How often do dogs need flea and tick medicine like Frontline?
How often do dogs need Frontline Plus or other flea and tick prevention? 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
I recommend you do your own research and discuss with your dog’s vet. Then make the best decision for your own dog. Use this article to add to your ongoing research but everyone’s situation is a little different.
It does say 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.”
So why do vets recommend a monthly flea-and-tick treatment for all dogs?
Well, one obvious reason is because vets make money from selling chemical flea-and-tick prevention medications. Most vets sell these products.
You’ve probably noticed 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.
Yes, in some areas you really need to protect your dog from fleas and ticks year round. In other areas, it’s not much of an issue.
Dogs live a variety of lifestyles in various climates. You are the best advocate for your own dog.
Do dogs need Frontline flea medicine every month?
To determine how often to give your dog a spot-on, chemical flea prevention like Frontline Plus, 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. 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. I just never saw any ticks or fleas when we lived there between 2008 and 2013.
In more recent years there have been more reports of Lyme disease in dogs throughout that area, however.
What is Lyme disease and how does it affect dogs?
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 of Lyme disease in dogs include:
- a loss of appetite
- difficulty breathing
- kidney problems (in rare cases)
Does Lyme disease kill dogs?
Most dogs will not get sick from Lyme disease, even if they are exposed, according to an article in Dogs Naturally Magazine. These dogs will test positive but will show no symptoms. Just five percent of exposed dogs will actually get sick.
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?
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 dog 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 had never been vaccinated for Lyme disease because I believed 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 flea prevention for dogs?
I take a common-sense approach with fleas. My cats live indoors, so Frontline flea medicine is unnecessary for them.
My dog 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 for dogs?
“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 over vaccinating and flea-and-tick products than I am about the actual diseases they prevent.
And yes, of course you should vaccinate your dog! Just spread them out over a few months if you can vs. all at once and only get the vaccines that are truly necessary.
You may feel differently, and that’s fine. I know you will fight for your own pet more than anyone else.
Natural flea prevention options for dogs
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 Plus:
- 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. You can also purchase Cedar oil from brands such as Wondercide.
- 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. I used it for flea prevention with my puppy Remy when we lived in San Diego because I did not want to expose him to chemicals. Order here.
- Natural flea prevention sprays – You can buy natural flea prevention sprays online, often no prescription is needed. (brands listed below)
- 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.
Natural flea prevention: Wondercide and Vet’s Best
Ask your dog’s vet about natural brands of flea and tick prevention that do not include chemicals. Note that sometimes these products are not as effective but they may work well enough for your area.
Wondercide – Has many varieties of sprays safe for both dogs and cats.
Vet’s Plus – Another option that has a variety of flea and tick prevention sprays for dogs and cats.
I would try these natural brands first and if you truly need a stronger product, then look into some of the chemical products such as Fontline Plus or K9 Advantix.
*Note that some products are NOT safe for cats! Always read the labels, warnings and instructions.
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.
Lindsay Stordahl is the founder of That Mutt. She writes about dog training and behavior, healthy raw food for pets and running with dogs.