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8 min read

What’s the Best Topical Flea Treatment for Dogs and Cats

Licensed Vet Tech

Tracy Isenberg, LVT

There’s a lot to consider when choosing the right pet care products for your dog or cat. When it comes to flea treatment, you have to make sure that the products you use fit your:

  • Lifestyle
  • Habits
  • Budget
  • Pet’s needs
Try Wags Advance for Dogs

Follow these tips for choosing the right flea and tick treatment for your pet.

5 tips for choosing the best flea and tick treatment

Here are a few things pet owners should consider when selecting the best flea and tick prevention for their pets.

1. Learn all about fleas and ticks.

Fleas and ticks are the most common parasites that can harm your pets. So what do you need to know about them?

What are fleas#

types of fleas on dogs

Fleas are tiny parasites that live all around the world. The most common are cat fleas and dog fleas which both feed on all types of mammals.

A few ways to find out if your pet has fleas is by looking for adult fleas, flea dirt, and redness. Flea dirt looks like small black pepper flecks but is actually dried blood from fleas. 

Fleas can cause a lot of issues for your pet from skin irritation and infection to disease. Fleas develop in 4 life stages — flea eggs, flea larvae, pupae, and adult fleas.

To prevent fleas, there are lots of treatments available for your pets. The best flea control (like an oral, topical, or wearable flea collar) covers all of these life stages.

What are ticks

common types of ticks

Ticks are also pesky parasites that can feed on your dog or cat. While over 200 types of ticks live in the United States, there are a few you should know about:

  • American dog tick
  • Blacklegged tick
  • Brown dog tick
  • Lone star tick

Adult ticks bite into your pet's skin to feed on their blood. All of these types and most life stages of ticks can transfer tick-borne disease.

2. Consider your pet’s habitat.

The environment you and your pet live in plays a big role in the way you approach pet care. Here are some questions to ask to help you determine the right flea and tick prevention.

  • Do you live in a more temperate or tropical climate?
  • Do you live in an urban or rural area?
  • Does your pet spend time mostly outdoors or indoors?
  • Do you visit parks, daycares, or kennels?
  • Do you have other pets in your home?

If your cats and dogs spend time outside or interact with other unprotected pets they’ll likely run into more bugs.

If they stay inside and only interact with protected pets you might get away with a solution that only covers fleas. Either way, be sure to safeguard your home with a pet-friendly flea treatment for your home.

3. Choose a treatment that you’ll stick with.

Pet care is difficult and can be overwhelming, especially when our pets are our world. Still, it can be hard to remember to give them the care they need, when they need it.

Flea prevention requires consistent application every 30 days (especially with a monthly topical). For ultimate flea control, there are a few flea treatments to choose from. 

wearable flea treatments

Wearable treatments

Just like a cute bandana or vibrant collar, wearable treatments are a simple way to “set it and forget it.” One example is a flea and tick collar for dogs and cats.

Pet owners put the flea collar around their pet’s neck and it lasts for eight months.

Examples: Seresto, Pet Armor

oral flea treatments

Oral treatments

Oral treatments are a convenient option for easy treatment. The best oral treatments come in chewable tablets or soft chews and help with other issues like heartworm prevention.

But, there are a few downsides to oral treatments.

  • They reside in your pet’s bloodstream and need parasites to bite to work.
  • There are neurological side effects connected to oral treatments.
  • They need a prescription and, with it, a vet visit.

Examples: Nexgard, Bravecto, Capstar

topical flea treatments

Topical treatments

Flea sprays, spot-on treatments, and flea shampoos are a few topical solutions you can use on your pet. These types of solutions can be messy at times, especially if you have a fussy or wiggly pet.

So, knowing how to apply treatment the right way is key. Spot-on treatments spread after application to your pet’s skin through their hair follicles and natural oils.

You'll need to avoid bathing your cat or dog for at least 48 hours before and after treatment. Also, look out for rare side effects like skin irritation and gastrointestinal issues.

Examples: Wags Advance for Dogs, Purrs Advance for Cats, Frontline Plus, K9 Advantix II


PetFriendly offers a monthly topical flea and tick treatment that helps you control and prevent fleas. Wags Advance for Dogs and Paws Plus for Cats is applied to your pet's skin. 

These fast-acting formulas help kill fleas within 12 hours of applying and last for 30 days. They are safe for puppies (7 weeks and older) and kittens (8 weeks and older).

Try Purrs Advance for Cats

Natural treatments

For some pet owners, natural treatments might seem like a better solution for their pets. But, from essential oils to sage tea it can be confusing to know how to get rid of fleas on pets.

With any treatment, do your research and check with your vet to make sure it's a good fit for your dog or cat.

Examples: Sage tea, diatomaceous earth, essential oils

4. Look for the right ingredients.

The best topical flea and tick treatment for cats and dogs helps address all life stages of biting fleas. This includes adult fleas, flea eggs, flea larvae, and flea pupae. Make sure your treatment includes an active ingredient or two from this list.

1. Adulticides

To start taking action with flea infestations you need an ingredient that kills adult fleas right away. Adulticides are chemicals that help kill adult fleas and ticks. Examples include Imidacloprid and Fipronil.


A common adulticide found in flea and tick treatments is Fipronil. This chemical helps provide protection against fleas, ticks, and chewing lice. It begins working within 4-8 hours for fleas and 12 hours for ticks.

2. Pyrethroid

Some flea and tick treatments need a bite from fleas and ticks to work. But flea and tick bites can still cause problems for your pet like skin irritation and hair loss.

This is where a Pyrethroid, like Permethrin, comes in. This ingredient helps kill fleas and repel parasites so they don’t bite in the first place.


This chemical kills fleas and ticks by over-exciting their nervous system. Permethrin helps kill and repel fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes.


Permethrin is fatal for cats. If your kitty suffers from a cat flea bite make sure you do not share treatment. And keep treated pups away from your cat for at least 24 hours after application.

3. Neonicotinoid

Neonicotinoids are a type of insecticide that is effective at paralyzing and killing a variety of parasites. There are a few types found in flea treatments including Imidacloprid and Nitenpyram.


Killing adult fleas requires a tough defense. Imidacloprid is often combined with other medications in topical treatment. It works by paralyzing pests through their central nervous system.


When your cat or dog has a flea infestation you need a quick solution. Given orally, Nitenpyram is a fast-acting systemic insecticide. It kills adult fleas within 30 minutes of treatment and lasts for about 24 hours.

4. Insect Growth Regulators (IGR)

Adult fleas and ticks are pesky on their own. But this can magnify if they continue to reproduce in your home. Prevent flea eggs from hatching with an IGR like Pyriproxyfen or Methoprene.


Found in two different forms, methoprene is a juvenile hormone that stops adult fleas from producing new flea eggs. Flea treatments that have methoprene will not only help you kill fleas and ticks but prevent future infestations.


Pyriproxyfen protects against flea eggs and larvae. It mimics a hormone that disrupts their growth and development. Look for flea and tick prevention that includes an IGR to ensure your pet stays flea-free.

5. Talk with your vet.#

No one knows your pet better than you and your vet. They can help talk through different options and recommend a product for your pet’s specific needs. What's good for one dog or cat may be completely different for another.

While most flea and tick prevention can be purchased over-the-counter, some require a prescription from your vet.

Try Wags Advance for Dogs

The best topical treatment for cats and dogs

Flea treatments come in a variety of forms and functions. The best flea and tick prevention ensures your pets are protected from ticks and fleas all year round.

Best topical flea treatment for dogs

The best flea and tick treatment for dogs is the one you'll use. But, there are some other things you should keep in mind when shopping for flea and tick prevention.

To find the best flea treatment for dogs, look for flea and tick medication that:

  • Is safe to use around other pets
  • Effectively kills ticks (American dog, Brown dog, Black-legged, and Lone star)
  • Effectively kills adult fleas, flea eggs & flea larvae
  • Effectively kills lice and mosquitoes
  • Repels parasites (such as flea/tick)
  • Starts killing in two hours
  • Lasts for 4 to 12 weeks
  • Is easy to use and apply
  • Has an effective formula
  • Is safe for puppies (at least 7 weeks)
  • Is water-resistant

Best topical flea treatment for cats

Like dogs, cats also need safe and effective flea treatment. Although many cats spend time mostly indoors, flea and tick prevention will help ensure your cats stay happy and healthy year-round.

To find the best flea treatment for cats, look for flea and tick medication that:

  • Is safe for cats (doesn’t have Permethrin)
  • Effectively kills ticks (American dog, Brown dog, Blacklegged, and Lone star)
  • Effectively kills adult fleas, flea eggs & larvae
  • Effectively kills cat lice and mosquitoes
  • Repels parasites (such as flea/tick)
  • Starts killing in two hours
  • Lasts for 4 to 12 weeks
  • Is easy to use and apply
  • Has an effective formula
  • Is safe for kittens (at least 8 weeks)
  • Is water-resistant

The best flea and tick prevention has the right active ingredients, kills fleas and ticks instantly, and protects your pet year-round.

No matter what you choose, make sure you consult with your vet to find a solution that meets your and your pet's needs.

Try Household Spray


Meet Tracy Isenberg

Tracy Isenberg, LVT is a member of PetFriendly’s in-house vet team. Tracy has over 25 years of experience working in the pet space as a veterinarian technician. She received her degree from Omaha College of Health Careers. Tracy has two dogs, a Bernese Mountain Dog named Bruno and a Yellow Lab Mix named Libby.