distance away from the site of where the ticks attached to your pet, such as in between their toes. They are also prone to loosing potency after your pet gets repeatedly wet. Our advice is to stick to the oral products for the best bet against ticks.
Coverage for mites such as the mange mites Demodex and Sarcoptes, and ear mites are probably not something you would routinely check to include. Items that include treatment for these are more likely to be selected when your pet has been diagnosed at your vet and requires specific treatment.
However, given that young dogs in particular are more prone to mange mites like Demodex, it may be a useful addition when selecting a flea product anyway.
Flea products that include mite treatment include Advocate, Bravecto Chews, Bravecto Spot-on, Nexgard, Nexgard Spectra and Simparica.
Oral vs topical flea medication
You also have to decide what mode of administering the medication works best for you and your pet. The 3 main forms include:
- Topical spot-ons
- Topical sprays, flea collars, powders and shampoos
Oral Flea Control
A lot of the newer flea control products come in an oral form. The benefit of this type is that it cannot wash off; you don’t get it on your fingers; and you don’t have to be strict about applying the product to your pet’s skin and not their hair like with topicals.
In our experience, the oral flea products perform the best and are what we would recommend first.
These products include: Bravecto chews, Comfortis, Comfortis Plus, Nexgard, Nexgard Spectra, Sentinel and Simparica.
You will notice from the chart above that a lot of products that target intestinal worms treat all worms except for tapeworm. This is because the drug that treats tapeworm is extremely bitter, reducing palatability and acceptance by pets. As mentioned before, tapeworms are spread by fleas and so rapidly killing the fleas is usually effective enough to reduce the impact of tapeworm in usual environments.
Spot-on products can be particularly useful for pet’s who are fussy and won’t take medication at all orally. A few pet’s will even turn their nose up at some of the new highly palatable flea and tick treatments like Nexgard.
Most of the older generation products were spot-ons. They are generally very tried and tested and very safe. However, in our experience they are often not as effective as the newer products. For instance, there is a known fipronil resistance amongst some fleas which makes them immune to products like Frontline.
The standout amongst the topical products though is the new Bravecto Spot-on. This product is very good for fleas and ticks. In addition, its long time in between dosing (every 6 months) means one less thing to remember for busy pet owners.
One hard and fast rule is that no topical spot on will cover for tapeworm. Molecularly the compound that treats tapeworm is structurally too “big” to be able to pass through the thick skin of a dog (cats are a different story).
Flea Collars, Powders, Sprays and Shampoos
This guide wouldn’t be complete without mentioning flea collars, powders, sprays and flea shampoos. These are products that are often adopted because of their cheap price tag. However, in our experience they are not as effective as the oral or spot-on flea and tick treatments and so money is usually best saved and spent on one of these instead.
Most powders and shampoos have no residual activity, meaning they only kill the adult fleas on your pet at the time of application. So, given that the biggest part of your pet’s flea problem are not the adult fleas, these products usefulness are questionable.
If choosing these products, one of particular mention is the new Seresto collars.
Figure 2. The Flea Pyramid. Only a small part of the problem lives on your pet!
As mentioned above, the biggest part of a household flea problem actually lives off the pet in the form of eggs and larvae. In heavy flea infestations, or just to speed up the process, combing a pet-treatment with a household and yard treatment can extremely beneficial.
A professional pest controller may be your best bet here. However, if you do want to DIY, then a couple of options are available:
Best flea treatment for dogs with specific health issues
We recommend oral flea treatments as the first port of call. However, aside from a fussy pet, the other time we may recommend a topical product is for pet’s with specific health issues. These include pets with liver disease, kidney disease or seizures.
Whilst most products would likely be safe with liver and kidney disease, logically the oral products would involve more metabolism by the liver and excretion via the kidneys. For this reason, to play it safe, we would recommend products like Advantage or Frontline Plus for pet’s with liver and kidney disease.
A number of flea products can promote seizure activity in dogs who are predisposed to seizures. So, if your pet has had seizures it may be best to use products without this warning. Products that you should avoid if your pet is prone to seizures include: Bravecto chews, Bravecto spot-on, Comfortis, Comfortis Plus, Nexgard, Nexgard Spectra and Simparica.
Products safe for dog’s with known seizures would include: Advantage, Advocate, Frontline Plus and Revolution, amongst others.
Natural flea remedies
Sometimes pets can have rare reactions to the mainstream flea remedies. However, just because your pet reacts to one, or someone else’s pet reacts to one, it doesn’t mean they will react to all. Some people even have severe reactions to Panadol for instance. So, if your pet has an adverse reaction, we would recommend trying an alternative, perhaps Advantage would be a good safe bet.
There are some natural flea remedies that float around on the internet. It is important to be wary that a number of these remedies, including some involving diatomaceous earth and essential oils can in fact be harmful to your pet if not used properly. For example, a mint relative that is sold as a natural flea treatment for dogs, called pennyroyal, poses great danger to small animals particularly in the essential oil form. It can cause nausea, vomiting, respiratory difficulty, intestinal bleeding, seizures and coma, along with coagulation abnormalities, liver failure and death. Diatomaceous earth can be used outside, but inside or on the pet can place the animal and in contact humans at risk for lung fibrosis.
Natural does not automatically equal safe.
In our experience, some natural remedies can be viable in low flea infestation situations during off-peak flea season, but are relatively ineffective during flea season or when adult fleas are visibly seen.
One natural product which has some potential is a product based on cedar oil called Wondercide Lemongrass Spray (may only be available in the U.S).
Other natural remedies include household and environment only treatments, combined with regular combing of your pet using a flea comb to eliminate the adult fleas. Also be sure to hot wash pet bedding and clothing regularly, as well as vacuum and shampoo carpets inside the house where fleas and eggs can live.
Our Top Product Recommendations
When it comes to the best product to use, these are our top of the class recommendations, in descending order:
Best Flea Treatment Overall
The winner for our top pick for the best flea treatment goes to Nexgard Spectra. Nexgard Spectra represents an all in one flea, tick and worming treatment that comes in a highly palatable tasty chew that most pets love to eat like a treat. This ease of administration combined with easy monthly dosing and fast rate of action makes this product our top pick overall. Apart from your dog’s vaccinations, now you only have one thing to remember, once a month!
Flea, Tick & Worming = Nexgard Spectra
Flea & Tick = Nexgard Original
Flea = Nexgard Original
Flea, Tick & Worm = Advocate spot-on combined with Seresto tick collar
Flea & Worm = Advocate
Flea & Tick = Bravecto Spot-on
Flea Only = Bravecto Spot-on
Tick & Flea Collars
Flea & Tick = Seresto
Best on a budget = Advantage
Young puppies <7 weeks old = Advantage
Pregnant dogs = Bravecto Chews
Dogs with seizures, liver or kidney disease = Advantage
Best natural flea product: Gripsoft Flea Comb + Wondercide Lemongrass Spray (may be U.S only)
Q. How long do flea products take to work?
This varies from product to product. A lot of products will start to work within minutes but won’t reach maximum effectiveness for up to 24-48 hours later. Refer to the chart at the top of the page for more detail.
Q. How do I apply them?
Oral products can be given as a treat, if palatable, or combined with food. Most oral treatments can be divided into smaller portions if needed. Just be careful to watch your pet to make sure they don’t spit it out later!
Topical treatments are best applied by parting the hair on the back of the neck and applying the product directly to the skin. The back of the neck is used so that the pet cannot easily lick the product off. Avoid washing your pet for 48 hours before and after application. In larger pets it is often recommended to divide the treatment to a few spots along the back to ensure complete coverage.
Q. How often do you have to give these preventatives?
This varies from product to product. Products like Capstar can be given daily whenever adult fleas are seen. Whereas products like Bravecto Spot-on only need to be applies once every six months!
Q. How long after flea treatment will my dog stop scratching?
Scratching is usually caused by the irritation of the flea bite itself or a hypersensitivity reaction to flea saliva. By applying a flea product and killing the fleas, this sensitivity still remains until your pet’s body stops reacting to this irritation. This can take anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days.
In severe flea infestations, new fleas may continue to jump on your pet and continue to bite them until the flea numbers rapidly reduce. Just because you see fleas on your pet still or your dog still scratching, it doesn’t necessarily mean the product is not working. You may just have a lot of fleas hatching in your pet’s immediate environment.
For severe itchy cases, you may wish to visit your vet for an injection or tablets to help with the irritation until the flea treatment has had time to kill off enough fleas.
Q. How old dog a dog have to be to receive flea treatment?
Again, this varies from product to product. Advantage can be given from birth, whereas Comfortis is from 14 weeks of age. Most are around 8 weeks of age. Refer to the chart above.
Q. What do flea eggs look like?
Flea eggs are almost microscopic so they can be hard to see with the naked eye. They are white in colour and look like tiny grains of salt. They are sticky and fleas usually lay a cluster of eggs at the same time. Each flea can lay up to 50-80 eggs a day!
Q. What do fleas look like?
Fleas are alien looking flat insect with all of their hairy legs attached at the front of their body. They are a few millimetres long. They hate direct sunlight, and love the dense hair of your pet where they can hide. The best place to check for fleas on your dog is on the back near the base of the tail. If you don’t see fleas, the other tell-tale sign is flea dirt. Flea dirt are little black fleck that are actually the flea’s stool. If you see this, then you can be confident your pet also has fleas.
Q. How much does a flea weigh?
A single flea weighs around 0.5-1mg. Male fleas weigh less than female fleas.
Q. How long do fleas live?
On average a flea lives 2-3 months, however they can live more than 100 days. A female flea won’t start laying eggs until she has had her first blood meal from an animal.
Q. Can fleas survive winter?
Fleas thrive at temperatures around 23 degrees Celsius. However, cold temperatures just slow down the flea life cycle. Eggs and cocoons containing pupae can last in winter for up to 30 weeks until conditions are right for hatching. A problem one season can become a much bigger problem the next warm season from all those eggs waiting it out over winter.
Q. What do flea bites look like on dogs?
Usually flea bites look like small raised dots on your dog’s skin. Some pets are truly allergic to flea saliva which means that a single flea can trigger a body wide reaction and sever itchiness.
Q. When is flea season in Australia?
Usually the warmer months of Spring and Summer
Q. How can I get rid of flea dirt?
Flea dirt is actually flea stool that contains digested animal blood. The best way to remove this is with a flea comb and shampooing.
Q. How far can a flea jump?
A flea can jump approximately 18cm vertically and 33cm horizontally. They are one of the best jumpers around compared to their body size!
Thanks for checking out this article. Don’t forget that if you found it helpful please feel free to link to it on your website and share it on social media using the social buttons to the right. That way more people can benefit from it as well! Share with us what your favourite flea treatment is below in the comments. Have a great day!
Adapted Cover Flea Photo credit: Original by Caramosca on VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC