Best ways to safely keep your pets free of ticks and fleas
Complaints about topical tick and flea treatments are on the rise. In 2007, the total reports of incidents numbered just under 29,000. In 2008, the EPA logged some 600 pet deaths and about 44,000 reports of harmful reactions, including skin irritation, vomiting, and seizures.
So in April 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an advisory warning consumers who use specific types of flea and tick control products on their pets to take precautions. The advisory applied to nearly 70 "spot-on" products, including popular Frontline and Advantage products, that contain registered-pesticides. A spot-on product is one that generally comes in tubes or vials and is directly applied to specific areas of the pet’s body to control fleas and ticks, as opposed to other control products, such as flea collars.
While other flea and tick products, such as sprays, collars, and shampoos have also reportedly caused health effects in pets, the EPA says most incidents have been associated with spot-on products. At the same time, the agency says many flea and tick products are used without harmful effects and notes their importance as part of effective flea and tick control.
The EPA’s advice to consumers who use spot-on flea and tick products includes carefully following label instructions and closely monitoring pets for any signs of adverse reactions after use, particularly when using a product for the first time. The agency also suggests consulting a veterinarian about the responsible and effective use of flea and tick products.
California lawsuit pinpoints health risks of chemical in flea and tick products
On the heels of the EPA advisory, the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a lawsuit in California against major pet product retailers and manufacturers that sell flea and tick control products.
The suit alleged the companies, including PetSmart, PETCO, and PetStore.com, were illegally selling flea and tick collars (and potentially other products) with propoxur, a chemical on California’s Proposition 65 list because it’s known to the state of California to cause cancer, without the proper warning labels required by the state.
NRDC also petitioned the EPA to ban all “pet uses” of propoxur and another chemical, tetrachlorvinphos (TCVP), which is considered to be a likely carcinogen by the EPA.
What you can do
Get the full list of spot-on products under evaluation and other advice from the EPA on taking care of fleas and ticks.
The NRDC has also published a pocket guide to flea and tick treatments, which provides the group’s assessment of chemicals used in pet pest control products along with safer alternatives.
If you must use a spot-on product, follow these safety tips when treating your pet for ticks and fleas:
• Always read the label carefully before using a flea and tick product. If you don't understand the wording, ask your veterinarian or call the manufacturer before using.
• Use protective gloves when applying.
• Follow the directions exactly. If the product is for dogs, don't use it on cats or other pets. If the label says use weekly, don't use it daily. If the product is for the house or yard, don't put it directly on your pet.
• Monitor your pet for side effects after applying the product, particularly when using the product on your pet for the first time.
• Call your veterinarian if your pet shows symptoms of illness after using a product. Symptoms of poisoning include poor appetite, depression, vomiting, diarrhea, or excessive salivation.
• If your pet experiences a bad reaction from a spot-on product, immediately bathe the pet with mild soap, rinse with large amounts of water, and call your veterinarian.
• Keep multiple pets separated after applying a product until it dries to prevent one animal from grooming another and ingesting a drug or pesticide.
• Talk to your veterinarian before using a product on weak, old, medicated, sick, pregnant, or nursing pets, or on pets that have previously shown signs of sensitivity to flea or tick products.
• Do not apply a product to kittens or puppies unless the label specifically allows this treatment. Use flea combs to pick up fleas, flea eggs, and ticks on puppies and kittens that are too young for flea and tick products.
• Store products away from food and out of children's reach.
EPA takes steps to improve safety of flea and tick treatments ( April 14, 2010)
EPA’s Pesticides: Health and Safety Website
FDA’s Safe Use of Flea and Tick Products
Pet Products and Advice