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over-the-counter flea and tick preventatives

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan

Fleas and ticks have always been a problem for our pets, and not just because they cause itching and scratching. Dogs and cats can be allergic to flea saliva, which causes a severe skin reaction for those affected, and both fleas and ticks can transmit disease. As veterinarians, it is our goal to provide safe, effective flea and tick preventives that are easy to apply or administer at home.

You have probably noticed over-the-counter flea and tick preventives in stores around your town, ranging from products that you used to only see in the veterinarian’s office, like Frontline and Advantage, to other products that have always been offered in big box stores and the like, such as Hartz topicals and flea collars.

I often get asked about the efficacy of over-the-counter products, but the more important issue to address with these preventives is their safety. I thought I’d take a moment today to address both subjects.

The patent for fipronil, the chemical used in Frontline and Frontline Plus, expired in 2010. When the drug became available for use in other products, we started seeing generic versions of Frontline on the shelves everywhere, from big box stores to online distributors. In theory, these products should work as effectively as the name brand products do. But this isn’t always the case, due in part to the inert ingredients in some products that act as a carrier for the pest control drug. Some products may work well in the first few days, but may lose effectiveness earlier than expected, leaving your pets at risk for flea and tick infestations.

Other over-the-counter products vary widely in efficacy. There are so many different brands of flea and tick prevention available outside of your veterinarian’s office that it is impossible to cover them all. My main concern with over-the-counter products is their safety. Side effects from flea and tick preventives shouldn’t be taken lightly – they can range from mild skin irritation to severe nervous system problems, and even death.

For this reason, if you are choosing to try a new flea or tick product, always follow the directions on the packaging to the letter. Never, ever use a product on a cat that was made for a dog. Cats are particularly sensitive to some of the chemicals used in dog flea and tick formulations. Also beware if you have affectionate cats who like to groom their housemates – topical medications can accidentally be ingested by cats this way.

I know you want to do the very best for your pets while still making sound financial decisions for your family. If you’ve found a less expensive over-the-counter flea and tick product that you’d like to try, just run it by your veterinarian first. He or she may not be able to guarantee its efficacy, but you should be able to find out about its safety before using it. We all want the same thing for your pet – to be healthy this summer and all through the year!
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Posted by BK
on April 05 2016 15:02

Used Frontline and PetAction Plus and had fleas more numerous than could count. Doesn't work well, might for a couple weeks but thats it. Went to vet prescribed Bravecto and haven't seen a flea or tick since.

Posted by PV
on April 05 2016 12:02

I don't use Frontline because I've heard that some fleas have become resistant to it and Advantage II stopped working for my dog halfway through the first 6 months. My vet recommended Revolution and my dog's been flea-free ever since she started it! Which is great because she has flea allergy dermatitis like many dogs. It's prescription-only though, just so you know. I'm not sure if it's US-only.

Posted by Joseph Del Ferro
on April 05 2016 09:27

Why take a chance. If the Vet approves it, its trusted.

Posted by louisa bergey
on April 26 2014 16:19

i have always used Frontline Plus. Last year we battled fleas, off and on, the entire season even though my dog had been treated, She started chewing on herself because her reaction was so bad to the bites. I never found more than one or two fleas during any of the daily examinations i performed on her and most times I didnt find any at all. My vet said that some dogs build up a resistance to Frontline so now I'm at a loss. I don't know what to use. Frontline was really the only brand that did everything and the brand I trusted. Do you have any recommendations? I really don't want to try any of the newer treatments because they haven't been on the market long enough for me to trust them. I've actually stopped walking her in the park for fear of her picking them up off another animal and we live in a hotbed for deer ticks. Any advice u could offer would be greatly appreciated

Posted by sisi
on April 25 2014 00:31

Well, we really do not have much of a choice out here when it comes to choosing one.... I use Frontline Plus and Advantix II.... when I buy thru amazon or ebay, for some reason, I feel as if my babies still are scratching.... So decided to just buy it a Walmart or such, but still not that sure about them.... YOU have recommendations?

Posted by Teddi Alves
on June 20 2013 07:45

COMFORTIS: NEVER, EVER! Seizure, blindness, death. The veterinarian pronounced my beloved pet, Labrador Retriever, Male, American Field, 114 lbs, "fabulous" at his annual physical August 23, 2011, 6 yrs old. He went back mid-Sep with a "hot spot;" fearful of "flea" medications, I had not used them, but the veterinarian prevailed upon me to just "try" ONE PILL, that couldn't hurt? Really? I had USDA CHOICE TOP SIRLOIN/CHUCK GROUND 75/25% RATIO, FORMED INTO PATTIES AND FROZEN; Eukanuba plus patty that night for dinner at 7 p. m. I awoke at 4 a.m. the following day, Saturday, and found him flat out, stiff as a board, staring ahead; full seizure, 7 hours after "just one pill $22." 7 weeks later, he was diagnosed with LYMPHOMA. He was in relapse when he died of Veterinary Malpractice on Apr 21, at SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA VETERINARY SPECIALTY HOSPITAL where he had been treated on a chemo regimen since diagnosis; he suddenly went into an arrythmia .. $13K total billing .. to date .. BUT the "cardiologist" was "out of town" when I rushed to Critical Care over there on Saturday, Apr 20. I got a Necropsy; it showed progressive cardiac issues not detected; and certainly nothing was done for him at CC but hook him to an EKG that never went "normal;" dosages of medication about which they were unsure. COMFORTIS!!! My heart is broken.

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