Article Discusses Safety Concerns of Cheap Flea Preventatives

 |  Feb 9th 2009  |   10 Contributions


I'd like to thank Joel, of San Francisco, for forwarding an article to me yesterday. The article discusses adverse events associated with flea preventatives, especially those available over-the-counter.

Let me begin with two caveats. Some of the sidebar advertisements on the article are a bit loony. In my opinion this damages the credibility of the article. Loony websites have loony advertisements, and loony websites often publish loony material.

More important, before anyone gets too worked up railing against flea products, don't forget how vile and terrible are fleas. Fleas spread tapeworms, "cat scratch disease", and feline infectious anemia. They contribute to skin disease and autoimmune disease. Their feces contaminates houses. They spread bubonic plague. Fleas are bad, bad, bad.

Now, on to the article.

[P]yrethroid-based flea and tick treatments -- from Hartz, Sergeant's, Farnam, and Bayer -- are approved for sale by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and they are readily available at grocery stores, specialty pet retailers, and hardware stores. But they are also linked to thousands of reported pet poisonings, and they have stirred the ire of pet owners, the concern of veterinarians, and the attention of regulatory agencies . . . At least 1,600 pet deaths related to spot on treatments with pyrethroids were reported to the EPA over the last five years, according to an analysis of EPA pesticide incident exposure data by the Center for Public Integrity. That is about double the number of reported fatalities tied to similar treatments without pyrethroids, such as Frontline and Advantage -- although these products also have critics.

I was surprised to learn that Advantage and Frontline had been linked to 800 pet deaths over the last five years. In my practice, I see major toxic reactions to the Hartz and Sargent's products regularly. In the last ten years, I have not seen even one life-threatening reaction to Advantage or Frontline, although I realize they occur.

I would be curious to learn the rate of reactions to Advantage and Frontline relative to those for the pyrethroid-based products, rather than the absolute numbers for each product. Also, readers should remember that the number of adverse events listed for each of the products represents events that have been reported to regulatory agencies. The majority of reactions are not reported.

The article, predictably, goes on to describe several heartbreaking horror stories associated especially with use of cheap flea products. But then it delves into unexpected territory:

Another possible explanation for the number of incidents is that consumers often misuse flea and tick products, causing the sickness that pet owners later blame on the treatments, said Jennifer Windrum, a spokeswoman for Sergeant's. "Pet owners feel incredibly guilty if they misapply it to their pet," Windrum said. "It's easier to blame a company."

Whoa! This is a total cop out. All products are misused by consumers. It's a fact of life. For a product to be truly safe, it should not consistently cause problems when it is inevitably misused.

Ultimately, the article does not offer any simple advice to pet owners who wish to avoid adverse events associated with flea preventatives. But I'll be happy to take over that department.

Talk to your veterinarian about the risks and benefits of flea preventatives before you use them. Don't buy the cheapest preventatives. Use the preventatives according to the manufacturer's instructions. Don't assume that natural preventatives are any safer than synthetics. Garlic, a common ingredient in natural products, is potentially toxic to pets.

Finally, keep things in perspective. It is tragic when a pet loses its life to an adverse reaction to any sort of product. But remember that fleas have killed far more pets than even the worst of the flea preventatives. Fleas have also killed millions of people--it is estimated that in 1400 alone fleas killed 125,000,000 residents of Europe.

Flea preventatives may not be perfectly safe, but fleas are very dangerous as well.

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