Vet Blog Discusses Safety and Efficacy of Flea Control Products

Last night San Francisco's channel 7 (ABC affiliate) ran a story on flea product safety. It discussed a topic that the Vet Blog covered months...


Last night San Francisco’s channel 7 (ABC affiliate) ran a story on flea product safety. It discussed a topic that the Vet Blog covered months ago — the concerns of FDA and EPA over the safety of spot-on flea products.

Sadly, the story fell far short of being useful. It lumped all flea control products into one group. ABC 7 evidently didn’t want to over-report, and FDA and EPA have kept annoyingly mum about which flea control products are most dangerous. This led to many panicked calls today from clients who were worried about the safety of their flea products.

Here’s the short story. FDA and EPA are investigating the safety of spot on-flea products and are considering taking action to reduce adverse events. And, it turns out that adverse events are common — but the rate of adverse events varies among products.

The news report makes it seem like all flea products are equal. However, to paraphrase George Orwell, some flea products are more equal than others.

Any — and I do mean any — product can cause problems in certain individuals. I realized this when I read the long list of warnings on a bottle of reagent grade (that is to say, absolutely pure) water as a chemistry graduate student. But some products, in my experience, cause far more problems than others. And some work much better than others.

Here is my experience. Hartz, Sargeant’s, and Bio Spot are quite ineffective and extremely likely to cause severe adverse reactions in pets. Advantage, Frontline, Program (not a spot-on product, and therefore not under study by EPA and FDA), and CapStar (also not a spot-on product) have very low rates of adverse reactions, and when adverse reactions occur they rarely are serious. I have limited experience with ProMeris, but the buzz on the veterinary streets is that its safety is questionable. Vectra has a good reputation but is too new to really evaluate. Comfortis (not a spot-on product) appears to cause vomiting in many dogs, but I haven’t seen or heard of any life-threatening complications from it. Most clients who try Comfortis never look back.

In my experience, herbal remedies (garlic, tea tree oil, patchouli, walnut oil, and countless others) are worse than useless. All of them are completely ineffective. Garlic is toxic, especially to cats. I have seen more adverse reactions to tea tree oil than to Advantage and Frontline combined.

Flea combs are almost as useless as herbal remedies. Flea dips and flea bombs are almost as dangerous as Hartz, Sargeant’s, and Bio Spot.

And then there is the most dangerous option of all: no flea control. I have seen more patients die from flea infestation (pets die from blood loss–fleas are blood sucking parasites) than from all of the above flea control products combined (including even dreaded Hartz and Sargeant’s!). Fleas cause skin disease and contribute to autoimmune disease in cats and dogs. They spread tapeworms. They are vectors for infectious maladies ranging from cat scratch fever to bubonic plague. Fleas are vile, horrible, worthless creatures.

If we lived in a perfect world we would have access to a perfectly safe flea control product. Since we don’t, communication is the best option. Talk to your vet about the safety and efficacy of your flea control protocol. And, no matter what, don’t use Hartz, Sargeant’s, or Bio Spot.

Want to read EPA evaluations of the various flea control products? Click here.

NOTE: The above assessments are based upon my experiences as a veterinarian during the last 10 years. They are not scientifically validated. However, I have worked with thousands of pets during that time. Other peoples’ experiences may be different.

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