The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cautioned consumers about using flea and tick products, with a statement which appeared on the EPA website on March 17. The statement begins, “Due to a significant increase in adverse incidents, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is taking a series of actions to increase the safety of spot-on pesticide products for flea and tick control for cats and dogs.”
I think the precautions the EPA outlines are fine, but the agency neglected to mention the most important preventative measure.
I’ll outline the EPA suggested precautions, but first let me reveal what I believe to be true.
While certainly adverse events do occur as a result of using flea and tick products, confirmed problems are extremely rare. I don’t argue, being rare or not rare doesn’t matter if it is your pet who has suffered as a result. Some reported side affects are skin problems; others are neurological complaints, which range from “being depressed” to seizures, to even death.
The EPA reports more complaints over the past year or two, and that’s why they’ve responded, and responded with very strong wording.
Yet, the products themselves haven’t fundamentally changed in the past few years. So, what’s going on? Could pets simply be more susceptible to the flea and tick products today than they were two years ago? I suppose. But experts concur that is very unlikely.
I think I might know where the problem is. Because there are more ticks in more places spreading more disease, sales of tick control products are on the rise. So, in part, it’s a matter of math – the more products sold, the more adverse events.
However, I believe, the story is more complex. Over the past few years, sales have begun a shift from veterinary clinics to increasing sales online and over-the-counter. The consumers who purchase flea and tick products at their desks or in a store don’t have the benefit of a veterinarian or veterinary technician offering instruction on how to apply products, and when to apply them. Or for that matter, what to purchase in the first place.
Indeed, mistakenly some people purchase the wrong item. For example, using a product meant for large dogs on small dogs or a product meant for dogs-only on a cat. The result of this sort of innocent error may be deadly. That same mistake is less likely to occur with expert veterinary input.
I’ve received lots of mail, some of you expressing general concern about flea and tick products and others ‘coming out of the closet’ telling me about your own bad experiences. Your complaints are obviously being paid attention to by the EPA. Here’s there response. The actions that they are perusing, according to the EPA website, are as follows:
- Requiring manufacturers of spot-on pesticide products to improve labeling, making instructions clearer to prevent product misuse.
- Requiring more precise label instructions to ensure proper dosage per pet weight.
- Requiring clear markings to differentiate between dog and cat products, and disallowing similar brand names for dog and cat products. Similar names may have led to misuse.
- Requiring additional changes for specific products, as needed, based on product-specific evaluations.
- When new products are registered, granting only conditional, time-limited registrations to allow for post-marketing product surveillance. If there are incidents of concern associated with the product, EPA will take appropriate regulatory action.
- Restricting the use of certain inert ingredients that EPA finds may contribute to the incidents.
- Launching a consumer information campaign to explain new label directions and to help users avoid making medication errors.
- In addition, to improve the regulatory oversight of pet products, EPA will require more standardized post-market surveillance reporting on adverse effects, require submission of more sales information so the agency can better evaluate incident rates, and bring up-to-date the scientific data requirements on pre- and post-market testing so they are more in line with the Food and Drug Administration’s requirements.
I applaud the EPA taking consumer complaints about their pets’ health seriously. And the recommendations noted here are prudent.
However, my hope is that the EPA will simply add one more suggestion – contact your veterinarian to assure you are planning to buy the product that most suits your needs and your pet’s needs, and that you understand exactly how and when to use the
I didn’t just come up with this idea: Interviews with numerous veterinarians and other professionals in the companion animal field concur enthusiastically with my suggestion – and a cursory review of adverse effects all seems to point to a significant amount of misuse of product one way or the other.
The EPA is not suggesting what some Internet sites are saying – to discontinue use of these products. The threat of disease and illness of fleas (not to mention gross out factor), and the threat of deadly tick diseases are a far greater real risk than the remote possibility of an adverse reaction.
If I am right, and consumers simply speak with their veterinarians before purchasing, pets’ lives may be saved. If I am wrong, I don’t see a downside.
Learn more at www.petsandparasites.org
©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services