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Spot-On Flea & Tick Treatment Q&A

Pet Column for the week of June 8, 2009

Ashley Mitek
Information Specialist

1. Why is the EPA concerned with flea and tick products?

Due to an increase in adverse reactions to spot-on flea and tick products (treatments placed over the animal' back), the EPA is intensifying its evaluation of these agents. At this time, the agency is said to be investigating all brands and types of spot-on treatments, and they have not specified that any one particular product is of most concern. Both products purchased directly from a veterinarian and those bought over the counter are being evaluated. Although the agency has not released any specific data as to the statistical breakdown of types of adverse reactions, side effects are reported to range from skin irritation, to seizure and death.

2. What is the suspected cause of the increase in adverse reactions?

The investigation is incredibly widespread at this time, with very little specific information. With nearly 70 different flea and tick preventatives under heavy scrutiny, experts are still trying to determine the source of the problem.

The situation is complicated by the fact that every product contains its own specific formula of insecticides and other chemicals. While some treatments contain the same drug, just at varying concentrations, experts still have not been able to place the blame on one specific chemical or brand.

The spike in adverse reactions has perplexed experts because these products have carried an exceptional safety track record over the past few years. In addition, most of the spot-on products are not absorbed systemically into the body. Thus, it is baffling as to how and why these products are causing the alleged problems in our pets.

3. Is it safe to continue using flea and tick preventatives on my pet?

Yes. The EPA is very clear that pet owners should not stop using these products. Over the past decade, the safety of flea and tick preventatives has drastically increased. Despite the current investigation, experts strongly believe that the benefit of using flea and tick preventatives far outweighs the risk of an adverse reaction.

At this time, the EPA recommends that owners simply be more vigilant for any adverse side effects. Owners should consult their veterinarian with any questions or concerns they may have.

4. How can I reduce the chance that my pet will have a reaction?

Most side effects associated with flea and tick preventative administration are linked to misuse by the owner. Please consult your veterinarian before using any flea or tick preventative for the first time. Veterinarians will be able to best select the right product for your pet. More specifically, pets that are pregnant, nursing, young, or sick may need special consideration.

In addition, be sure to carefully read the label and directions of any product you use on your pet. The most common mistake that owners make is using products labeled specifically for dogs on their cats. Many of the products used for flea and tick prevention in dogs are extremely toxic to cats. Just one drop can be deadly, so don' be tempted.

In short, be sure that you are strictly adhering to the manufacturer’s instructions.

5. Instead of using spot-on treatments, should I switch to using powders, shampoos, or other alternative or "all natural" products?

Although going "all natural" may sound like a good idea, the efficacy of many of those products has not been proven. In contrast to the products you buy from your veterinarian for flea and tick prevention, most powders, shampoos, and alternative treatments have not gone through years of rigorous safety and efficacy testing. The use of shampoos, powders, or other alternative treatments is not recommended.

There are many wives' tales circulating about certain flea treatments. Merely giving your dog frequent baths to "suffocate" fleas will not work. It actually is likely to cause more harm than good since frequent baths remove the natural oils from your pet's skin. Yeast and garlic are other treatments that have no proven efficacy. In fact, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center recommends not feeding these items to your pets because of potential toxic side effects.

6. What warning signs should I be on the look-out for in my pet after administering a spot-on product?

If you notice skin redness, seizure, or any change in behavior, contact your veterinarian immediately.

7. If my pet has a reaction to a product, who do I contact?

If you suspect that your pet has experienced or is experiencing a reaction, contact your veterinarian for information on how to report such a case to the appropriate authorities.