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Frontline for Pets – Which is the truth and which is the lie?

Okay. So I admit it. I have purchased Frontline from a big box store. It’s cheaper than buying it from my vet and it’s more convenient (I can buy it while grocery shopping). Same box. Same name. What’s the harm?

What I didn’t know was how much danger I was putting my dogs in by purchasing it from someplace other than my vet. Or was I?

When I first saw this story on Truth About Pet Food I was afraid. The opening sentence read “A veterinarian has evidence of counterfeit Frontline flea treatment believed to be responsible for a pets death.” The story goes on to report on that there may have been as many as 17 dog deaths related to this counterfeit Frontline. Scary? Yes! “I could have killed my dogs!” I thought. I immediately posted the story on my Facebook fan page and then shared it on my personal page.

But then, as I was working on this blog post, I came across a post following up on the original story. It expanded upon the original story about counterfeit Frontline by saying that the real issue was regarding “…a Frontline product that is supposed to be sold outside the US (is) being sold inside the US.” In other words, a Frontline product manufactured to be sold in the UK could “be re-packaged and sold to a US petsumer. Merial told me there have been no reports – to their knowledge – of the flea and tick treatment itself being counterfeit; only the packaging.” Since dosage instructions and weight guidelines are measured differently in the United States than in the United Kingdom (i.e., oz./lbs vs. mg/kg), if a pet were to receive the wrong dosage this could be a problem. The EPA has already reported that many adverse reactions to flea and tick medications are due to improper use.

Susan, from Truth About Pet Food, goes on to say “Merial told me Frontline is ‘only sold to practicing veterinarians’. So I asked…’If Frontline is only sold to practicing veterinarians, then how is the product available on so many online sites?’ They responded ‘we don’t have a direct answer on this, we don’t really know how these sites receive the product’. (My thought was – you have to sell it to them; that’s how.)” So why the company line saying consumers should “only buy it from a vet?”

I was further confused when I saw a comment on this post referencing a piece on VIN News Service. (VIN is a news media arm of the Veterinary Information Network, the largest online information service devoted to veterinary medicine.)

Suddenly, the truth got even murkier. It shared stories of veterinarians being solicited by unknown individuals, asking them to sell their stocks of Frontline to them or to order more than they normally order, so they could sell the product to these “vendors’ for a profit. It also included assertions that drug companies knowingly or “unknowingly” divert their stocks of pet meds to other vendors despite having “long-standing policies of selling their products only through licensed veterinarians, even for medications that don’t require a prescription.”

Since the “path of distribution is a tightly held secret” among the big box stores and online vendors, like 1-800-PetMeds, you have to wonder which is the truth and which is the lie? If Frontline is really only safest if purchased from a vet why are pharmaceutical companies failing to control distribution of their product? Or, at the very least, why aren’t they ensuring that anyone who sells their product, other than veterinarians, is stopped immediately?

As a dog owner it is really frustrating to know what to do to keep my pets safe. Do I only purchase from a veterinarian? Or, is it safe to buy online or from a big box store? If pharmaceutical companies really are selling this stuff through other channels (on the gray market) why don’t they just come clean and admit it?

Pet food companies used to be really great at hiding the truth too… until 2007 when pets started dying across the country. Owners suddenly became much more educated about their pet’s food and a LOT more cautious about which food they fed their beloved pets. Organic, corn-free, wheat-free, all natural – these are the labels we see now, and for those pet food companies who choose to use these labels to try and deceive the public about their ingredients or processing operations, lawsuits are becoming the norm.

So what’s it going to take for pharmaceutical companies to come clean too? Another incident like 2007? God help us and our pets. I certainly hope not.

Welcome to the Saturday Pet Blogger Blog Hop. I encourage you to check out some of the other awesome bloggers out there. Much thanks to our most generous and interesting hosts, Life With Dogs, Two Little Cavaliers, and Confessions of the Plume!

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  1. August 27, 2011 at 5:39 AM

    You are a detective! nice work! I it is the the gray market is it not? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey_market) . I thought the counterfeit products were not made by the manufacturer. It’ is all moot anyway because Front line doesn’t work no matter where you buy. The dogs and bugs are immune.

    • JJ
      August 27, 2011 at 10:00 AM

      Really? I try really hard not to use things like chemical flea/tick prevention, but the few times we’ve given in (when the dogs actually got fleas), it actually got rid of them and has kept them at bay.
      Is this immunity in general or in your area? o_o Now I’m worried.

      • Mel
        August 28, 2011 at 7:37 AM

        I have used Frontline with success as well. When Jasper first was “rescued” from the nasty pet store in Shakopee, he came with fleas. Frontline killed them all.

    • Mel
      August 28, 2011 at 7:39 AM

      Thanks Nancy. It IS the gray market.
      I was most surprised by your comment that Frontline doesn’t work. It has worked effectively for my dogs. I wonder if there is an immunity that is developing though since someone on Twitter mentioned that in Alabama it no longer works. That is NOT good news. 😦

      • August 30, 2011 at 6:38 PM

        Late to the party, again, but yes, Frontline Heartguard Plus has been shown to be ineffective. In other words, dogs who are known to have been treated with the product have contracted heartworm. I wrote about this problem
        http://www.dancingdogblog.com/2011/06/heartgard-plus-coverup-whistleblower-fired/ The Merial has been having problems with the FDA since 2004 about their claims to preventing heartworm. Without the whistle-blower we would not know what was going on.

        Excellent detective work, too;)

  2. JJ
    August 27, 2011 at 9:57 AM

    Wow. Now there’s something to think about. I’d heard about all of this frontline stuff, but I’ve heard it about just about every single name-brand pet anything. From shampoos to flea/tick preventative, from food to unsafe collars. (On the collars – your equipment is only as strong as your weakest link. Imagine a seriously troubled dog in an incorrectly designed snap buckle. Can we say EXPLOSION?)

    I’d say it’s unfortunate that we can’t trust any company, big or small, to do anything that doesn’t have a direct (positive) impact on their checkbooks, but that’s always been the realistic view.

    There’s a risk in everything, from flea and tick medication to letting your dog outside off leash. The hard part is figuring out where your boundaries are and trying your best to keep your own pet safe, happy, and healthy.

    It’s too bad the big companies can’t be more like the local dog trainer or pet sitter – honestly interested in your pet’s welfare. =] They should take a lesson from us ;]

    • Mel
      August 28, 2011 at 7:36 AM

      Thanks JJ. I think a lot of smaller companies do care about their clients and their safety and health. They are on the frontlines (no pun intended) and get to know people and care for them. When you get to be a big corporation it becomes all about the bottom line. You’ve got shareholders to please and Wall Street analysts to deal with. I think your comment on “figuring out where your boundaries are” is a great point. We all have to draw the line for ourselves. It’s only when companies try to deceive the consumer that everyone loses.

  3. August 27, 2011 at 12:02 PM

    Yikes, I didn’t realize there was so much going on behind the scenes. In Canada I’ve never seen Frontline or any other pet pharmaceutical available in bog box stores. My grocery store has never carried it. Our pet stores don’t even carry it. The only place to get medication like Frontline or Revolution is from the vet clinic. This may not be true across the country but it is here. I don’t know if this is the best solution to the problem, however, as it makes treating my pets incredibly expensive. But right now, it’s our only option.

    We like to think that pet product companies have our pet’s welfare at heart. Healthy, happy pets should mean more sales, right? It should be a win-win. But somehow things get complicated and the companies don’t always see it this way. Cost cutting becomes the most important goal. As pet owners we have to be detectives, I guess. There is no simple answer.

    • Mel
      August 28, 2011 at 7:33 AM

      Me neither Kristine. When I started out this was going to be a simple post about the dangers of counterfeit Fronline. Little did I know I would be opening up a pandora’s box a 9 PM at night!
      I bet the reason you haven’t seen it there is because Canada has a righter control over drug companies than we do. I would like to think that drug companies have people’s best interests at heart, but they are a company and buying influence is the name of the game. It’s tough being a consumer these days.

    • Jasmine
      August 12, 2013 at 8:23 AM

      As sad as it is to say , I recccomenf DON’T use frontline ! I’m not a vet but I had a cat who we used this on and he almost passed , we saved him but rushing him to the hospital while he was having seizures the whole way, when I yelled to the vet I dk what happened to him she asked right away ” did you put frontline on him?!” He had IV treatments for four days , it was hard and sad but they had to drain out the “poison” as the vet said , this is a story I’ve heard many times about frontline , it’s not worth the risk.

  4. August 28, 2011 at 12:18 AM

    Very interesting look into the pet meds market. Since I’d never buy any medication from a big box pet store, I’ve never checked to see if Frontline is available to Canadians or not. You can buy worming pills and some flea meds from pet stores, but I’d rather spend the few extra dollars and know that it is the correct dosage and that it will work.

    I’ve always been leery about buying pet medications on line, I view it like buying medication from India. Are you getting the right dosage? The real medication? Maybe. I’ll just keep buying from my vets clinic. I know that it costs more, but I am (hopefully) getting the real deal.

    Nice post, Mel!

    • Mel
      August 28, 2011 at 7:30 AM

      Thanks Karen. I think you are right about being leery about buying online. I feel the same way. I am less leery buying from a big box store only because they have to be sure that the product is legitimate since anything that endangers people’s pets would be a huge hit to their brand. I will only get heartworm meds at a vet though. I couldn’t trust buying it elsewhere. I would bet Canada has tighter restrictions on pet meds than we do. Here the drug companies rule. They’ve got the money to own the FDA, and they do.

  5. August 29, 2011 at 7:58 AM

    Wow… I had no idea about any of this. So many people I know pick their Frontline up at Costco. I hope you’re right and at some point there will be transparency and clarity on this issue.

    • Mel
      August 29, 2011 at 10:22 PM

      I didn’t either. What concerned me most is something I didn’t include (because it would have made the post twice as long) and that’s the real counterfeit drugs, like Frontline, that have already been intercepted by the FDA and DEA. These are documented cases mentioned in the last post I mentioned in my piece. If you add all the stuff sold by vets, the stuff sold on the gray market through other vendors and the stuff sold by counterfeiters, how do you know which is the safest? I am sure 1-800-PetMeds is getting the real deal, but how are we to know that other companies are getting the same safe product and not the counterfeit. That’s the part that scares me.

  6. August 29, 2011 at 9:23 AM

    Hi, we just wanted to say that in regard to all the products we sell, we obtain them from a variety of sources including manufacturers, distributors, and wholesalers. Everything’s 100% guaranteed and U.S. FDA/EPA-approved. We sells the same products you’d find at the vet’s office. For more information about our product guarantee you can visit: http://www.1800petmeds.com/guarantee.jsp

    • Mel
      August 29, 2011 at 10:34 PM

      Thanks for responding. I have no doubt you get your product from legitimate sources, but when the maker says that they only sell to vets it makes one wonder how everyone else is getting their product.
      Does this mean that Merial, the only one that makes Frontline, is selling to you directly? And, if not, where is it coming from? And, how do pet parents know that what they are buying is safe?

      What concerns me more is the chance that the counterfeit product will find it’s way into the supply chain. There are a lot of online vendors selling Frontline. How do we know that one of them won’t buy from an unscrupulous dealer? Since no one will admit the company sells to them directly and no one will admit they are buying directly from veterinarians, how do we know that it REALLY is the real deal?

    • Jen
      June 29, 2012 at 10:01 AM

      So what you are saying is that if Frontline Plus was purchased from you and the customer still has fleas, you will send Terminix out to treat the customer’s home? because that is what Frontline Plus guarantees. And it specially states on the Merial website that they only place to safelt purchase Frontline Plus is through veterinarians.

      • Mel
        June 29, 2012 at 8:24 PM

        Nope. I am saying purchase from a vet, but also be aware that some companies may be allowing it to be sold on the side and claim they don’t support it. So interesting that Frontline promises that. I had not heard that before. My friend just shared that she used Frontline, still had fleas, and when she called Merial they said they couldn’t help her. I think there is so much more here than we even know. Nice to know Merial backs it up.

  7. michele
    October 7, 2011 at 10:19 PM

    I am furious that no one seems to be able to get a straight answer about where these medications are coming from. Worse still, we are left not knowing who to believe. Is the Vet telling us the truth? Or are they just attempting to get us to purchase meds through them. I have been battling fleas for three months now and have been a religious user of frontline since I got my dog a year ago. I use it EVERY thirty days as directed. Quite simply, it just doesn’t work anymore. I am so frustrated. My Vet has advised me to go ahead and give (yet) another dose to my dog who had it 2 weeks ago, claiming that this is completely safe. Still have fleas. I was told the lifecycle had to be broken and that it takes two months…….well I am going on three months and not only is the lifecycle of the fleas not broken, it has gotten worse. I have no rugs in my house, vacuum and spray insecticides daily, and have now begun washing every bit of my bedding daily. Bottom line. Frontline doesn’t work anymore.

    • Mel
      October 8, 2011 at 12:06 AM

      Michele – I spoke with someone on Twitter some time ago who said that Frontline no longer works for her dogs either. It seems to be common in the south although I am not sure why. I honestly can’t believe your vet recommended applying it within two weeks of the last dose. I’m not a vet, but that seems dangerous or at the very least not safe for your dog. The person I spoke with had switched to another product. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of it. But, I bet you could post a question on Twitter or Facebook and someone might be able to share what they are using.

      I am so sorry. I understand your frustration.

  8. andy
    May 25, 2012 at 1:28 PM

    i used frontline on my pom and labmix last year for the first time 7 months after that both dogs got cancer died same week 3 days apart sezurers the pom got confused wear she was sometimes

  9. June 14, 2012 at 3:29 PM

    I have always used advantage on my cats. I used frontline last year, and it did not work. I heard some complaints that it was not working, tried it anyway, and it is a complete waste of money. The regular advantage, I have never had a problem. I have not used the multi advantage, and will not, but thats just my personal preference.

  10. Cato
    October 14, 2012 at 5:38 PM

    FRONTLINE VET for cats KILLED our beloved cat last week. The cat was perfectly healthy, 8 years old. We applied the chemical between her should blades as directed, she disappeared the same night and we found her dead under a tree a few days later.
    This cruel poison should be banned worldwide

  11. June 8, 2014 at 7:08 PM

    I have used Frontline Plus for cats for several years but this summer it is not working (I live in NC where it is hot and humid) so I actually use a flea preventive program year round. I called the company and after I told them I got it at Costco, the rep sort of clammed up, saying they only do business with practicing vets. I asked where did retailers get their supply and “she did not know” and was unable to speak about it. I am going to talk to my vet tomorrow (6/9/14) but can’t use anything for three more weeks. To give my cat (he’s 18) some relief from scratching, I pulled a tip from the internet (cut a lemon into slices, cover with water and bring to a boil. Let set overnight to make it stronger. ) I have been lightly spraying my cat with this lemon water this weekend and he seems to be more comfortable. I get a 15% senior discount from my vet but it still costs too much.

  12. Heather
    September 8, 2015 at 11:11 AM

    I used to use frontline plus but when I purchased it the last THREE times from online stores and one from Wal-Mart. it didn’t work on my kitten at all, and my older cat Fred got huge holes that looked like burns all around the application on his last application. This is a cat that I’ve used this same product on for years every summer and fall with great results.I don’t know if they changed the recipe or if it was counterfeit or what but I’ve moved on to advantage from my vet and it worked pretty well.(not as quick as frontline used to be…but after a couple days I’m finally flealess!)

  13. Amy
    December 13, 2015 at 7:53 PM

    My vet tech just told me to get Frontline from them, that even the Frontline @ Petco/Pet Smart aren’t safe or legit. I just noticed my dogs scratching weeks after a new application of a store-bought Frontline…so maybe I’m leaning to the vet? I go to the Humane Society, so I’ll have to compare prices & packaging to see what’s different.

  14. Laurie
    July 28, 2016 at 6:38 PM

    Ok so I picked up Frontline from a woman who can’t use it for her dog,,she gave it to me free. It expires in a year,,,,but it’s manufactured in the UK and we live here in USA. What is your opinion? I found your article didn’t really clear much up unless I missed something. Sometimes I need a direct unmuddled yes or no. I’m leaning toward not using it but if it’s safe,then why not? I’m confused

    • Camille
      April 26, 2017 at 6:56 PM

      I’ve been using metric (KG/ml) packaging Frontline for 20+ yrs. Back then for years, I used to foster dogs and most of them came with fleas. Since the vet sold US packaged (lbs/oz) Frontline really expensive, my vet told me to just use the metric packaging from AU/UK/FR.
      My vet said Merial, USA did not allow vets to tell customers that all Frontline, as long as it is Made in France, is the same, regardless of the metric packaging 20+ years ago (I suspect it’s the same now too). If any vet were found to be telling customers that, Merial, USA would blacklist them and limit or cut future orders of all their products.

      I prefer the metric packaging because of the expiration dates. All countries, except USA, require an expiration date on all medication to protect consumers. I had used US packaged Frontline Plus and it didn’t work. Could be old stock from many years ago but I could never tell because there is no expiration date on the box/product, The metric packaging Frontline always worked for me. It kind of gives me a peace of mind that the medication is still effective.

      I also like the metric packaging Frontline plus (I mainly use the AU packaging) because the prices are very affordable.
      My AU vet friend said, e.g. a 3 Mths small dogs box, he is charged only 40% of what Merial, USA charges US vets. I usually ask my AU vet friend send me boxes of Frontline Plus for myself, family and friends throughout the year. It is still way cheaper even with freight cost than buying from the vet here.

      As mentioned above, been using for 20+ years, all my, family’s and friends’ dogs and cats never had fleas or ticks problems before.

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