If you’ve ever had to remove a fully engorged tick from the folds of skin behind your dog’s ear, you know that keeping the tiny pests at bay is a battle, even in the best of times. Tick season used to be a spring and summer thing; depending on where you live, you’d typically get a break come late fall, with cold weather killing off a lot of them. But now it can be tick season year-round, thanks to warmer winters and growing populations of the deer, mice, and other creatures that ticks love to bury their Lyme-disease-carrying heads in. If unprotected, dogs can contract lots of nasty illnesses from ticks, including Lyme disease, canine ehrlichiosis, canine anaplasmosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. And just because a tick starts off on your dog doesn’t mean it won’t end up catching a ride into your living room and burrowing its way into your thigh while you watch Love Is Blind on the couch. I have learned the hard way that keeping ticks off your dog is an important step in keeping ticks off you and your family, too.
Because ticks can be tiny and easy to miss — deer ticks that carry Lyme disease are often as small as poppy seeds — regular tick checks are essential, especially if you take your dog hiking, play with them in areas with a lot of tall grass, or live in the prime tick country of the Northeast. Veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Coates, who serves on the advisory board for Pup Life Today, says the best way to check for ticks is to “run your hands through your dog’s fur against the direction it normally lays. This allows you to see down to the skin, even on very furry dogs.” Dr. Leslie Brooks, a vet advisor for Better Pet, recommends paying close attention to your dog’s face, ears, belly, groin, and feet. If you find any ticks, remove them right away. (At the bottom of this article, we’ve included a few of the best tools for pulling ticks off your pup, each of which has been recommended by our experts and tested by me and other Strategist staffers.) After a tick bite, if your dog displays any warning symptoms — which include joint pain, limping or lameness, swollen lymph nodes, fever, lethargy, or decreased appetite — Potzler says to speak to your vet as soon as possible, as tick-borne illnesses can be fatal.
For dog owners with backyards, entomologist Marc Potzler, a technical services manager for Ehrlich Pest Control, suggests looking at ways to reduce the number of ticks (and the mice who host them) on your property. As he explains, “ticks are frequently found on the ends of branches and overgrown vegetation, waiting for the next host to walk by,” so clearing away any dead branches, grass clippings, or piles of leaves and keeping your grass cut short can help reduce their presence.
Still, taking care of your yard and performing regular tick checks on your dog won’t prevent all bites, which is why veterinarians recommend that all dog owners, no matter where they live, consider a preventative treatment (since ticks can also be found in city parks). To help you find the most effective tick prevention for your dog, we asked Coates, Brooks, and five other veterinarians to recommend the products they like best. Their favorites take different forms — from chewable pills to topical treatments and wearable collars.
What we’re looking for
Active ingredient: Tick-prevention medications come in three main categories: oral chews, topical treatments you apply to the skin, and collars embedded with medication to repel ticks. Most topical treatments and tick collars use insecticides that repel ticks so they jump off your dog’s body before biting them. Oral medications absorb into a dog’s bloodstream and then into the tissue fluids just under their skin; when a tick bites the dog, the medication in their body is transferred to the tick, which then dies before it has a chance to infect your dog with Lyme or any other illnesses it might be carrying. Because oral medications kill the ticks instead of just repelling them, they also help prevent future infestations where topical treatments and collars usually don’t.
Whichever method of prevention you prefer, all of our experts agree that you should stick to newer classes of repellents and medications, since ticks have become resistant to certain chemicals over time. For example, according to Dr. Jamie Richardson of New York City’s Small Door Veterinary, “Frontline has been around for 25 years now, and it’s not as effective as it was when it first hit the market. It definitely works for some, but not for all.” All of the medications on this list meet Richardson’s standards for tick prevention.
Safety: Tick-prevention medications are designed to be poisonous to insects but not harmful to mammals (like you, me, and our dogs). But because oral treatments are prescription medications and all tick treatments have potential side effects, even the ones sold over the counter, finding the best one for your dog should always start with a conversation with your vet, especially if you have a puppy, a toy breed dog, or a dog with preexisting health conditions. For instance, some oral tick preventatives, including the ones mentioned below, are not recommended for dogs with a history of uncontrolled seizures. But Richardson, whose own dog takes one of the treatments on our list (NexGard), told us that the risk of seizures from taking tick prevention medication is rare and that the benefits far outweigh this risk. “In my 11 years as a vet, I have treated probably thousands of dogs with severe and sometimes life-threatening tick-borne diseases, but I have never treated any dogs with the side effects known to these medications,” she explains. Another benefit of oral tick treatments is they don’t pose a danger to other pets or children in the home, which isn’t necessarily the case with topical treatments, and your dog won’t have to wait several days to swim or bathe after taking them.
That said, Richardson does recommend topical treatments for dogs with gastrointestinal issues. “If, when they eat anything out of the ordinary, they have a tendency to vomit, then the oral probably isn’t the best product for them,” she says. There are dozens of topical tick repellents on the market, many of which are sold over the counter. Still, while you may find some for less money or see an all-natural spray that sounds safe to use at the pet store, you should always discuss the ingredients with your vet. As Richardson explains, “some over-the-counter products have been associated with pretty nasty side effects.” And when it comes to natural alternatives to flea and tick prevention, both Richardson and Waxman are wary: “A lot of people use tea-tree oil, but it actually can be pretty poisonous to dogs,” says Waxman, noting that essential oils and other over-the-counter treatments are not as well regulated as prescription products. All of the below products have been cleared by our panel of licensed veterinarians.
Available in a wide range of doses: Since dogs come in a wide variety of sizes from teacup to giant breed, dog medications come in a variety of weight-based dosages. In general, this makes buying the safest and most effective medication possible for all dog owners. And since my own dog, Uli, weighs just five pounds — a size that is vulnerable to potential overdose — I put more trust in brands that offer clearly labeled options for many different sizes of dogs.
Convenience and cost: Depending on where you live (the Northeast versus Alaska, for instance) and how active your dog is, it might make more sense to give them one dose of medication that lasts several months instead of having to remember to give them their medication every month. But for dogs who spend limited time in tick-infested areas, individual monthly doses could be convenient and more cost effective. To help you make the best decision for your (and your dog’s) lifestyle, we have listed the price and dose duration for each product below.
Best overall tick prevention
Prescription medication | Active ingredient is fluralaner | Available in five dosages | Available in both oral and topical form | Provides protection for three months | Starting price is $20 per month
Bravecto was mentioned by all of the vets we talked to, with Waxman telling us her own dog takes the chewable oral treatment. It is also what I give Uli, whose gray fur makes finding ticks very difficult. According to the vets, its main appeal over other oral treatments is that it protects dogs from ticks and fleas for three months at a time, as opposed to one month at a time. Bravecto starts killing embedded ticks in as little as 12 hours and fleas in as little as two hours. The chewable tablets are meat-flavored, so you won’t have to hide any pills in peanut butter or cheese, and they are available in different sizes for dogs from (roughly) four to 123 pounds. To say Uli is a fan of Bravecto would be a lie, but she does happily eat the chew and it has kept her safe from fleas and ticks for many years. Most clinics will carry Bravecto, but you can order it online with a prescription from a veterinarian. Sakura Davis, a veterinary technician and consultant who gives her dog Bravecto’s oral treatment, is also a fan of the brand’s topical solution. It uses the same active ingredient that is found in chewable tablets, which means the topical will also protect your dog for three months at a time.
Best oral tick prevention
Prescription medication | Active ingredient is afoxolaner | Available in four dosages | Oral treatment only | Each chew provides protection for one month | Starting price is $23 per month
Nexgard was also recommended by all of the vets we spoke to, including Davis, who prefers it over other oral preventatives and calls it “the most effective prescription medication for ticks.” Nexgard claims to kill or control black-legged ticks, American dog ticks, lone-star ticks, and brown dog ticks, which together account for the majority of ticks that dogs in the U.S. will encounter. Each dose lasts for one month (as opposed to Bravecto’s three), which could be useful for mostly indoor dogs and their owners planning to spend a limited amount of time vacationing or adventuring in the great outdoors.
Best combination tick and heartworm prevention
Prescription medication | Active ingredients are sarolaner, moxidectin, pyrantel | Oral treatment only | Available in six different dosages | Each chew provides protection for one month | Starting price is $24 per month
Simparica Trio works against the same ticks as Nexgard and also protects your dog from heartworms, hookworms, and roundworms. Waxman and Brooks both recommend it. Like Nexgard, Simparica needs to be given to your dog every month. It’s available for dogs from 2.8 pounds all the way up to 132 pounds.
Best topical tick prevention
Over-the-counter treatment | Active ingredients are imidacloprid, permethrin, and pyriproxyfen | Topical treatment only | Available in four different dosages | Each tube provides one month of protection | Starting price is $12 per month
Unlike other topical treatments, K9 Advantix can actually kill insects on contact. Waxman recommends it because it repels ticks and fleas, along with mosquitos, biting flies, and lice. It uses a different class of drug than Bravecto and other oral tick prevention medications, so it’s a good choice for dogs with a history of uncontrolled seizures. It is available for dogs who weigh as little as four pounds, and each application is effective for one month.
Best tick collar
Over-the-counter treatment | Active ingredients are lumethrin and imidacloprid | Topical treatment contained within a collar | Available in two different dosages | Each collar provides protection for eight months | Starting price is $8 per month
Much like topical treatments, tick collars contain chemicals that coat a dog’s skin to repel — and in this case kill — ticks on contact. Similar to the way topicals are applied to the skin, collars like this one release chemicals onto the dog’s skin as soon as you put them on. Over time, as the chemicals wear off, the Seresto collar will release more for continued protection. For some pet owners, especially those who live in particularly dense tick areas, our experts recommend adding a tick collar in addition to oral prevention as part of your dog’s treatment. “In highly endemic areas, sometimes we need to double up on protection,” explains Dr. Stephanie Liff of Pure Paws Veterinary Care, who recommends the Seresto collar. Davis likes Seresto because it’s a cost-effective over-the-counter option that kills fleas and ticks for up to eight months, which, as Coates points out, makes it a great option for owners who have trouble remembering to give their dog monthly treatments. Plus, it’s water-resistant and comes in two sizes. Waxman calls the Seresto collar “awesome” and says that it’s nothing like old tick collars, which were “greasy and disgusting.”
Best tools for removing ticks
If you still find a tick latched onto your dog after taking all the recommended precautions above, our experts say you should not try to pry it off with your fingers. Veterinarian Dr. Rachel Barrack, the founder of New York City’s Animal Acupuncture clinic, says to instead “use fine-point tweezers” like these — not flat-edged ones — “to avoid tearing the tick and spreading possible infections to the area.” In more revolting terms, Dr. Thomas N. Mather, director of the University of Rhode Island’s Center for Vector-Borne Disease and its TickEncounter Resource Center, says you can “think of the tick as a bag of germs that happens to be connected to your skin with a straw.” He cautions that if you squeeze the bug’s body with an imprecise tweezer, all those germs will be released through the “straw” and into your skin. Pointed tweezers will get you as close as possible to the head of the tick, right next to the skin, without accidentally squeezing the bug.
While pointy-tipped tweezers are the best way to remove ticks of all sizes, Dr. Nadine Cohen of CareMount Medical notes that sometimes you might not have access to a pair. That’s why she suggests keeping a tick key on your keychain, so you’ll always have a tool designed for the job at the ready. As she explains, it “works by sliding underneath the body of the tick, close to the skin, with the goal of removing the entire tick easily and safely.” Conveniently, it works on both people and dogs.