Pet parents everywhere know that fleas and ticks are a dog’s worst enemy. Despite their small size, these pests cause a lot of problems for dogs beyond just itching and scratching. Fleas and ticks sometimes transmit diseases, including potentially fatal ones, through their bite. More fleas and ticks on a pet means more chances for the dog to contract a disease. Protection from the diseases begins with protecting dogs from fleas and ticks. A variety of ways, including using flea collars, exist for protecting pets from unwanted pests. Understanding how and what they do will help pet parents determine which is the best flea collar for dogs.
What are Flea Collars?
First introduced in 1964, flea collars are one of the most popular forms of pest control for dogs. Collars are made from a specially formulated plastic and resin mixture designed to give it flexibility without breaking. Once fasten around the dog’s neck using a metal or plastic clasp, the collar works to protect the animal from fleas and ticks. Collars typically use one of two methods to control pests. One type of collar slowly release a gas that repels fleas and ticks near it. The other method emits specially formulated ingredients that spread or seep into the dog’s skin causing ticks and fleas to die. Depending on the method used to kill pests, the collar’s effectiveness may last anywhere from three to eight months.
How Effective are Flea Collars?
The effectiveness of a flea collar depends on the ingredients used to kill pests. The EPA regulates the use of pesticides and sets a minimum standard for safety and effectiveness that collars must meet. The best flea collar for dogs kills at least 75% of fleas within 48 hours of first use. Ticks should begin falling off within a few hours after putting the collar on the dog. Although collars have a long shelf life, repeated exposure to high humidity or heat may reduce the potency of them.
When Shouldn’t You Use a Flea Collar?
Flea collars should not be used with spot treatments or chews since the combined amount of pesticides may be harmful to the dog. The chemicals on the collars may irritate the skin of some dogs. Dogs who display signs of skin irritation around the collar should have it removed and another flea control method used instead. Very young puppies should not use a flea collar. Most collars list a minimum age, usually between 7 and 12 weeks, for use.
Even though there are over two thousand species of fleas, most dogs surprisingly only have one type, Ctenocephalides felis, more commonly known as the cat flea. These tiny pests only grow to 1/8 inch in length and have a thin, oval shape. They don’t have wings, but can jump up to 8 inches high thanks to their large hind legs. Their mouths allow them to break the skin of their victim and feed on the blood. Fleas only live about 21 to 28 days. During that time a single female flea can lay up to 2,000 eggs averaging around 50 per day. Flea eggs are only about 1/32 inch in size resembling white ovals and fall off when the pet moves. High temperatures and humidity aid in the development of flea eggs and larvae. Eggs hatch after 2 to 5 days and remain in the worm-like larvae stage for nearly two weeks before cocooning. The cocoon stage generally lasts from one to two weeks depending on the air temperature. Warm temperatures help them develop into adults faster, but they can remain cocooned for up to a year when it is cold. Adults feed 10 to 15 times per day, but can survive for weeks without feeding. Females cannot reproduce without feeding on blood.
The over eight hundred species of ticks are members of the arachnid family. A few species in the southwestern portion of the United States have soft shells and fasten on animal’s ears. Most ticks found on dogs have hard shells. Ticks live up to 3 years if hosts are readily available. Depending on the species, adult ticks can live several months to a year without feeding. Engorged ticks typically are females preparing to lay eggs. After feeding for about one week, the tick detaches from the dog and then spends up to two weeks laying several thousand eggs on the ground before dying. The eggs hatch within one month. Ticks pass through a larvae stage and a nymph stage before developing into adults within two months of hatching. During each stage, the tick feeds on a host before dropping off, developing into the next stage, and then find a new host. Because the tick life cycle often involves it feeding from different animals, they more readily transmit diseases. The brown dog tick tends to stay on one animal throughout its life. It prefers dogs, but will attach to any host available.
Dangers of Fleas and Ticks
Let’s take a look at some of the dangers that ticks and fleas pose:
- Anemia causes listlessness and pale gums in dogs due to a reduced amount of red blood cells in the body. Dogs with large amounts of fleas and ticks are susceptible to anemia.
- Lyme Disease, caused by bacteria living inside of ticks, affects dogs as well as people. In dogs, the disease can cause painful, swollen joints, fever, loss of appetite, fatigue, depression, and swollen lymph nodes to appear months after receiving a bite from an infected tick.
- Rickettsiae are bacteria living in ticks that helps transmit diseases such as Rock Mountain spotted fever to dogs. Symptoms occur with five days and can include unusual bleeding, skin spots, walking difficulties, and fever.
- Meningoencephalitis can be triggered by an infected tick bite which then causes swelling of the brain and spinal cord. Less than 40% of dogs survive this illness.
- Dermatitis results from an allergic reaction to flea saliva. Dogs experiencing the disease intensely scratch the irritated areas resulting in scabs and hair loss.
- Tapeworms grow inside of dogs after they, while grooming, swallow a flea infected with larvae. The worms feed on the inside of the dog’s intestines. Dogs who drag their bottoms along the ground should be checked for tapeworms.
- Plague, although rare, can infect dogs who have been bitten by fleas from an infected rodent. Dogs with plague may suffer from severe head and neck swelling, abscessed lymph nodes, and death.
- Haemobartonellosis, also known as parasitic blood infection, can cause listlessness, loss of appetite, and even infertility in dogs. Fleas and ticks spread it after feeding on an infected animal and then biting an uninfected one.
- Ehrlichiosis affects the dog’s white blood cells and can cause seizures and paralysis in severe cases. Dogs affected by this disease were infected by a Lone Star or a brown dog tick.
What to Consider Before Buying a Flea Collar
- Size. The width and thickness of collars tend to be approximately the same size regardless of brand. The length of the collar varies based on the size of the dog it is designed for. Collars have extra length to them allowing pet parents to adjust it for fit. Trimming the excess off prevents the dog from chewing on it and becoming ill after ingesting the chemicals.
- Material. Most collars are composed of plastic with resin mixed in to aid flexibility. Not all collars are waterproof and would need to be removed before bathing the dog. Some manufacturers produce collars in a variety of colors making them decorative as well as functional.
- Ease of Use. The best flea collar for dogs will easily fasten around the neck without slipping off or catching on anything. The collar should be easy to remove and refasten as needed. It should provide the protection stated on the packaging without harming the dog.
- Safety. EPA regulations require the amounts of pesticides used in flea collars be generally safe for use on dogs. However, pet parents should take their dog’s individual medical needs into consideration. Dogs with skin sensitivities may require a milder collar or alternative flea and tick control method.
- Longevity. Flea collars may last anywhere from 3 to 8 months depending on the manufacturer’s instructions. A pet parent might choose to purchase a shorter lasting collar to minimize the amount of pesticides the dog is exposed to at once. Collars using mostly natural ingredients to combat pests must be changed more frequently. A longer lasting collar may be preferable for uncooperative dogs. Some people may opt for the convenience of changing the flea collar only once a year rather than several times.
The Top 4 Flea Collar Reviews
Bayer Seresto Flea and Tick Collar, Small Dogs Under 18lbs
Buy now from Amazon
This collar retails for approximately $55 and lasts for 7 to 8 months. It provides effective flea and tick protection without the chemical odor common to pesticides. It uses a small amount of the insecticide flumethrin which is also used to control pests on cattle, horses, and sheep. The collar is safe to use on puppies as young as 7 weeks old. Like the other collars, this one is waterproof. It fits easily under the dog’s regular collar so both fit comfortably. One of the least expensive collars that kills rather than repels pests, users noticed dead fleas and ticks after only one day of use. Although most users were pleased with the results of the collar, a few pets experienced skin sensitivities from it. Some pet parents noticed a few ticks on their dogs after traveling to heavily wooded areas, but were still pleased by the protection the collar provided.
Bayer Seresto Flea and Tick Collar, Large Dog, 2-Pack
Buy now from Amazon
Retailing at just under 100 dollars for two, each collar offers 8 months of odorless protection. The waterproof collar continues to protect the dog even after a bath or swim. The easy-on collar has attachable reflectors to let pet parents find their dogs even in the dark. It also uses flumethrin to kill fleas, ticks, and lice. Users remark that the collar is as effective as topical spot treatments, but without the hassle of needing to apply it every month. Although the price seems high when compared to the other collars, it is for two collars making it around $48 per collar. Most users were pleased by the effectiveness of the collar. A few began finding a few fleas and ticks on their dogs after only 6 months. Also, some users in heavily infested areas found the collar alone were not enough to control fleas and ticks and they needed to treat the home and yard too.
XUS Collar Natural Essentials Oils Flea & Tick Repellant
Buy now from Amazon
Retailing for around $40, this collar provides up to 3 months of complete protection without the potentially harmful side effects of pesticides. It’s waterproof so dogs can get wet without losing protection. Unlike the other collars, this one also repels mosquitoes. Since it uses natural ingredients, there’s no need to worry about harmful chemicals getting on children’s hands when they pet the dogs. Some pet parents opt to only use the collar when the dog will be in potentially flea or tick infested areas. Users remarked that fleas immediately began jumping off the dog after the collar was put on him. The drawback to using this collar is that is does not kill the fleas or ticks leaving them free to attach to other animals and reproduce. Heavy pest infestations may need a more potent collar.
Atom Tech Flea and Tick Collar
Buy now from Amazon
*UPDATE 07/11/2017* It looks like the manufacturer has fixed what ever the problem was with some of these collars. The price is still around $30 at the time of writing this.
*UPDATE 06/23/2017* This product has received a number of poor reviews. As such, the price has been slashed to under $30 at the time of writing this. Perhaps the manufacturer is trying to get rid of what’s left of their stock.
Priced at about $100, this collar is the most expensive. It uses natural ingredients mixed with flumethrin to kill and repel fleas and ticks for up to 8 months. The collar is designed to fit all different sizes of dogs and can be trimmed as needed. Like the other collars, it is water resistant. Unlike the other collars, this one does not kill or repel lice. It does have a scent to it which some pet parents might dislike. If the collar becomes snagged, it will release from the dog preventing injury. Some users were pleased by the relief the collar provided from itching. Some users were generally pleased by the collar, but noted that it began to lose effectiveness after only 6 months. Several users were unhappy with the collar noting that the collar failed to protect their dogs even briefly.
Alternatives to Flea Collars
Some pet parents opt to skip the pesticides and use alternative methods to control fleas and ticks. Bathing the dog frequently and using a flea comb daily works well for some dogs. Spraying apple cider vinegar and water on the dog’s fur helps repel fleas since the pests dislike the smell and taste of it. Use caution when applying oils, like lavender or eucalyptus, since they can trigger allergic reactions. Tea tree oil has been found to be fatal to dogs and cats. Rosemary and peppermint oils are generally safe for use as a flea repellent.
Pet parents have many ways to protect their dogs from fleas and ticks. Flea collars are a safe and effective way to keep pets safe. Whether they use all natural ingredients or approved insecticides, flea collars protect most dogs from the harmful effects of flea and tick bites. The range of diseases transmitted through the bite of the pests highlights the importance of protecting dogs from them. The wide variety of flea collars on the market lets people choose the best collar for their pet’s individual needs.