Fleas and ticks (and mosquitos) can bring severe itching, discomfort, and even serious diseases to your pets, so it’s important to protect your pets from them. However, studies have found that many common flea and tick treatments—the kinds that are readily available at stores and have been recommended by most vets—aren’t just harmful to fleas and ticks; they can actually poison and even kill pets, and some are also dangerous to humans and other animals.
Many conventional flea and tick treatments (particularly the topical, spot-on treatments that are applied directly onto pets’ skin, but also many flea collars, powders, and sprays) contain highly toxic pesticides, some of which have been shown to cause a range of serious reactions in pets, from skin problems, vomiting, and excessive drooling to neurological problems (e.g., seizures or uncontrollable shaking), heart attacks, and death. So, horrifically, some pesticides end up serving as pet-icides…
The Center for Public Integrity did a study in 2008, and found that at least 1,600 pet deaths related to spot-on treatments were reported to the EPA over the past five years. According to the NRDC, cats may be more susceptible to adverse reactions than dogs, since they are more likely to lick the treatments off of their fur and they often lack enzymes for metabolizing or detoxifying the pesticides. Many of these pesticides are toxic to humans, as well, and children are especially vulnerable to exposure.
Avoid products that contain pyrethroid, pyrethrin, or permethrin pesticides, organophosphate insecticides (such as tetrachlorvinphos/TCVP; chlorpyrifos, dichlorvos, phosmet, naled, diazinon, and malathion), carbamates (e.g., propoxur, fenoxycarb, and carbaryl), or Amitraz. (This list was updated on May 26, 2010.) Many common flea/tick control products contain at least one of these ingredients.
It’s sickening to me that so many of us have been unwittingly poisoning our beloved animals (and probably shortening their lives) by using these products, at the recommendation of our veterinarians, who trusted the manufacturers’ assurances of the products’ safety. It’s yet another example of how you can’t trust that a product is safe just because it’s been allowed into the marketplace. According to the Humane Society, the EPA did not start reviewing pet products for safety until 1996, and there is still a backlog of products that need to be tested. However, the overarching problem is that ingredients that the EPA had deemed “safe” clearly are not. This message seems to have finally gotten through. The EPA recently announced that it will be developing stricter testing and evaluation requirements and will be placing new restrictions on flea and tick products, including possible changes in their formulas.
Fortunately, there’s no need to wait for those changes to take effect. Safe and natural alternative products and methods for controlling fleas and ticks already exist. Here is some guidance from the NRDC on ways to prevent flea problems. And when treatments are necessary, some pet supply stores and many online sites (see links below) now carry flea and tick products that are made up of plant-based ingredients, such as peppermint oil, citrus oil, clove oil, or Neem, which is a natural insecticide that comes from a tree. (See the NRDC’s Flea and Tick Product Directory to look up the ingredients and risks of specific products.) Also, there are some very inexpensive, low-tech solutions to consider. Like vampires, fleas and ticks are repelled by garlic—and they’re also repelled by rosemary and lavender. So to ward off the bugs, you can add a little smidgen of chopped or crushed garlic to your pet’s food once or twice a week (having too much garlic is bad for them). Or you can tuck sprigs of rosemary or lavender under your pet’s bed cover, or boil one of the herbs in water and pour the cooled water onto your pet, rubbing it into their coat. (Note: Even herbal or “natural” ingredients can cause allergic reactions in some animals. Be sure to test any treatment in a small dose first; and always apply treatments sparingly and only as needed. Also, never use pet products that contain pennyroyal oil, which is toxic to animals.)
The following are a few online stores that specialize in natural and non-toxic pet supplies. (Note: This list does not constitute an endorsement of any of these companies):
Resources for More Information:
- NRDC GreenPaws website (includes a product guide, downloadable wallet guide, and fact sheet)
- GreenerChoices (Consumer Reports) article on Best Ways to Safely Keep Your Pets Free of Ticks and Fleas
- Center for Public Integrity study: Perils of the New Pesticides, 2008
- Humane Society article on Flea and Tick Product Ingredients
- NRDC report: Poisons on Pets: Health Hazards from Flea and Tick Products, 2000
Click here to sign NRDC’s petition to PETCO and PetSmart, asking them to stop selling flea control products that contain highly toxic pesticides, to protect pets and people. Talk to your vet and your local stores about this, as well.
Related Post: Selecting Safe and Healthy Pet Foods