Give your irritated pooch some relief with our pick of the best dog flea sprays, collars and spot-on treatments
From the moment your dog scratches the same spot more than a handful of times, your stomach sinks: it’s fleas! These little parasites pack a big punch: once they take up residence in your dog’s fur and start sucking their blood, it can take months to shift the adult fleas and the eggs they lay. As fleas can also carry tapeworms, it’s imperative to protect your pooch from flea infestations before they start.
With a range of flea treatments available, you have a choice to make. Will your canine fare better with a flea collar, a spot-on treatment, a chewable tablet or a chemical-free shampoo? As every dog’s behaviour and lifestyle is different, it’s worth trialling a few different methods to find one that works best for you both.
Best dog flea treatment: At a glance
How to choose the best dog flea treatment for your pet
How do I know my dog has fleas?
Contrary to popular belief, fleas don’t only flock to dirty animals, so it’s not a matter of simply keeping your dog clean and hoping they avoid taking up residence. If your dog is grooming itself more often, is itching or scratching at its fur, or if you notice skin irritation or hair loss, these are all tell-tale signs of a flea infestation. Although flea eggs are notoriously tricky to see with the naked eye, keep an eye out for clusters of black specks in your dog’s fur: that’s “flea dirt”, otherwise known as flea faeces.
What flea treatments are available for my dog?
Some flea treatments are available by prescription only, and whichever one you choose needs to be used regularly to maintain constant protection against fleas.
Spot-on flea treatments are small doses of liquid that come in a pipette and are topically applied to a dog’s skin, preferably at the nape of the neck where the dog can’t lick it off. As the liquid spreads across the dog’s skin it kills fleas on contact, and in some products, it’s absorbed into the bloodstream. Because they require about 20 seconds of hair-parting, pipette-squeezing action, these spot-on treatments are best for non-fidgety dogs that won’t squirm away from you mid-application. Applied every month, a spot-on treatment ensures regular protection from fleas and ticks. Just make sure your dog doesn’t go swimming or get wet for two days after application.
Oral flea treatments such as tablets and chews are great for treat-loving dogs – as long as you can convince them that a flea chew is something tasty, of course. These treatments are absorbed into the bloodstream, meaning a flea is only killed when it bites your dog and ingests the active ingredient. You only need to administer an oral flea treatment every three to four months, and it often contains a deworming treatment, too.
Flea collars contain an insecticide that kills or repels adult fleas via a constant slow-release of chemicals. These collars start working within 24 hours of being fitted around your dog’s neck, usually offer full protection for a few months, and are most effective when they’re prescription strength. It’s important to note that a flea collar should only be used in addition to your dog’s normal collar, as they aren’t designed to hold the weight of a dog lead.
A flea spray can be intended for use either directly on your dog’s coat or around the house, but make sure you check the instructions, as the chemicals used in household flea sprays are often much too strong for contact with your pet. These sprays are usually used to kill any fleas or eggs that drop off your dog and hide in soft furnishings around the house.
Medicated flea shampoo is often used for dogs that already have a flea breakout. Any adult fleas present will be killed off within 48 hours, but shampooing won’t kill the eggs –and this treatment only works for a limited time. Shampoos can also be quite harsh and drying on a dog’s skin, so only use them weekly. If you’re concerned about chemicals, natural flea shampoos contain ingredients such as aloe vera and oatmeal that help to soothe itchy skin.
Is it dangerous to give my dog too much flea treatment?
Flea treatments are safe and effective when used in their correct measurements and according to instructions. That said, most treatments use chemicals to kill off fleas, so it’s possible for your dog to get sick if they ingest the product or are given too much of it.
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The correct dosage will depend on your dog’s size and weight, so be sure to check before purchasing, and always be aware of your dog’s behaviour after a flea treatment is applied. If they seem off-balance, overly lethargic, or they’re vomiting or drooling more than usual, then get in touch with your vet.
How much should I spend?
The cheapest treatments are flea collars, which only cost a few pounds and provide protection for around four months, and medicated flea shampoo and sprays that last as long as you eke them out for. Topical spot-on treatments start at around £6 for one month’s worth and are typically sold in three- or six-month packs. Chewable tablets cost around £20, but a single chew protects your dog for four months or longer.
The best dog flea treatment you can buy in 2023
1. Frontline Spot On Flea & Tick Treatment for Large Dogs: Best topical flea treatment
Price when reviewed: £20 for three doses | Check price at Amazon
Frontline is a household name for anyone with dogs. This spot-on flea treatment claims to kill adult fleas within 24 hours and ticks within 48 hours, and it also combats mosquitoes that potentially carry tapeworm parasites, all thanks to the active ingredient fipronil. You can also opt for Frontline Plus: this contains an additional ingredient – methoprene – that kills all stages of the flea lifecycle and prevents any eggs from hatching.
To use, simply snap the triangular pipette, part the fur at the base of your dog’s neck until you can see the skin, and squeeze the liquid out. As it spreads across your dog’s coat, the spot-on solution will keep them sufficiently protected for a full month. Frontline is available in three sizes, for small dogs (2-10kg), medium dogs (10-20kg) and large dogs (20-40kg), and comes in either a 3- or 6-pack of easy-to-use pipettes. At £20 for three doses, the cost of Frontline Spot-On works out at around £6.50 per month.
Key features – Type: Spot-on; Amount: Three doses; Volume: 2.68ml per dose; Active ingredient: Fipronil; Suitable for: Dogs older than 8 weeks; dogs weighing more than 2kg
2. Johnson’s Dog Flea and Tick Collar: Best budget flea treatment
Price when reviewed: £5.75 | Check price at Amazon
Although they’re not the most effective treatment available, a dog flea collar is still a good budget option for a constant source of flea prevention. Made from water-resistant clear plastic, the Johnson’s flea collar slowly releases an active ingredient called dimpylate to repel fleas and ticks, continuing to work over four months. It may smell quite strongly at first, but that fades after a few days.
We particularly like the Johnson’s collar because of the “one size fits all” aspect: at its full length, the collar is 60cm (24in), but you can simply fit the collar then cut off the excess so it’s the desired length for your dog. Some customers recommend keeping the spare cut-off bits of collar and tucking them into dog blankets and sofa cushions for some added repelling action, too.
Key features – Type: Collar; Volume: Liquid 17 ounces; collar weight 40g; Active ingredient: Dimpylate; Suitable for: Dogs older than 3 months
3. Bravecto Medium Dog Chew Tablets: Best chewable flea treatment
Price when reviewed: £19 (single) | Check price at VetUK
If your dog hoovers up every speck of food he’s given, a Bravecto dog chew tablet is probably a no-brainer. A single Bravecto tablet protects your dog against fleas and ticks for 12 weeks: once the chew is digested, the active ingredient of fluralaner is absorbed into the bloodstream and kills any fleas or ticks that dare to bite. Bravecto claims to kill existing fleas within a few hours and 100% of fleas and ticks within the three-month period.
Like spot-on flea treatments, the strength of Bravecto depends on the size and weight of your dog: a 250mg chew for small dogs (4.5-10kg), a 500mg chew for medium dogs (10-20kg) and a 1,000mg chew for large dogs (20-40kg). The chew tastes like pork (apparently!) and will still administer the same results if it’s crumbled up into your dog’s food.
You do need a prescription to buy Bravecto, which can be done either through your vet or on a speciality retailer such as Pet Drugs Online or VetUK. At £19 for one dose Bravecto does initially seem quite pricey, but this one-and-done treatment that lasts three months actually comes out at just £6 per month.
Key features – Type: Chewable tablet; Amount: One dose; Volume: 500mg; Active ingredient: Fluralaner; Suitable for: Puppies older than 6 months; dogs weighing more than 4.5kg
4. Virbac Indorex Defence Household Flea Spray: Best flea treatment for your home
Price when reviewed: £14 for 500ml | Check price at Pets at Home
If you’ve had a flea outbreak at home and treated your dog accordingly, you still need to delouse the house – and simply hoovering your dog’s bedding won’t kill off any eggs. The Virbac Indorex Defence Flea Spray kills fleas on contact and claims to prevent the development of flea eggs and larvae for a full 12 months. Bear in mind this spray is not for use directly on your pet’s fur – instead, you should spray their bedding and favourite sleeping spots along with your carpets, soft furnishings, flooring, skirting boards, and any cracks or crevices. It’s a good idea to vacuum the house first, then another thorough vacuum 24 hours after spraying, and consecutively for the next seven days (the heat and vibrations from a hoover will trigger any dormant eggs to hatch).
Virbac doesn’t have a scent and won’t leave any residue behind, so you won’t notice it after use. One aerosol contains 500ml of spray, which should be sufficient to cover a three-bedroom home. Make sure to keep all pets out of the treated rooms for at least two hours until the Virbac spray dries, as the active ingredient, permethrin, can be toxic to cats.
Key features – Type: Aerosol spray; Amount: One can; Volume: 500ml; Active ingredient: Permethrin; Suitable for: N/A (not for use on dogs)
5. Progroom Natural Oatmeal Dog Shampoo: Best soothing flea treatment
Price when reviewed: £18 | Check price at Amazon
If you’re concerned about chemicals, particularly for dogs with sensitive skin or health issues, then a natural flea treatment such as Progroom shampoo could be a good option. A formula of colloidal oatmeal combined with essential oils, minerals, aloe vera and fatty acids moisturises skin, soothes itchy or hot patches, detangles matted fur, and leaves your dog’s coat shiny and healthy.
But what about the flea-treating aspect? Although it’s not touted specifically as a flea treatment, the organic neem oil included in Progroom shampoo acts as an antiparasitic that repels fleas and ticks. It’s also totally vegan, hypoallergenic and antifungal, so it’s safe for regular use. Once you’ve lathered up your dog with this, there’s every chance you’ll have a fluffier, softer and decidedly less scratchy pooch. That said, some customers say that it doesn’t kill off all fleas so you might need to combine shampooing with another treatment. And at £15 per 250g bottle, Progroom is probably the priciest treatment we’ve reviewed.
Key features – Type: Liquid shampoo; Amount: One bottle; Volume: 250ml; Suitable for: All dogs
6. Seresto collar for fleas and ticks: Best dog collar flea treatment
Price when reviewed: From £29 | Check price at Pet Drugs Online
If your dog isn’t a fan of swallowing a pill, or wriggles at the touch of a liquid pipette, a good ‘one and done’ option is the Seresto collar, which offers eight months of protection and doesn’t require a prescription. The active ingredients (imidacloprid and flumethrin) embedded in the collar are topical, meaning they spread over the skin’s surface and remain on both the dog’s lipid layer and its coat. It works quickly, too, killing fleas and ticks before they even have the chance to bite your dog – although pre-existing fleas will take around 48 hours to be exterminated.
The Seresto collar is available in two sizes, for small dogs weighing under 8kg or large dogs over 8kg, and the collars are adjustable, too, as well as water resistant. Since some dogs may react poorly to a flea collar, it’s worth keeping an eye out for any redness, irritation or hair loss at the collar site, alongside observing any behavioural changes in your pet.
Key features – Type: Collar; Volume: Large collar (70cm) contains 4.5g imidacloprid and 2.03g flumethrin; Small collar (38cm) contains 1.25g imidacloprid and 0.56g flumethrin; Active ingredient: Imidacloprid and flumethrin; Suitable for: Large collar (70cm) for dogs weighing over 8kg; Small collar (38cm) for dogs under 8kg