Read this before buying over-the-counter flea and tick products for your pet

Flea and Tick Product Ingredients: What You Should Know

Read this before buying over-the-counter flea and tick products for your pet

June9,2010 046

The Humane Society of the United States

Protecting your dog or cat from fleas and ticks is an important part of responsible pet care.

Although there are many brands of over-the-counter flea and tick products available at supermarkets and pet supply stores, it is critical to read their labels and consult with your veterinarian before using them on your companion. These products may contain ingredients that could harm pets and children. Generally speaking, flea and tick treatments widely available in supermarkets are not recommended. Never use dog treatments on cats, and vice versa.


Due to a sharp increase in the number of incidents being reported from the use of spot-on pesticide products for flea and tick control for pets, the Environmental Protection Agency announced in April 2009 that it is intensifying its evaluation of whether further restrictions on the use of these products are necessary to better protect pets.

In June 2009, the EPA was petitioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council to cancel all pet uses for the pesticide tetrachlorvinphos, as well as a supplement to a previous NRDC petition to cancel all pet collar uses for the pesticide propoxur. Both these chemicals are organophosphates and are widely used in mass-produced flea/tick products. A comment period allowed citizens and organizations to comment, and on Aug. 3, 2009, the HSUS supported the ban by submitting a brief history of the complaints we’ve received over the last several years. The complaints from citizens around the country described the illness and death of companion animals caused by flea and tick products, many of which contained TCVP.
Recent studies

The Center For Public Integrity released information on its website for its Perils of the New Pesticides study in 2008. 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. Over-the-counter flea and tick products could also pose a threat to human health, according to some experts.

The center reported that pyrethroid spot-ons also account “for more than half of ‘major’ pesticide pet reactions reported to EPA over the last five years—that is, those incidents involving serious medical reactions such as brain damage, heart attacks, and violent seizures. In contrast, non-pyrethroid spot on treatments accounted for only about 6 percent of all major incidents.”

The Center For Public Integrity’s study said pyrethroid-based flea and tick treatments are approved for sale by the 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.”

In 2000, the Natural Resources Defense Council released a report called Poisons on Pets: Health Hazards from Flea and Tick Products. The report also demonstrated a link between chemicals commonly used in flea and tick products and serious health problems.
The chemicals

Besides pyrethroid-based products, ingredients to be wary of are organophosphate insecticides (OPs) and carbamates, both of which are found in various flea and tick products. A product contains an OP if the ingredient list contains chlorpyrifos, dichlorvos, phosmet, naled, tetrachlorvinphos, diazinon, or malathion. If the ingredient list includes carbaryl or propoxur, the product contains a carbamate. According to the NRDC, the potential dangers posed by these products are greatest for children and pets. There is reason to be concerned about long-term, cumulative exposures as well as combined exposures from the use of other products containing OPs and carbamates. The Center For Public Integrity’s study said permethrin is classified under the most toxic category by NRDC because the EPA says it is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” if ingested orally.
The products

The NRDC’s report lists flea- and tick-control products marketed under the following major brand names that have been found to contain OPs: Alco, Americare, Beaphar, Double Duty, Ford’s Freedom Five, Happy Jack, Hartz, Hopkins, Kill-Ko, Protection, Rabon, Riverdale, Sergeant’s, Unicorn, Vet-Kem, Victory, and Zema. To protect their pets and children, consumers should consult with a veterinarian before purchasing any over-the-counter (OTC) products.

The effects

According to the NRDC, there are studies that show OPs and carbamates can harm the nervous system. Children can be especially vulnerable because their nervous systems are still developing. For pets, the data is limited, but according to NRDC, many companion animals appear to have been injured or killed through exposure to pet products containing OPs. Cats are particularly vulnerable, since they often lack enzymes for metabolizing or detoxifying OPs and can ingest OPs by licking their fur.
What about the EPA?

Each year, millions of Americans purchase over-the-counter flea and tick products believing that they couldn’t be sold unless they were proven safe. But the EPA did not begin to review pet products for safety until 1996. There is a substantial backlog of products waiting to be tested, so many pet products containing potentially harmful pesticides still make their way onto store shelves.
What to do if your pet is sick

Symptoms of poisoning by flea/tick treatments may include salivating, dilated pupils, shaking, vomiting and skin irritation.

If you suspect your pet may have suffered negative health effects as a result of a flea product containing OPs or carbamates, consult with your veterinarian immediately. If you think a child has ingested a pesticide, call your local poison control center. Be sure to report all such incidents to the EPA’s National Pesticide Telecommunications Network at 800-858-7378.

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The HSUS would also like to keep track of these cases.* Please send your contact information, the product name, a brief description of the health problem, and a brief summary of your veterinarian’s findings to The HSUS at the following address:

The Humane Society of the United States
Companion Animals Department: Flea Products
2100 L St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20037

P.S. If you are wanting some alternatives to Toxic Flea Medications, get the remedies that are
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Alternatives to Toxic Flea Medications

7 thoughts on “Read this before buying over-the-counter flea and tick products for your pet”

  1. YES ! We are killing our pets with kindness..
    we think we are doing the right thing to help our pets and little do we know all these chemicals are killing them slowly over their life span which for sure is also shortened by these products
    there are so many alternatives and cheaper too..
    my motto is:
    if it is poisonous to us then it is 4 my pet 2 🙂

  2. My response to people that ask me about using these products or to my vet practice that pushes the monthly tubes is that if it is so safe, how about you applying it on yourself or your child and see if it safe. They are pretty shocked that I would say that. I tell them that if it is not safe for humans why would it be safe for our pets. I usually do not get a response.

  3. OTC flea treatments are not the only meds that can cause problems. Three months ago, I took my rat terrier, Chica, to the vet to seek help for a severe flea problem.
    The vet gave me a bubble type strip of chewable tablets with a prescription label over any writing and told me that this was what they recommended because it was safe.
    I took it home and gave her one. The next day she was itching like mad and her skin was beet red. She began to break out in what looked like bug bites. After another day the fleas began to disapear, but she still itched.
    She remained flea free for two weeks then the fleas came back. We suffered through the fleas for another two weeks until I could give her another dose of the medication.
    The same thing occurred with the second and third tablets.
    I went back to the vet and was reassured that it was okay, that this was safe.
    Well, maybe it wasn’t killing her outright, but she was miserable. I used every ointment and powder I could find and finally discovered that if I used Gold Bond foot powder (blue can) on her rash, it had a cooling effect.
    The vet gave me another strip of the tablets, but this time they were in a sleeve with a product insert. It is Comfortis, which is spinosad.

    I have tried everything anyone has suggested, including your suggestions and nothing has worked. Is my poor baby doomed to inflamed skin,barespots and open sores where she has chewed herself? I’m out of ideas.

  4. Lets face it – those products are designed to kill animals! So what would they possibly do to our pets? I only once used such a product after being pressured by my vet (stupid me!) and that was a turning point for me. Both my dogs’ fur turned white on the spot where I applied it and for the next 6 months they had to fight severe allergies, not to speak from head tremors…
    Never again! There are so many natural ways to deter fleas, and even for tick products you will never get a guarantee. The manufacturers tell you to additionally search your pet for ticks.

  5. Since reading Dr Jones`s helpful and supportive emails, I have been giving my 2 dogs brewers yeast tablets for flea prevention. 2 tablets for my little dog, 3 for my big dog (1 tablet for each ten pounds of dog weight). I crush them in a mortar and pestle, and put it on their food. I miss a couple of days between doses. Result – no fleas. Dr Jones has given me the courage of my convictions, to seek out safe alternate treatments for my beloved dogs. Tea tree oil on a neckerchief may also help in flea prevention. I love getting Dr Jones emails and info. – Thanks Dr Jones.

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