What is the best flea and tick treatment? [2020]

LAST UPDATED 6 JANUARY 2020

This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Carla Paszkowski

With an ever-growing number of flea and tick prevention products for pets released each year, it's not surprising that many Australian pet owners don't know where to start.

Which products treat which parasites? Does newer mean better? Which flea treatment is actually the most effective, and most importantly - which is the safest?

The truth is, the best flea and tick treatment for your pet depends on a number of important factors. We've broken it down for you into 4 different points, so you can make the right decision for your pet!

Contents

1. To treat for fleas and ticks, or just fleas?

2. Topical vs Oral?

3. Frequency - Monthly vs 3-monthly?

4. Is it better to combine with worming?

TIP: A surprisingly easy way to pick the perfect prevention regime for you

See what our veterinarians recommend

Cost: Which flea treatment is the best value?

Table: A complete comparison of ALL parasite prevention products, and what parasites they DO and DON'T cover for!

Our Top Selling Flea and Tick Treatments

Nexgard Spectra

A monthly chew which protects against fleas, ticks, intestinal worms and heartworm. Sister product to Nexgard, which is a flea and tick treatment only.

Bravecto

Protects against fleas and ticks. Available as a topical spot-on which lasts for 6 months, or chewable which lasts for 3 months. Spot-on version available for cats.

The Big 5

Each pack contains everything you need to protect your dog against the big 5: fleas, ticks, heartworm, intestinal worms and tapeworm.

Revolution Plus

Monthly protection for your cat against fleas, ticks, heartworm, intestinal worms and ear mites in one easy spot on treatment.

1. To treat for fleas and ticks, or just fleas?

The first thing to consider is which parasites are actually a risk in your area. While fleas are generally considered to be Australia-wide, paralysis ticks tend to have geographical hot spots.

Where are ticks found in Australia? Generally, paralysis ticks are mostly found along the East Coast of Australia. However, vet clinics as far west as Melbourne have reported paralysis tick cases in recent years.

Infographic of tick distribution in Australia. Note: while the Brown Dog Tick and the Cattle Tick can spread diseases, only the Paralysis Tick causes deadly paralysis. Most tick prevention products cover all species of ticks, however, the Paralysis Tick is the major species of concern.

Many people in temperate parts of the country get by without tick protection and tend to just use flea protection. However, while heat maps are helpful, we recommend checking with your local vet clinic as they will know whether ticks are a problem in your area.

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2. Topical or oral?

Definitions:

"Topical" refers to 'spot on' treatments - or anything that is applied externally on your pet.

"Oral" refers to chewables or tablets, which are given internally via your pet's mouth.

Note: there is currently no oral treatment for cats that covers for ticks, only topical treatments.

So which is better, topical or oral treatments? In general, most vets in high-risk tick areas believe that oral treatments are the most effective form of flea and tick prevention in dogs. This is partly due to the fact that at the moment, oral treatments tend to contain newer drugs, which seem to have less resistance. An exception to this is the recently released Bravecto spot-on which is available for cats and dogs.

Another reason why vets tend to prefer oral treatments is that there is less room for human error. With oral treatments, efficacy is generally guaranteed so long as your dog swallows the chew (or tablet) and doesn't vomit soonafter. Topical treatments, on the other hand, require a little more skill with application, and won't work if your dog gets wet up to 48 hours afterwards, or if you apply to the wrong part of the fur. Because many topicals need to be absorbed through the skin in order to work, the pet owner needs to ensure the liquid is applied onto the skin - just splatting it onto the outer layer of fur won't work.

Do topical flea treatments get absorbed through the skin? - This is a common question and unfortunately the answer differs depending on the product. While most topical treatments need to get absorbed through the skin in order to work (which is why you need to part the fur so well!), some products work by dispersing along the outside of the coat, in the fatty lipid layer of your pet's natural skin oils. For more detail about a particular product, we recommend checking with the manufacturer.

To summarise, here are the pro's and cons of each:

Benefits of topical prevention

  • Easier to apply in dogs who can't be tableted or won't eat chewables
  • Some brands do not enter the bloodstream

Cons of topical prevention

  • Not effective if your pet gets wet within 48 hours of application
  • Typically older drugs which may have reduced effectiveness in high risk flea and tick areas (apart from Bravecto)
  • Open to human error - the full tube must be applied in contact with the skin (not on top of the outer fur layer)
  • Some treatments leave a chemical smell on your pet's fur

Benefits of oral prevention

  • Doesn't matter if your dog gets wet after administration (won't wash off as it's oral)
  • Most are modern drugs with less resistance, therefore more effective in high risk areas

Cons of oral prevention

  • Some pets may vomit medication back up
  • Harder to give in pets who won't take chewables or tablets

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3. Frequency - monthly vs 3-monthly vs fortnightly?

There are now flea and tick prevention products to suit a whole range of schedules. Some brands only need to be given every 3 or 4 months. This is extremely convenient if you are also giving a 3-monthly wormer. Bravecto or Seresto are good examples of a 3 monthly flea and tick treatments.

However, there are still plenty of people who prefer to give a monthly treatment, as they might find it easier to remember, or perhaps they are already giving monthly heart worm tablets and it lines up well with this. Simparica is a good example of a monthly flea and tick treatment.

Fortnightly application is generally considered less convenient, but there may be reasons you wish to choose a fortnightly application.

See the table at the bottom of this article to find out how long each product lasts for.

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4. To combine, or not to combine?...

Which is best - a flea and tick only product, or a combination product which takes care of worming too? The truth is, it all depends on your personal preference. Many of the different products use similar drugs, so you don't need to worry about a 'combination' product being less effective than a 'flea and tick only' product.

Giving a flea and tick treatment separate to worming can have its benefits - for example, some people might only wish to give flea treatment in the warmer times of the year, but need to continue worming all year round. But for other people, combining everything they need into one treatment is very convenient indeed.

Which treatments cover for everything in an 'all-in-one'?

Now, we should just make something clear - there is no true 'all-in-one' product in existence. (Yet!). The term 'all in one' gets thrown around by manufacturers a lot, but alas no - there is currently no single product that covers absolutely every significant Australian parasite.

There is, however one product which comes close. Nexgard Spectra was released in 2017 as the first product to cover for fleas, worms, intestinal worms - and ticks. The only major parasite it doesn't cover is the hydatid tapeworm. However, it does have coverage against the flea tapeworm, which is a much more common parasite for urban dogs.

There are plenty of products on the market which cover for fleas, worms, and heart worm, but don't have tick coverage. These products include Comfortis Plus, Sentinel, Advocate, and Revolution. These products might be perfect for dogs in areas that are unaffected by paralysis ticks, such as Perth or Adelaide.

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TIP: How to Choose Which Parasite Prevention You Need

The easiest way to know which parasite prevention you need is actually quite simple - start by looking at your heartworm regime.

Ask yourself: Do I want to get a yearly heartworm injection at the vet?

If you do choose to get the yearly heartworm injection, you'll still need to give an intestinal wormer every 3 months. It might then be most convenient to give your flea and tick prevention every 3 months, too, so they line up together. The best flea and tick option for you, therefore, would be the 3 monthly Bravecto chew.

If you do not choose to get a heart worm injection, you'll need to give heartworm prevention every month. It might then be most convenient to give your flea and tick prevention every month too, so they line up together. Therefore, the best preventative for you might be a combination product like Nexgard Spectra, or you can use a separate flea and tick product like Simparica with a wormer that covers for heart worm and intestinal worms such as Interceptor.

Still confused? See our Flea and Tick Quiz which interactively takes you through relevant steps and picks a combination for you!

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What do our vets recommend?

After an educated review of flea and tick products? We asked our in-house vets what they think, and what they personally prefer...

Dr Carla - I am from Queensland, where ticks are particularly prevalent. For dogs, I always recommend one of the newer oral chews such as Simparica or Bravecto as they work so effectively against paralysis ticks. For cats, I recommend the new Bravecto spot-on tubes.

Dr Kim - For dogs, I personally recommend Nexgard Spectra. It's a monthly chewable that covers the four major parasites - paralysis ticks, fleas, heartworm and intestinal worms. For cats, I recommend a combination topical treatment such as Advocate combined with either a Seresto collar or Bravecto spot-on for tick prevention.

Dr Teagan - For dogs I highly recommend using one of the new generation combined flea and tick treatments such as Bravecto, Nexgard or Simparica for reliable, year round protection from ticks and fleas. For cats, I use and recommend Revolution as it includes protection against heartworm and intestinal worms in addition to fleas. For cats in tick paralysis areas I find the safest tick preventative is to keep them indoors! If they must go outside then I recommend using Bravecto spot-on for tick prevention.

Dr Elise - In Melbourne I was very happy recommending Advocate monthly for flea, intestinal worm and heartworm prevention for my dog and my client's pets. However on relocating back to Queensland and living in a tick prone zone I have had to switch to a product that includes reliable tick preventation like the monthly chewable Bravecto or Nexgard Spectra. For indoor cats I still recommend Advocate however if they head outside when ticks are around I recommend adding in Frontline spray every 3 weeks.

Want some advice on which product is best for your pet? Visit our Ask a Vet page.

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Which flea product is the best value?

Here we have it - the million dollar question. Which is the cheapest flea treatment? As you may have realised, it's difficult to directly compare the cost and value of different flea and tick treatments, as they differ in how frequently they need to be given. So we've taken the hard work out for you and done a bit of a comparison table based on their value per month.

For the purpose of this comparison, we've provided the cost for three different sized dogs - 5kg (small breed), 20kg (medium breed), and 40kg (large breed). We've also focused on products that protect against both fleas and ticks, at their recommended dosage for both parasites.

Note - for a comparison of which parasites each product covers, see our table at the bottom of this article.

Product Name Frequency Pack Size Cost Per Pack Cost Per Month

Bravecto chew

Every 3 months* 1 chew

5kg dog: $45.26

20kg dog: $46.24

40kg dog: $45.91

5kg dog: $15.08

20kg dog: $15.41

40kg dog: $15.30

Bravecto spot-on

Every 6 months 1 topical tube

5kg dog: $99.00

20kg dog: $99.00

40kg dog: $99.00

5kg dog: $16.50

20kg dog: $16.50

40kg dog: $16.50

Nexgard

Every month 6 chews

5kg dog: $71.95

20kg dog: $75.19

40kg dog: $79.99

5kg dog: $11.99

20kg dog: $12.53

40kg dog: $13.33

Seresto

Every 4 months** 1 collar

5kg dog: $54.95

20kg dog: $54.95

40kg dog: $54.95

5kg dog: $13.74

20kg dog: $13.74

40kg dog: $13.74

Simparica

Every month 6 chews

5kg dog: $24.80

20kg dog: $53.79

40kg dog: $57.04

5kg dog: $8.26

20kg dog: $8.97

40kg dog: $9.51

Advantix

Every 2 weeks 6 pipettes

5kg dog: $67.35

20kg dog: $71.38

40kg dog: $74.40

5kg dog: $22.45

20kg dog: $23.79

40kg dog: $24.80

*For ticks alone, Bravecto chew only needs to be given every 4 months.

**For fleas alone, Seresto has 8 months coverage.

Note: The prices above were accurate at time of publication. Prices may fluctuate; please consult links above to see current prices of any specific products.

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See a complete breakdown of all available flea and tick products below. These tables provide an unbiased comparison of all products, what parasites they each cover, and for how long.

Further Reading

Want to read more? Check out our other articles:

Heartworm Facts Every Pet Owner Should Know

Raw Diets for Pets: The Risks and Benefits

Are Raw Bones Safe?

Dangerous Food For Dogs

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