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Flea and Tick Prevention for Dogs

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A hiker wearing a backpack walks with his dog through a heavily wooded forest in bloom with pink flowers.

As you may already know, flea and tick prevention is a crucial part of your dog’s care. Why is it so important? Fleas and ticks are parasites that can carry other parasites or diseases that affect pets. Many of these infections are treatable, but preventing infection in the first place is the most effective way to safeguard your dog’s health.

Keep reading to learn more about the types of flea and tick prevention and what you can do at home to protect your dog from infection.

How can dogs get fleas and ticks?

Dogs can get bitten by fleas or ticks when they are in an environment where those parasites thrive. That could mean hiking in wooded areas, walking in tall grass, or playing in piles of leaves. Certain species of ticks and many kinds of fleas also thrive in indoor areas, so all dogs require flea and tick prevention.

The risk of flea or tick infection depends on several factors, including season, geographic location, and more. While risk might be lower at certain times of the year and higher at others, it’s important to follow a flea and tick prevention routine as recommended by your veterinarian.

What diseases can fleas, ticks, and other parasites cause?

Fleas can cause tapeworm or skin conditions, like flea allergy dermatitis. Ticks can carry Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and more. Certain species of ticks can cause tick paralysis, a sudden condition characterized by muscle weakness and difficulty breathing.

Some of these diseases are zoonotic, which means they can also be transmitted to humans. That’s why preventing fleas and ticks in your dog is so important for you both. 

How to prevent fleas and ticks on dogs

For flea and tick prevention to be most effective, it’s recommended that you follow a consistent schedule and keep medication up to date every year.

According to Embark data, 89% of pet owners in the United States regularly give their dogs annual preventive flea, tick, or heartworm medication. This map shows rates of flea, tick, and heartworm prevention by state in the US:

A map of the US showing rates of flea, tick, and heartworm prevention for each state.

These states and regions had the highest rates of pet owners who gave their dogs preventive medication in the past year:

  1. Washington, DC (95.5%)
  2. Massachusetts (93.6%)
  3. Louisiana (93.4%)
  4. North Carolina (93.4%)
  5. Tennessee (92.9%)
  6. Virginia (92.8%)
  7. South Carolina (92.5%)
  8. Georgia (92.5%)
  9. Vermont (92.3%)
  10. New Hampshire (91.9%)

According to our data, rates of flea and tick prevention are highest in the American South and the Northeast. These rates closely overlap with rates of precipitation in each state. 

The following map shows the average annual precipitation throughout the continental US: 

A map showing average annual precipitation across the US.


Source: US Precipitation Map (GIS Geography)

In general, the regions that receive the most rainfall also have the highest rates of pet owners who give their dogs annual parasite preventatives. That pattern reflects the fact that fleas and ticks most often thrive in moist or humid environments. Prevention is especially key in those areas.

How does flea and tick prevention work?

Some flea and tick medications work by repelling fleas or ticks or preventing them from attaching in the first place. Others work by killing fleas or ticks after they’re already on your dog’s skin.

Types of flea and tick prevention for dogs

There are many different kinds of products for flea and tick prevention. Some are available over the counter and some require a prescription. 

Flea and tick prevention products are available as wearables (such as collars), topical treatments (such as gels or liquids), and oral medications (such as pills or chewable tablets). 

A veterinarian might recommend a multi-pronged approach that combines medications with different active ingredients to give your dog maximal protection against fleas, ticks, and heartworms. You should consult with your veterinarian when deciding which kind of preventative is right for your dog.

It’s important to note that several flea and tick medications that are safe for dogs can be deadly for cats, even if they merely live in the same household as a treated dog. This is also true of some over-the-counter products. Read labels carefully and always check with your veterinarian before treating your dog with any medication (either prescription or over the counter).

How do I know if my dog needs flea and tick prevention?

Some areas of the world have flea and tick “seasons” when these parasites are more common, but many veterinarians recommend that flea and tick prevention is most useful when it is administered throughout the year. Any dog could catch an infection from these critters, and every dog can benefit from regular flea and tick prevention.

Remember that fleas and ticks can survive in a range of climates. Even if the weather outdoors isn’t their ideal temperature, some species can still survive inside the warmth of your home during colder seasons.

Tips for flea and tick prevention

Besides making sure that your dog gets their annual preventative medication, there are some steps you can take at home to prevent infection, especially during flea and tick season. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and other veterinarians recommend these best practices:

  • Routinely check your dog for parasites after being outside, especially after visiting a high-risk location, such as tall grass or wooded areas.
  • Wash your dog’s bed, blankets, and towels regularly, and vacuum any carpets or rugs they hang out on.
  • Thoroughly check your dog during or after a grooming session, especially the nooks and crannies where fleas like to hide, such as the armpits, groin, and ears. Some fleas and ticks may be too small to see, but they can cause skin irritation, so keep an eye out for patches of irritated skin as well. Keeping your dog’s hair short or neatly trimmed can help.
  • If you have a cat at home, never use the same flea/tick medication for both your dog and your cat. Only use flea/tick medication that is approved for cats. Flea/tick preventatives that are made for dogs can be deadly for cats. Even simply coming into contact with treated dogs can be dangerous. Check with your veterinarian to determine the safest product.

For more on pet safety, read our tips for hiking with your dog or this guide to preparing for emergencies.

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