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Caution Urged in Use of Flea, Tick Products for Pets

Environmental Protection Agency Reacts to Reports of Health Problems in Pets
By
WebMD Pet Health News
Reviewed by Audrey Cook, BVM&S

March 18, 2010 -- In the wake of mounting reports of adverse pet health effects, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued new restrictions on spot-on flea and tick products -- and urges extra care in their use.

The products are concentrated pesticides applied from a small tube to the skin beneath the fur on a cat or dog's back. They can keep a treated pet free of fleas and ticks for weeks. Popular brands include Advantage, Bio-Spot, Frontline, Hartz, and Zodiac.

The EPA, which is responsible for pesticide safety, noted an increase in the number of safety reports on these products. In 2009, the agency asked eight manufacturers for detailed information from adverse-event reports on their products.

Those details linked the products to health issues ranging from mild skin irritation to seizures and, in rare cases, to the death of the pet. Because the reports did not account for product popularity -- and because the reports were not verified -- the EPA was not able to identify if any specific products were particularly dangerous.

EPA Actions

Nevertheless, the EPA has announced it is taking several actions:

  • Product misuse, such as using doses intended for large dogs on small dogs, led to many of the negative health incidents. New product labels must carry clearer, more precise instructions.
  • A number of incidents were caused by consumers using dog products on cats. New product labeling requirements will prevent the use of similar names for cat and dog products and require a clear indication of which products are formulated for dogs or cats.
  • New products will receive only conditional approval to allow for post-marketing surveillance.
  • Some of the products' safety issues may be related to inert ingredients. The EPA will investigate these ingredients and restrict their use if necessary.
  • Pre- and post-marketing tests will be required to bring these products into line with regulations required by the FDA for similar products.
  • The EPA is launching a consumer information campaign to educate pet owners about the appropriate use of these products.

The EPA lists eight firms making the products:

  • Bayer (Advantage brands)
  • Fort Dodge (owned by Pfizer, brands include ProMeris for Cats)
  • Hartz Mountain (brands include Control One-Spot)
  • Merial (Frontline brands)
  • Pet Logic
  • Sergeants (brands include Sergeant's and Sentry)
  • Summit Vetpharm (Vectra brands)
  • Wellmark/Farnam (now Central Life Sciences, brands include Bio-Spot and Zodiac)

All of the products were linked to some reports of deaths and other serious events, but the most of the incidents were not serious.

In dogs, the EPA found that:

  • Most of the adverse events involved the dog's skin, gastrointestinal system, or nervous system.
  • Symptoms included vomiting, diarrhea, salivating, itching, hair loss, skin ulcers, lethargy, nervousness, loss of muscle coordination, tremors, and seizure.
  • Small-breed dogs were more likely to be affected. Most incidents were in dogs weighing 10 to 20 pounds.
  • Most incidents were in dogs less than 3 years old.

In cats, the EPA found that:

  • Most of the adverse events involved the cat's skin, gastrointestinal system, or nervous system.
  • Clinical symptoms were similar to those seen in dogs.
  • Many incidents arose from the treatment of cats with products intended for dogs.

 

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