When it comes to keeping fleas and ticks off your pets, you’re faced with
the same old problem. How can you balance the risks posed by insects with the
risks of the repellents? When you treat your animals for fleas and ticks, they
may not be the only ones affected. If your dog rubs his brand new flea collar
all over your couch, the whole family could wind up exposed.
A report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), "Poison on Pets
II: Toxic Chemicals in Flea and Tick Collars," found that many over-the-counter
insect control products for pets, even when used as instructed, can cause
"serious health consequences to pets and humans." Many of these products
include organophosphate (OP) compounds, which have been used for insect control
for decades and are known to have toxic effects. Most immediate health problems
come from not using these products properly, but there is some evidence that
more insidious health problems may arise from chronic exposure. Many pet store
flea and tick products contain more than one active ingredient and some of
these products cause problems when used together.
In its review, the NRDC found that dangerously high levels of pesticide
residue can remain on a dog or cat's fur for weeks after a flea collar is put
on the animal. The NRDC also found that residues from two pesticides used in
flea collars – tetrachlorvinphos and propoxur – were high enough to pose a risk
to children and adults who play with their pets.
So what can you do? First, talk to your vet before you make any decisions about
flea and tick control for your pet. He or she can help you make the best
selection for your family. Share your concerns and be sure to tell your vet
about any small children or pregnant women in the household. Your vet should be
able to clearly explain the toxicities of various treatments -- whether
available at pet stores or only through your vet -- and which products can be
safely used in combination. Ask about trying the least toxic options first. Ask
how you can minimize the risks to your family and your pets.