How Often Do Dogs Need Frontline or Other Flea-and-Tick Prevention?

How often do dogs need flea tick Frontline?

Note: My dog is a pampered, suburban, Mama’s boy. I do not necessarily expect my decision about flea-and-tick prevention to be your decision.

How often do dogs need Frontline? Should you give your dog chemical, flea-and-tick prevention every month? So much depends on your exact situation, where you live, what activities you do with your dog, the time of year, etc.

It says right on the back of the Frontline Plus box how “Research demonstrates that Frontline Plus kills adult fleas, flea eggs, and flea larvae for up to three months.” It also states that it can kill ticks for “at least one month.”

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Fine print on Frontline Plus box

So why do most vets recommend a monthly flea-and-tick treatment for all dogs?

Because vets make money from selling chemical flea-and-tick prevention medications.

They all have those posters and pamphlets sitting in their lobbies with information on flea infestations and the dangers of ticks carrying Lyme disease. I can’t look at those magnified photos of flea eggs on carpeting without going straight home to vacuum. Yuck! Fear sure sells.

Sometimes you should be concerned about fleas and ticks and the diseases they carry. Sometimes, not so much.

Unfortunately, vets tend to overestimate the actual risk of a dog contacting a disease from fleas or ticks. And they underestimate the risks of chemical, spot-on flea preventions. Therefore, dog owners live in fear of Lyme disease and flea infestations but they don’t hesitate to cover their dogs in toxic chemicals.

Vets tend to recommend monthly flea-and-tick treatment across the board for all dogs, but what’s best for one dog is not necessarily best for another. Dogs live a variety of lifestyles in various climates. You are the best advocate for your own dog.

How often do dogs need Frontline

Do dogs need Frontline every month?

To determine how often to give your dog a spot-on, chemical flea prevention like Frontline, weigh the risks of fleas, ticks and the potential diseases they carry in your area vs. the potential health risks linked to toxic flea-and-tick preventions.

I treated my retriever mix Ace with Frontline Plus once per year, typically in late June, when we lived in Fargo, N.D. I felt my dog’s risk of getting sick from Lyme disease (carried by deer ticks) was low even though we went on rural hikes and camping trips.

However, my friend’s dog in Fargo, N.D., recently was diagnosed with Lyme disease. So, looking back, maybe Ace and I were just lucky and I should’ve used prevention more frequently.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a tick-transmitted disease. The most common symptom in dogs is lameness due to inflamed joints, according to PetMD.com’s article “Lyme Disease in Dogs.” Other symptoms include:

  • a loss of appetite
  • fever
  • difficulty breathing
  • depression
  • kidney problems (in rare cases)

Symptoms usually appear after a two- to five-month incubation period, according to Dr. Patricia Jordan in the article “Lyme Disease and Lyme Vaccine Disease” in DogsNaturally magazine

Does Lyme disease kill dogs?

Most dogs will not get sick from Lyme disease, even if they are exposed, according to Jordan in DogsNaturally. These dogs will test positive but will show no symptoms. Just five percent of exposed dogs will actually get sick.

The low percentage of dogs that do get sick from Lyme disease respond well to antibiotics, and a full recovery is expected, according to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine [1].

In the United States, Lyme disease is most common on the Pacific coast, in the upper Midwest and on the Atlantic coast, according to Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

But regardless of where you live, it’s important to think about your dog’s lifestyle.

“Dogs who spend their lives in a house, get walked on concrete, and don’t frequent areas inhabited by white-tailed deer (the deer tick is the main vector of the disease) have an extremely low risk of contracting Lyme disease,” wrote Ted Kerasote in the book “Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs.” 

Suburban and rural dogs, on the other hand, have a greater risk.

There are plenty of articles online scaring dog owners about Lyme disease, but I have not found statistics showing the number of canine deaths per year due to Lyme disease.

Do any of you happen to have that info? Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that Lyme disease was the listed cause of death for just 23 humans in the United States between 1999 and 2003.

I’m not saying Lyme disease is something to take lightly. I’m saying we have to look at it within reason, not with hysteria. 

Nearly every dog owner I know gives her dogs a monthly dose of Frontline and Heartgard. Fear is an effective marketing tool, and these products are big money-makers.

Should I vaccinate my dog for Lyme disease?

That is up to you. I choose not to vaccinate my dog for Lyme disease. Ace has never been vaccinated for Lyme disease because I believe his risk of contacting the disease is low. My approach to vaccinations in general is to give as few as possible.

My 7-year-old golden retriever died from the autoimmune disease hemolytic anemia, a disease linked to overvaccinations and exposing dogs to extra toxins such as spot-on flea treatments and chemical heartworm prevention. I do not take these issues lightly.

OK, but what about fleas?

I take a common-sense approach with fleas. My cats live indoors, so Frontline is unnecessary for them. Ace goes outside every day, but I vacuum weekly and wash his bedding every two weeks with a baking soda detergent free of perfume and dyes.

I also check his coat and skin every day. If I were to ever spot a flea on him, I would probably give him an extra dose of Frontline, but this has never occurred.

Your situation could be different. If you live in a warmer climate, your dog probably has a higher risk of getting fleas.

The same is true if your dog spends more time outdoors or if you live in a more rural area than I do. Still, there are plenty of natural flea prevention precautions you can use instead of toxic chemicals.

What are the risks of toxic spot-on flea prevention medications?

“In 2008, 44,000 adverse reactions to spot-on treatments were reported, including 600 deaths,” wrote Kerasote in “Pukka’s Promise.”

As I said earlier, I have been unable to find statistics citing the number of dogs that die annually from Lyme disease, but I’m guessing it’s far fewer than the 600 that die from spot-on flea treatments.

In 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency and Health Canada reported they would develop more stringent testing procedures for the inert ingredients in spot-on flea preventatives, wrote Kerasote.

“They would also ask that warning labels be put on flea-and-tick products, notifying customers of possible adverse effects,” he wrote. “In 2012, the changes had not gone into effect.”

For me, it’s all about avoiding extra toxins. Dogs die of lymphoma and other cancers each year, and while many cases are related to genetics, there are also environmental links.

It’s impossible to avoid all toxins within our environment, but we can limit what we, our families and our pets are exposed to. Toxic flea-and-tick treatments and toxic heartworm preventatives are a few examples.

Each dog owners has to find her own comfort level. Personally, I am more concerned about the risks of vaccines and flea-and-tick products than I am about the actual diseases they prevent. You may feel differently, and that’s fine. I know you will fight for your own pet more than anyone else.

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What are some safer alternatives to flea-and-tick preventions?

As I said earlier, I am just not too worried about fleas and ticks. If they are a concern for you, here are some natural alternatives to Frontline:

  • Cedar oil – Many pet beds are made of cedar, and cedar supposedly kills fleas. You can sprinkle cedar oil on your pet or on your pet’s bed, assuming your pet is not allergic to cedar.
  • Diatomaceous earth – Food-grade diatomaceous earth is benign to dogs, cats and people, but not to a wide variety of insects, according to the USDA. When sprinkled on a dog or cat, it absorbs moisture and fat from the bodies of fleas and ticks, killing them, wrote Kerasote. This product is sold at many pet retail stores.
  • Natural spot-on treatments – These products work on my dog, however my husband and I are allergic to the natural ingredients which have very strong spice scents. Because of this, I prefer to use Frontline, but only once per year. You can buy natural spot-on flea preventions locally at Natural Pet Center.
  • Regular cleaning – Use common sense and vacuum weekly, wash your pet’s bedding often, and brush and bathe your pet. Look at your pet’s coat and skin each day.

Additional ways to keep your pet healthy

  • Don’t double up. If you give your dog a Lyme vaccine, don’t give spot-on treatments as well. Choose one or the other, if any.
  • Don’t give flea-prevention medication in the winter months, unless it’s truly necessary.
  • Keep your dog healthy by feeding high-quality food, providing exercise and minimizing stress.

What are your thoughts? Do dogs need Frontline every month?

We all have to make the best choices for our own dogs based on our own experiences, circumstances and comfort levels. Your thoughts are welcome.

References:

1. http://bakerinstitute.vet.cornell.edu/animalhealth/page.php?id=1101

34 thoughts on “How Often Do Dogs Need Frontline or Other Flea-and-Tick Prevention?”

  1. Hi, I treat my dog at least twice a year (once in spring and once in autumn). However, my dog is kept indoors (except for walks) and im lucky that she has short hair so that I can check for fleas very easily myself! I agree with what you say about the vets…they know that they will get the suckers who will buy everything they suggest! Can I ask you what is your take on kennel cough? I got Chip a vaccination for kennel cough last year (July). Chip never goes to kennels and she hates dog parks so even if I do bring her to one, she is cowering behind my legs all the time and doesnt go near a dog. Ive held off getting the vaccination this year as I dont know how important it is to take in my situation. Of course the vets are all telling me to get it but of course they would!!!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I agree the short hair is a plus!

      Kennel cough is not a serious illness if your dog is healthy. It’s like a common cold or flu for humans, and according to my dog’s vet there are several strains each year (like the human flu) so the vaccine protects against some of them.

      That being said, I do give him this vaccine because I board him. The kennel I use requires it annually, so unfortunately Ace typically gets the kennel cough vaccine once a year. If I didn’t board him, I wouldn’t give it just as I will never get the flu vaccine for myself.

      Even with the vaccine, my dog still got kennel cough several years ago. I think he caught it at obedience class since I hadn’t boarded him yet and he hadn’t been around many other dogs. No big deal. He recovered within an week as we would recover from the flu.

  2. This has been a topic of conversation for two weeks in our household. We live in the Twin Cities and dosed out dog with Frontline about 6 weeks ago (first dose of the season). Two weeks and a half weeks ago, we went hiking at Itasca Park in Northern MN and we were literally infested with ticks! Between the dog, my fiancé and I, we pulled off well over 50 ticks (I quit counting because I got the heebie jeebies); most of them were on the dog. I would say about half of them were actually attached, and the other half were crawling on us. She’s not a big dog – a 36 pound terrier/cattle dog mix. We were going to do some more hiking that day (we’d only been out for 3 hours), but after having to go through that, we cut the hiking short. I don’t think that this is an every day occurrence – we likely had the misfortune of hiking when ticks were hatching in the area and at their peak. If we go back in a few weeks, I doubt that we’d have the same experience.

    However, it did make us think about ticks more. Minnesota has ticks. If we want to hike in Northern Minnesota, we’re going to encounter them and some areas are worse than others. Because we hike often we’ll be dosing her every month until the weather cools.

    On top of that, when we go into heavy tick areas we’ve decided we need something to help repel (none of the topicals repel ticks from what I’d read) and we’ll put a tick collar on her too. Last weekend, we went backpacking on the North Shore and put a collar on her Thursday night, and took it off Sunday when we got off trail. She didn’t have any negative reactions to the collar, nor did she have any ticks on her (not even dead) and we checked her frequently. Do I like using either of these things on her? No. Neither do I like using anything on myself when I go into these areas. As much as I hate using Deep Woods Off!, I use it when going into tick areas because I think I’ll miss out on a lot more by staying home, just like she’d miss out if we don’t put any preventative on her and kept her home instead.

  3. great post, I give my dog flea and tick treatment a few times every season, I live in a heavily wooded area.

  4. As I said on Facebook I do treat Madison every month but we do live in a very densely wooded area where white tailed deer are extremely common (Pennsylvania). I will most definitely check into the natural brand you suggested.

    One issue I have is our dog came from a rescue, and at one point tested positive for heartworm. Our vet drills it into our head that we MUST give her Heartguard Plus every month and makes it seem like if we are late by one day Madison will die. I’m not sure if this is the case or if there’s something else I can do for her? I don’t want her to be taking “chemical treats” every month that could possibly do more harm than good. Do you have any suggestions?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Thanks for your comment. That Natural Defense brand is strong, smelly stuff. You may want to just test a bit first to see if you can handle the smell. I sure couldn’t. But as I said, it did seem to take care of any fleas/ticks.

      The heartworm is a tough issues as well. I’m not sure if you had a chance to read my post on heartworm. As with flea prevention, we all have to make our own choices. I believe it is safe for all dogs to go six weeks between each dose of Heartgard. I took that advice from Dr. Karen Becker. I’m actually confident to stretch the dose out to every three months, since the heartworm “preventative” is actually a treatment, and it takes the larvae at least three months to grow into actual heartworms. So, if your dog were infected on June 1, you could treat him with Heartgard Sept. 1 and call it good. I realize that’s a difficult thing for dog owners to feel comfortable with, since vets are so firm on the monthly treatments.

      1. Yes, I did read the post on Heartguard, but I didn’t see anything about dogs who have tested positive for heartworm in the past. I did something I probably shouldn’t have since I commented, I researched heartworm and how I’m scared to death that Madison may get it again. :/ I just don’t want to keep pumping her full of these chemicals. But I don’t want her to get heartworm again, and because she does play in the creeks and lakes near our house we are exposed to tons of mosquitoes all summer! I guess I’ll have to bite the bullet and do more research, most of the information is just completely frightening to me.
        Thanks again for this article, it’s so informative!

  5. We use Frontline Plus every month that there’s no snow on the ground. We live in MI where there doesn’t seem to be a tick problem and the first flea control we used didn’t have a tick component, which we didn’t realize until we visited our family in CT and the dog got covered in ticks. CT is where Lyme disease originated and both my mom and uncle have both been hospitalized for tick-borne illnesses (Lyme and ehrlichiosis) and my boyfriend’s dog died of complications from Lyme disease. So, if we stayed in Michigan maybe I’d maybe be more lax with frequency of application but going to the Northeast, I am rightfully scared of the dangers of ticks.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Sorry to hear about your family members getting sick, as well as the loss of your boyfriend’s dog.

  6. I agree with you that it all comes down to being aware of your own personal situation & the risks to your specific dog.

    Adding:

    1. If you check your dog for ticks after going in tick-infested areas, you can also give the topical chemical dose right THEN. Tick will die and fall off before it can do any damage. So you don’t necessarily need to give it as preventative if you do decent body check after.

    2. If your dog is frequently around other dogs, the risk for fleas changes too. Daycares, kennels, parks, even dog training facilities can increase the chance of bringing fleas home. Same is true for worms and parasites.

  7. there is another reason for the once monthly “treatment” ….. owner compliance. Its not necessarily what the vets say, it boils down the companies that actually make the product. They will admit that the product last longer than the recommended dosing but their studies have shown that it is easier for people to remember once a month. Trying to say “apply say once every six weeks or once every 16 weeks” for some people they would most likely forget>
    I get sick of people always blaming the vets saying they are just after more money – vets are not the only ones that sell this stuff, pets shops and some pharmacies do too, yet no one complains that they are just interested in making more money, when they too follow recommended manufacturies guidlelines
    Yes I work for a vet, no we do not have a blanket flea control thing – in fact we often get people that will come to us after they have been to the local pet shop who had sold them the most expensive “all in one” product that does everything….we tell them it simply is not necessary (especially since the owner may already be doing something else for heartworm control and the pet shop has just sold them something that does everything including heartworm) – at the clinic I work at every animal is an individual
    The same applies to stomach worms – the companies recommend every 3 months. Many people assume they are preventing stomach worms, but it isnt a preventative, its just about getting rid of what might be in the animal at that time. In reality most city dwelling adult animals in our area do not need so much worming – on an as need basis is usually all that is required.

  8. Thanks for doing the research on this and sharing! When I lived in Texas, I did use it every month. Fleas and ticks were a huge problem where I lived. Now that we are in Kansas, I only use it 3-4 times per year. We don’t have a problem with fleas or ticks at home. But if we go hiking on nature trails, there is a huge problem with ticks. I hate ticks.

  9. Lymes disease is probably the least scary of all the tick born diseases. Topical flea and tick prevent way more than Lymes disease. We treat because tick born diseases are very real. Maybe dogs don’t die from them often, but they can be very debilitating. Many people who have field dogs and swim them a lot apply the preventative every two weeks. Yes swimming can and does lessen effectiveness. As you say there is no one solution for every dog. I think watching a dog become very ill and die from a preventable disease changes perspective. Its a trade off…the cost and risk to the pet to treat some of these diseases tip the scale to prevention for me.

  10. I strongly recommend Advantix! Takes care of heartgard, flea and tick prevention all in one liquid applied on the back in between the shoulder blades. My dog refuses to eat heartgard so Advantix was the perfect option.

  11. I live in the Pacific Northwest (Vancouver, B.C. Canada) and walk dogs for a living. I walk dogs in the forests and have had dogs get ticks in the past. I don’t like using pesticides on our dogs ( and our clients ) so I choose a natural alternative. I mix 4 tablespoons organic coconut oil, 1/2 c apple cider vinegar, 1 c water and about 20 drops of rose geranium essential oil in a spray bottle and spray the dogs before I go out. ( alternatively you could just use a bit of the coconut oil, rub it in your hands and rub on the dog).I have never had a problem with fleas or ticks since I started using it 2 years ago. Its good for cats and humans too.

    1. What a great idea! I only treat in spring when the ticks are moving around alot. Fleas aren’t a big issue here but I check regularly for them. Thanks for the recipe.

  12. Great article. Totally agree. I’ve never used a preventative before and after a recent vet appointment where it was recommended I’ve been debating. Lyme’s disease can be very serious if it’s not caught promptly and treated, but as you say, you have to way the risks.

  13. This has been a big discussion in our house for a long time and I feel like now after 2 days including 4 hours of research each day. I feel like we’ve come to our decision! We live in NorCal in the redwoods and near the coast. Thanks for all the info help and tips! I love that there are plenty of people starting to pay attention to what frontline/heartgard/etc are doing to the dogs. Dogs have lived for a LOOONG time before we came along! 😀

  14. I live in the sub urbs. MY dogs occasionally get walked in my front and back yard. We have some pine trees and I have seen deer. Do I need tick protection all year?

    1. This would be a good question to ask your dog’s vet. It’s always a personal choice, but one factor would be how cold it gets and if it’s cold enough to freeze and kill the ticks. Where do you live?

  15. We live in Georgia and have a second home on the lake(In Georgia). My now 9yr old Golden Retriever has never had a flea on her. She is treated every month with Frontline Plus and heartguard. We have never seen a tick on her either. I however do not put the Frontline on her November through February. The need is not there. I feel this is adequate treatment for our area. I do give her Heartguard every month year around.

  16. I used Hartz Ultraguard all year last year on my adult pup. We go to my parents’ house in Central Wisconsin multiple times per year and hike in the woods there. I took Badu for her annual exam last fall and she tested positive for both Lyme’s and Anaplasmosis. The treatment was 4 weeks of 5 antibiotic pills per day, which made her sick to her stomach and unwilling to eat. My mom’s neighbor dog got Anaplasmosis as well, and it made him disoriented and he couldn’t stay standing up. Both our dogs were treated and recovered from the diseases. Anaplasmosis is a bacteria that attacks the nervous system and is transmitted by ticks. I got my dog vaccinated for Lyme’s and Anaplasmosis in September, and I Fronline her monthly now. My friend is a vet tech and says that Europe uses the same chemical that is in Fronline as a pesticide for crops, so I feel that the chemicals are relatively safe. The cheaper tick preventatives have lower quality chemicals and can cause serious side effects. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to put chemicals on our animals or on ourselves, but when my dog became seriously ill from diseases that may have been prevented if I hadn’t skimped on a cheaper product, I feel like the benefit of these treatments outweigh the apparent risk.

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