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Mar 182010

From Green Right Now Reports

The U.S. EPA announced Wednesday that it is taking several steps to increase the safety of flea and tick treatments for pets, including requiring better labeling and instructions to prevent misuse. The agency also promises to subject new and existing products to stricter testing.


The EPA found that small dogs are more likely to have an adverse reaction to spot-on flea treatments.

The move comes after hundreds of reports of pets falling ill, or even dying, nationwide after being treated with flea and tick treatments available on the consumer market. The agency reported that it logged more than 44,000 reports of bad reactions to topical flea and tick products in 2008, which was up considerably from the 28,000+ reported in 2007. The reactions included skin irritations, gastrointestinal problems that included vomiting and diarrhea and nervous system effects — trembling, seizures, depression.

Pinpointing the products targeted also is tricky, because there are dozens of flea treatments on the market. For now, the EPA’s review will focus on the “spot-on” treatments in which pet owners dab a small amount of a pesticide onto the pet’s fur to help repel fleas and ticks. While these products might fulfill their mission, they do so while leaving a poisonous coating on our furry friends, and expose people to the same chemicals.

That worries environmental advocates. Last year, the Natural Resources Defense Council reviewed the safety of treated tick and flea pet collars, finding that the level of residue on the animal was higher than what the EPA had projected when greenlighting these products.

Today’s acknowledgment by the government agency that flea and tick treatments can cause health effects “serves as a reminder that just because they’re in stores, does not mean they’re safe,” said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, an NRDC scientist who’s been following this issue.

For more details about some of these ill effects, you can read Rotkin-Ellman’s blog, which includes tips for safer ways of dealing with pet pests. (Wash, wash, wash those dogs vigorously with soap and water; vacuum well and often if fleas are an issue in your area.)

Manufacturers, however, insist that the current line of consumer products are safe, if used correctly.

According to Georgia-based Merial Ltd., the maker of the Frontline tick and flea treatment, the vast majority of negative reactions to these products are “minor.” The Associated Press quoted the company as saying in a statement: “The number of adverse events reported for FRONTLINE has remained consistently low since the product’s introduction in 1996.”

The AP also quoted an official with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, who said that most adverse reactions involve skin irritations and upset stomach (on pets, that is).

Expect to hear more on this issue.

In the meantime, the EPA advises pet owners to:

  • Read labels carefully and follow all labeling “before exposing your pet to a pesticide.”
  • Consult your veterinarian before using any pesticide on “weak, aged, medicated, sick, pregnant or nursing pets, or on pets that have previously shown signs of sensitivity to pesticide products”.
  • Be sure not to use dog flea treatment on cats.

The EPA noted in its announcement that it has found that exposing cats to flea treatments intended for dogs is “a concern” and also that small dogs tend to be disproportionately negatively affected by these products. Regulators hope to find out more such useful information by improving “market surveillance” of flea treatments. The agency also will be requiring more reporting of post-sale adverse effects (presumably from veterinarians or manufacturers) so it can better evaluate the incidence of negative health effects.

You can read more on the EPA’s study of flea and tick treatments at the agency’s website.