Topical flea repellents may be harmful to your dog

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column - 3/28/10
By: Gail T. Fisher

For years, I railed against flea collars—those horrid-smelling, insecticide laden plastic collars. Their odor gave me a headache, and I could only imagine what having those chemicals wafting directly under a dog’s nose was doing to the poor dog. The package instructions say wash your hands after touching the collar, making me wonder why, if it’s harmful for us to touch it, it wasn’t harmful to a dog wearing it 24/7.

Over the years we saw countless flea-infested dogs in our grooming salon wearing a flea collar. But the era of the flea collar was replaced by the advent of topical treatments such as Advantix and Frontline.

When topical flea prevention products were introduced, I wrote that I hoped they would prove to be safe used over time. They seemed to be less harmful both to our pets and to us than the organophosphates in pesticides and flea collars. For the first few years of their use, the topicals did reduce the number of dogs we saw with flea infestations. But that didn’t last. In the last few years, we’ve seen a resistant strain of fleas—dogs whose owners had applied a topical flea preventive, yet the dogs were infested with fleas.

More than the fact that fleas are becoming resistant, I have always been concerned about the concept of a poison that is absorbed by the pet (dog or cat) to kill an insect that dies after by biting a pet and ingesting its blood. Surely there must be unseen consequences to the host pet that has poison flowing through its bloodstream. I feared it couldn’t be harmless.

Then, last week, in an article in “Environmental Health News”, Marla Cone wrote, “Warning that the powerful poisons can endanger some dogs and cats, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will require new instructions and labeling for on-spot flea products. The products, including the popular Frontline and Advantage brands, are small vials of liquid pesticides that pet owners apply monthly to the backs of dogs or cats to kill fleas and ticks. The EPA began investigating the products after a sharp rise in the number of pets reported to be sick after they were treated.

The article goes on to say, “Many pet owners who use the treatments think they are applying medication to their pet, but they actually are treating them with potent pesticides, including permethrin, which also is used to kill pests on crops and yards.”

Small dogs such as Chihuahuas, shih tzus, Pomeranians, dachshunds and miniature poodles are especially affected. The EPA is working with the manufacturers of these products to ensure that they are properly labeled: “The problem might be the dose. The agency is telling manufacturers to narrow the range of weights identified for their products. ‘We will make clear that certain products cannot be used on smaller animals,’ [EPA Assistant Administrator Steve] Owens said.”

While these insecticides may be more harmful to smaller rather than larger dogs, I fear these little dogs may simply be the canaries in the coal mine. (To read the entire article, Google “Yahoo Green Flea treatment”).

If you are concerned for your pet’s health, and would prefer to use a natural product, there are products available from Health Food stores and on the Internet that can help deal with fleas. If you want to make your own flea, black fly and tick preventive, we use a recipe we got from horse people years ago. Click on “Tips” and then “Tips for Healthy Living," or click this link.

Copyright © Gail T. Fisher, 2010. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this article or suggestions for future topics, please contact us.