Please note, this article is from 2006. As of 2013, we are noticing a strong resistance to fipronil among fleas, probably due to the proliferation of discount fipronil products that lack growth regulators.

We are noticing a growing trend among retailers to redirect Frontline Plus buyers toward other products.  To do this, they provide factual information in favor of the other product without providing the factual information in favor of Frontline Plus.  When weighing all the pros and cons of each product, the vets of Healing Springs Animal Hospital still recommend Frontline Plus as the top choice in flea and tick control.  We will start with good to know information on fleas and ticks and then provide product comparisons.

Understanding the Blood Sucking Enemies

Fleas Cause More Problems than Itching

Ounce for ounce, few creatures can inflict more discomfort than the flea.  Besides feasting on your pets and making their lives itchy and miserable, fleas can cause a serious condition called flea allergy dermatitis.  When too many fleas suck the blood of your young, old, or ill pet, anemia can result.  Signs of anemia include pale gums, weakness, and laziness.  Fleas can give your cats rickettsiosis.  Cats may show no symptoms, but they can pass rickettsiosis to humans.  In humans, the disease can cause severe headaches, high fever, delirium, and depression.   Fleas can also transmit plague, tapeworms, and cat scratch disease.

You can help control fleas in your environment with usual home activities.  Vacuum frequently all areas used by your pets including floors and furniture.  This will suck up some of the flea eggs that have fallen from your pet.  Regularly wash your pets’ bedding and blankets with the hottest water the material will allow.  Mow and rake your lawn in all areas frequented by your pet.

flea stagesFrontline Spray Frontline PlusUnderstanding the flea life cycle provides insight into why Frontline Plus is the best product at killing fleas.  The flea life exists in four stages: egg, larval, pupa, and, adult.  One female flea can lay up to 50 eggs per day.  The eggs are not sticky, and many of them fall off your pet.  Without the right flea control, these fallen eggs hatch in your carpet and furniture two to five days later.  At any given point, adult fleas only represent 5% of the total flea population in your household.  Flea eggs and larvae make up 85% of the flea population in your household.  Products that do not kill the eggs and larvae are missing up to 85% of your flea population.  They may be allowing living eggs and larvae to fall off your pet and grow into a biting flea in your carpet, floor cracks, and furniture.  The best flea control product will kill eggs and larvae just for touching your dog or cat.

Ticks Carry Diseases Dangerous to Pets and Humans
Ticks work to make their blood sucking relationship with your pet as comfortable as possible.  Unfortunately, ticks carry even more diseases that are problematic for both pets and humans:

  • Lyme disease: a bacterial infection that affects both dogs and humans.  Signs include lameness, fever, loss of appetite, and fatigue.
  • Babesiosis: makes mature dogs sick and kills puppies in 4 to 12 weeks.  Babesiosis responds to a number of veterinary treatments, but may require a blood transfusion in the later stages of the disease.
  • Ehrilichiosis: an infectious blood disease that attacks your pet’s white blood cells and cripples the immune system
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever: A danger to both humans and dogs.  Signs include fever, loss of appetite, lameness, depression, vomiting, and diarrhea.  If dogs infected with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever do not receive treatment, the virus can cause more severe symptoms and death.
  • Cytauxzoonosis: a sudden, severe, and usually fatal disease in cats.  Signs include loss of appetite and depression followed by one to three days of fever.  Death may follow in another one to three days.

Ticks also have four stages of life: egg, larval, nymphal, and adult.  Female ticks lay their eggs in dense vegetation.  The eggs hatch into larvae.  The larvae move into tall grass or shrubs to wait for an animal to pass by.  Only when they catch an animal and take their first blood meal can they move to their next stage of life.  After one blood meal, they will drop off the animal and begin their transformation into the nymph stage.  As a nymph, they look for another host.  After catching a host and obtaining the next blood meal, ticks can transform into the adult stage.  Some species of ticks can survive for years without a blood meal.  Tick products that can kill ticks in multiple stages of life provide your pet with a good advantage.

As with fleas, yard work can keep down the tick population in your environment.  Ticks like tall grass, tall weeds, and brush.  Trimming bushes and mowing lawns actually hinders ticks’ ability to detect and catch your pet and discourages ticks.  Likewise, keeping your pet out of areas with tall grass and weeds, especially areas frequented by deer, will help your pet avoid ticks.

Product Comparison

Now that we have highlighted the importance of flea and tick control, let’s talk about the products available to protect your dogs and cats.

Whole Body Protection & Waterproofing
Almost gone are the days of ineffective flea collars and toxic baths.  The newest generation of flea control products such as Frontline Plus and K9 Advantix allow you to apply the product to one spot on the back of neck, and the product literally travels through your pet’s skin to provide whole body protection.  Because the protection is working from inside your pet’s skin, the protection literally cannot be washed off.  Unfortunately, some inexpensive products such as those you might find in the grocery store do not provide whole body protection.  Even though they have been repackaged in applicators to look like new technology, they only provide protection in the spots where you applied the product.  In essence, these inexpensive products are about the same thing as the old fashioned flea collars.

Frontline Plus

Please note, this data was published by Merial from tests performed by Merial. Subsequent, independent studies have not supported this data. This may be due in part to a suspected increase in resistance to fipronil.

Works Well for a Full Month, Others Do Not
Most of the better products can only be applied once per month, but they are not fully effective for the whole month.  When you measure effectiveness by the number of fleas on an animal, Merial reports that Frontline maintains its effectiveness over thirty days better than the other top products (K9 Advantix, Advantage, and Revolution).  Frontline Plus proves 100% effective against fleas the first week of application and remains more than 90% effective during the fourth week of application.  Advantage drops steadily to less than 80% effectiveness by the fourth week.  Revolution drops suddenly in the fourth week to less than 50% effectiveness.  K9 Advantix drops steadily to roughly 50% effectiveness by week four.

frontline data

Frontline Plus Kills Fleas and Ticks in Various Life Stages
Frontline Plus also proves superior at killing both fleas and ticks in multiple stages of life.  Only Frontline Plus and K9 Advantix kill ticks in all four stages of life.  Revolution kills adult ticks only.  Advantage and Sentinel do not kill ticks.  Only Frontline Plus breaks up the flea’s life cycle by killing eggs, larvae, and adults on contact.  Advantage and K9 Advantix do not kill flea eggs.  Revolution does not kill flea larvae.

A Good Flea Repellent Wouldn’t Leave a Bunch of Fleas on the Dog
The retail distributors working to switch buyers from Frontline Plus to K9 Advantix point out that K9 Advantix does not  just kill fleas and ticks, it repels them.  However, this added feature must not be terribly effective after 21 and 28 days, because a controlled trial found more fleas on K9 Advantix dogs than with any other product in the study.

K9 Advantix Kills and Repels Mosquitoes, But Not Enough
K9 Advantix also protects dogs from mosquitoes by repelling and killing them.  Mosquitoes transmit heartworms to cats and dogs.  Without proper treatment, heartworms eventually kill the pet.  Unfortunately, the makers of K9 Advantix have offered no evidence that the product stops 100% or even 90% of mosquito bites 14 days into the month.  Since the product does not seem to offer full protection from mosquitoes, pets will still need to be on regular heartworm protection such as Interceptor or Revolution.  Interceptor and Revolution are 100% effective against heartworms when used as scheduled.  Therefore, the mosquito-repelling feature of K9 Advantix does not reduce medical costs or provide your pet with more protection against heartworms than Interceptor or Revolution.  As noted above, K9 Advantix provides one of the lowest levels of flea protection.  Therefore, the repellant and mosquito killing features of K9 Advantix do not outweigh the fact that Frontline Plus provides better flea protection.

Conclusion
Frontline Plus and K9 Advantix are the clear leaders in the battle for the title of best external parasite control product.  K9 Advantix offers protection against mosquitos, but not enough to save you from needing heartworm protection, and the efficacy of this product after 7 days is questionable.  Frontline Plus does the best job of killing fleas and ticks in multiple life cycles, and it does the best job of staying effective for the entire month between treatments.  For these reasons, Frontline Plus currently holds our title for best flea and tick control product.

 

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