Counterfeit Flea and Tick Products Stick Bite Consumers


March, 2004
Beware: Industry won’t stand behind tainted products.

Frontline and Advantage have started showing up at retail stores and online in cleverly designed packaging appearing identical to the real thing. However, they’re decidedly not.

“There is a risk to pets,” confirms Joe Bailey, special assistant to the office director of the office of pesticide programs for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “The products go through a rigorous process to be approved by the EPA so unintended risks don’t occur to (impact the) health of people, pets or affect the environment. When there are no controls, we can’t be sure of what’s in the box.”

The EPA allegations, issued in early March, 2004 (concerning counterfeit packaging) are a result of several years of ongoing investigations.

Specifically, dosage might be different in the counterfeited products, according to Bob Walker, director of communications and public policy at Bayer Corp., of Kansas City, MO manufacturer of Advantage, a spot on flea preventative.

For example, you don’t want to put a toy dog dosage of Advantage on a very large breed dog; it won’t work efficiently. “There’s no telling what’s inside (the counterfeit products), we know that the dosages aren’t always what they should be,” Walker says. He’s referring to the fact that both Advantage and also Frontline – a spot-on treatment for both fleas and ticks – are given to pets based on the kind of pet (dog or cat) and weight.

There’s one absolute guaranteed way to avoid purchasing counterfeit packages, according to Walker – buy through your veterinarian.

Dr. Zack Mills, executive director of veterinary services at Duluth, GA-based Merial, Ltd., maker of Frontline agrees, “If you want to feel 100 per cent confident about what you’re getting, purchase the product through your veterinarian.”

Both Merial and Bayer insist they only offer Frontline and Advantage respectively through practicing licensed veterinarians. If that’s the case, how are literally thousands – maybe over a million boxes available in drug stores – including at least one major chain, large retail outlets, through the Internet and 800-number express delivery services? While it turns out some of the packaged product available through these sources is counterfeit, it’s not likely that they all are.

Some unscrupulous vets actually order twice or five times as much as they need, and then re-sell the pesticides to other outlets, according to several industry sources. But these veterinarians are in the minority, and both Bayer and Merial are doing what they can to prevent these tactics in the first place, according to both companies.

If the makers of Frontline and Advantage aren’t selling to these other sources, how are the illicit sellers getting products? The EPA refuses to comment, suggesting their investigations are ongoing. Merial and Bayer say they don’t know. So, it remains a mystery. “We’re only beginning to understand the scope of the problem,” Walker says.

Many consumers bypass vets to buy Frontline and Advantage elsewhere thinking it will be cheaper. But that’s not always the case. After taxes and/or shipping fees, Frontline, Advantage and similar products available from other outlets can actually cost more.

What’s disconcerting is that other pet health products, which are also supposed to be sold exclusively at vet offices, are increasingly available via these other sources. And if there’s a question about what’s inside the package and/or dosing a pet’s life may be impacted. For example, Advantix is a flea and tick preventative for dogs, but can be lethal if used on a cat. What if Advantix is inside a tube of a package labeled Advantage for cats? This is a hypothetical example, so Bailey at the EPA wouldn’t speculate.

Mills says that he’s optimistic that the EPA action will effectively cut off at least some of the counterfeit supply, as the EPA goes after the bad guys. The EPA won’t comment on how they’re doing that, or even who the bad guys (the counterfeiters) are. However, it seems, from all accounts, these look-a-like efforts are illegally imported from outside the U.S. borders. In a press release, the San Francisco EPA office said, “The counterfeit pesticides appear to have been unlawfully imported.”

The American Veterinary Medical Association is unbiased and doesn’t endorse specific products for flea and/or tick prevention. However, Dr. Bruce W. Little, AVMA executive vice president does endorse consumers purchase these products through licensed veterinarians as a matter of their own protection and for their pets’ best interest.

The EPA doesn’t suggest where consumer should purchase products. But they offer detailed information to consumers about how to identify at least many of the counterfeit products on their website:

Bayer (Advantage) information can be found at ,or call 866-459-3771.

Merial (Frontline) information can be found at, or call 888-846-2340.

Both companies promise to help consumers at no charge should they purchase a counterfeit product. Bayer will reimburse consumers who have purchased a proven counterfeit package of Advantage if they visit a veterinarian to make the purchase.

Mills says if counterfeit Frontline is purchased, the recommendation is to return it to the retail outlet or Internet provider and get your money back.

He adds, “The greatest concern of all is that consumers get what you pay for, and that the pet are using products that are safe.”