Following a number of high profile deaths involving over the counter flea shampoos the EPA has begun a major review of the safety of these products.
Of course this all comes a little too late for owners who have watched their animals go into seizure and die after administering pyrethroid based flea treatments. A recent study by The Center For Public Integrity (1) puts the number of fatalities over the past five year at around 1600. That’s right one thousand six hundred! So many that the EPA has actually ordered some of these items to be phased out and insisted on new labeling restrictions on those left on the market. (2)
Some experts also suggest that over-the-counter flea and tick remedies pose a threat to human health.
The active ingredients in these products are pyrethroids, the synthetic version of a toxin derived from, of all things chrysanthemums. They are what’s known as "axonic" poisons and work by disrupting normal brain activity, essentially paralyzing the offending insect. They are very effective on fleas and ticks and have the added benefit of being gradually degraded by sunlight so they pose no lasting environmental dangers.
That’s the good news.
Unfortunately recent studies have also linked pyrethroids to autism in children and a disruption of normal hormone activity in sensitive people. Not to mention the aforementioned 1600 pet deaths.
I am not a Luddite and I know that there are very few things in life that come without a downside. I have said before that in areas with large flea and tick populations, some of which carry debilitating diseases, it would be irresponsible for owners not to protect their pets. For the vast number of pet owners the benefits of these products far outweigh the risks. However I do think that every owner needs to be fully informed when they are administering what is essentially poison to their best friend. Especially when there are other, lest toxic options.
A recent Humane Society report suggests a few alternatives; "You might want to consider several topical products (available through veterinarians) that are insecticides designed to have fewer toxic effects on the nervous systems of mammals: imidacloprid (found in Advantage®), fipronil (in Frontline®), and selamectin (in Revolution™)". These products have the advantage of being applied to areas where most dogs can’t reach with their mouths and they are usually quite effective, however they do take time to work, come with bathing restrictions and have a limited useful life.
So what if you’re just going to the beach and want to protect your little guy (and yourself) from biting insects. Isn’t there a product you can use that is safe, gentle and effective. Well not surprisingly I would suggest Flea the Scene , an all natural, insect spray that you can use as often as needed. The formula works for up to 4 hours and employs a proprietary combination of natural ingredients that have been used for many years on horses. It is mildly waterproof, smells great is a great complement for Frontline and Advantage and best of all it’s perfectly safe even if your dog licks it off.
Finally, you might be tempted to use a human spray on your dog, the thinking being "Well if it’s safe enough for me then surely it’s fine for Fido" Well stop for a moment and think; When was the last time you sprayed yourself with something and then licked it off?" (And no, any activity involving whipped cream doesn’t count) We both know that the minute you’ve finished spraying your dog will decide to check out the new flavoring you’ve added to his fur, and DEET (the active ingredient in many over the counter flea sprays) is not Good Eats.
As we move into spring and summer this is going to become an increasing problem, especially in the Southern States. Intelligent owners will do their homework and weigh the risks against the benefits. Here are a few of the recommendations from the EPA itself about choosing a flea and tick product
"When using any pesticide product, consumers should carefully read and follow label directions each time they use a product" (3)
It’s good advice worth heeding.