Flea and Tick Products: How They Are Affecting Our Pets

Last Updated: 01/04/2016 Print Back to Articles

Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian, nor do I have any formal training in any medical field. The information presented here is not meant to replace your vet's advice or prescribed medications, but only to suggest additional options to explore, based on your dog's condition.

What are the symptoms of flea & tick product poisoning? Adverse reactions can include any of the following:

  • itching or burning sensations on the skin
  • lethargy
  • drooling
  • hyperexcitability
  • vomiting
  • changes in body temperature
  • seizures
  • severe chemical burns
  • loss of appetite for food and water
  • difficulty breathing
  • incoordination
  • diarrhea
  • tremors
  • even death

Flea control products that contain toxic chemicals are also suspected of triggering immune-mediated diseases such as autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA). This disease causes the red blood cells to burst.

How long does it take for adverse reactions to occur?

Adverse reactions often occur within hours of applying a flea control product, but in some cases, reactions may be delayed for several days.

What should I do if I suspect that my pet has been poisoned by a flea & tick product?

If your pet shows signs of poisoning, bathe your pet to remove as much of the product as possible and contact your veterinarian immediately.

Bathe your pet with a mild dish detergent (like Dawn) and thoroughly rinse it off with tepid water. Bathing your pet a couple times may help to remove more of the flea control product. Do NOT use a flea shampoo because it may contain pesticide.

If the flea control product is not washed off soon after application, it will be absorbed into your pet's skin and bloodstream, and may take several weeks to be completely eliminated from their body.

Are flea & tick products safe if used as directed?

Flea control products that contain pesticides are required to be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency, but EPA approval does NOT mean these products are safe for people or pets. There are no safe pesticides. Pesticides that were once thought to be less toxic alternatives are now suspected of posing health risks to people and pets, and harm to the environment.

Adverse reactions to flea control products often occur when people fail to read and follow the directions on the label. For example, flea control products that are made "for dogs only" can be DEADLY if they are mistakenly applied to a cat.

Adverse reactions may occur if you use the incorrect dosage for your pet's weight, or if it is applied to an area that allows the pet to lick (ingest) the product from themselves or other treated pets.

Adverse reactions are also more likely to occur if you reapply the product within a shorter time period than is specified on the label (usually 30 days), or if you use a flea control product with another pesticide product - for example, using a monthly spot-on flea control product in combination with flea shampoo or a flea collar.

"READ THE LABEL FIRST" is good advice, but even if you follow the label directions, it is important to know that adverse reactions can occur in ANY animal - regardless of age, size, or condition. Flea control product labels fail to warn pet owners of the potential for severe adverse reactions - including chemical burns, seizures, and death.

Some flea control products contain a significantly larger dosage for your pet's weight than other brands that contain the same active ingredients, which increases the possibility of an overdose.

Not all flea control products contain the same active ingredients (pesticide). Some pesticides are more toxic than others. However, even a less toxic pesticide can be harmful if it makes up a large percentage of the formula.

Small breeds of dogs are especially at risk of overdose from these products. Avoid using them on debilitated, medicated, recently vaccinated, AGED, pregnant, nursing, or very young pets.

  1. If you decide to use a flea control product, monitor your pet closely for at least a few hours after application for signs of an adverse reaction.
  2. To avoid a costly trip to an emergency animal hospital, do not apply these products at night or on weekends when your veterinarian may not be available.
  3. If your pet's weight is close to the minimum weight shown on the label, consider using a lower weight range dosage to reduce the possibility of an overdose.

Are vet-prescribed flea & tick products safer than over-the-counter products?

The number of animals that are injured and killed each year from poorly labeled over-the-counter flea control products is truly appalling, but even the vet-prescribed flea control products are not without risk of adverse reactions.

Vet-prescribed flea control products are often presumed to be FDA approved and safe, but most of these products are classified as pesticides and are regulated by the EPA. The EPA's safety requirements for pet pesticides are less rigorous than those of the FDA for veterinary drugs.

Two popular vet-prescribed products - Advantage and Frontline, are viewed by many veterinarians as safe for pets, but they are still capable of causing skin problems, lethargy, poor appetite, vomiting, and in some cases, seizures. As with any pesticide, one should avoid using these products on aged or debilitated pets.

Do flea & tick products protect pets and people from vector-borne diseases?

Vectors (such as fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes) are capable of transmitting disease-causing organisms to pets and people. The manufacturers of flea control products prey on people's fear of vector-borne diseases.

The Companion Animal Parasite Council - a trade group funded by pet pesticide manufacturers, recommends that "dogs and cats should be placed on year-round preventive flea and/or tick products as soon after birth as possible (consistent with label claims) for the life of the pet" to prevent vector-borne diseases. That is great advice if you are trying to sell pesticide.

Most flea control products are designed to kill fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes. Some products offer limited "repellency." However, they are NOT designed to guarantee the prevention the transmission of internal parasites and vector-borne diseases.

Flea control products, along with other avoidance measures, can help reduce the risk of infection from vector-borne pathogens, but according to the EPA, it is unlawful for a pesticide manufacturer to "imply or suggest that a product will prevent or control disease or offer health protection."

To find out the number of reported positive cases of ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, heartworm disease and anaplasmosis in dogs in your state and county.

How do flea & tick products work?

Flea control products often contain a large percentage of pesticide and other toxic chemicals, which disrupt the insect's nervous system - causing paralysis and death.

When these toxic chemicals are applied to your pet, they are absorbed through its skin, circulate through its bloodstream, and get deposited in fatty tissue, including the sebaceous (oil) glands in the skin, where it is slowly released for several weeks.

Unfortunately, these toxic chemicals also disrupt the nervous systems of animals and humans, which can lead to adverse reactions. That is why it is important to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling these products.

Do flea & tick products pose health risks to people?

Flea control products that contain toxic chemicals can harm people - especially unborn babies, infants and young children because their nervous and immune systems are still developing.

Toddlers spend much of their time crawling and playing on floors, where pesticide residue from lawns and pets tends to collect.

How do I report a suspected adverse reaction?

If you suspect that your pet has been poisoned by a flea control product, contact the manufacturer of the product and let them know what happened. Contact information can be found on the product label and on the manufacturer's website.

It is also important to report it to the National Pesticide Information Center at 1-800-858-7378 (the EPA evaluates and monitors these reports to determine if changes are needed for the product label, or if harmful products should be removed from the market).

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of Pesticide Programs (Mail Code 7509C)
Ariel Rios Building
1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20460
E-mail: opp-web-comments@epa.gov

Please provide as much of the following information about your pet's adverse reaction as possible:

  1. Name(s) and EPA registration number(s) of product(s) applied
  2. Active ingredient of the product (if known; can be found on the product label)
  3. Breed(s) and age(s) of animal(s) and any other factors needed to understand any previous medical condition(s) of animal(s)
  4. Who applied the product(s)-owner or veterinarian
  5. Length of time between application and reaction
  6. Description of adverse reaction
  7. Date(s) on which adverse reaction occurred
  8. Contact information and telephone number
  9. City and State where the incident occurred

Also, contact the store where you purchased the product and let them know what happened. If you purchased it from a retail chain store, notify their corporate headquarters (contact information should be available on their website).

Are there currently any class action lawsuits against the makers of harmful flea & tick products?

If your pet was harmed or killed by a flea control product, contact the product manufacturer and seek reimbursement for veterinary expenses or compensation for the loss of your pet.

If the product manufacturer refuses to help you, consider filing a case in small claims court or contact the Legal Group.

Jacqueline Mottek
Positive Legal Group
415.302.5371 (cell)

The Natural Resources Defense Council has also filed a lawsuit in California against major pet product retailers and manufacturers for illegally selling pet products containing a known cancer-causing chemical called propoxur without proper warning labels.

Why are harmful flea & tick products still on the market?

In 1996, an EPA memo stated that "the safety requirements for regulation of pet pesticide products have been ill-defined and inconsistently applied in the past." It also stated that, due to resource constraints, there was a backlog for both entering incidents involving pets into its system and reviewing them.

In 2007, an EPA report concerning adverse incidents from pesticide products found that "limited resources at the federal level have hindered OPP's efforts to improve data collection and use and in providing funding for existing incident data sources."

Why has the EPA failed to protect the public from harmful pet pesticide products for over a decade?

In their book, Toxic Deception : How the Chemical Industry Manipulates Science, Bends the Law and Endangers Your Health, prize-winning investigative journalists Dan Fagin, Marianne Lavelle, and the Center for Public Integrity concluded that federal agencies fail to protect us from harmful chemicals because they are more interested in protecting the economic interests of the chemical industry.

What can I do to help get harmful flea & tick products removed from the market?

The most effective way to get harmful flea control products removed from the market is to report suspected adverse reactions!

Report suspected adverse reactions to the National Pesticide Information Center. They maintain a database of adverse incidents for the EPA. The EPA uses the data to identify harmful products and remove them from the market.

Also, report suspected adverse reactions to the manufacturer of the product.

Contact the EPA (see contact information above) and let them know that putting children and pets at risk from harmful pet pesticides is unacceptable.