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The Ruff Report: Dogs and Health

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Despite pet deaths, flea, tick items use called a must

Pet parents are being urged to continue using flea and tick control products on their dogs and cats - despite a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warning about them causing some animals to become ill or even die - because the benefits of preventing deadly insect-borne disease outweighs the risk of pets having an adverse reaction to the insecticides.Any illness that occurs to pets is normally mild and chances of a fatality are tiny as long as the products are used correctly, according the America Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

"The important take home message is that although adverse reactions can occur with all flea and tick products, most effects are relatively mild and include skin irritation and stomach upset," ASPCA veterinary toxicologist Steven Hansen states in a media release. "Pet parents should not discontinue using products as directed by the product label when faced with a flea infestation."

The EPA has placed tougher restrictions on the insecticide treatments commonly used on pets and is requiring revisions to labeling to help pet owners use the products properly after receiving reports about dogs and cats becoming ill - and in some cases even dying - after application of the products. Spot-on pesticide products, generally sold in tubes or vials and applied in between a pet's shoulders or in a stripe along the back, caused the most severe problems, but trouble has also been reported regarding the use of sprays and collars.

But despite the reports of problems, the ASPCA says its research indicates that using the products as directed and making adjustments based on an animal's health minimizes the chances of an adverse reaction.

And the risk to pets from potentially deadly diseases caused by fleas and ticks is greater than the chances of adverse reactions when insecticide products are used properly, the ASPCA says. Fleas can cause anemia, carry tapeworms and can transmit infections such as Bartonella, and ticks transmit many diseases including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

ASPCA epidemiologist Margaret Slater analyzed data from public calls to the ASPCA's poison control center regarding flea and tick products. When the products were used in accordance with directions on the label on dogs and cats, the review of pet owner calls to the center found:

  • 69 percent reported mild illness to their pets.- 22 percent reported moderate illness to their pets.
  • 7 percent reported no illness to their pets.
  • 2 percent reported major illness to their pets.
  • 0.1 percent reported the death of their pets.
The biggest problems with the use of flea and tick products occurred with cats, Dr. Slater said. When cats were treated contrary to directions on the label, they were significantly more likely to experience severe reactions. In those cases, the review of pet owner calls to the center found:
  • 45 percent reported moderate illness to their cats.
  • 19 percent reported major illness to their cats.
  • 18 percent reported no illness to their cats.
  • 17 percent reported mild illness to their cats.
  • 2 percent reported the death of their cats.
The findings show the importance of using the flea and tick products in accordance with the directions on the labels, Dr. Murray said. "Products labeled for dogs must never be used on cats. Doing so can result in serious illness and even death."

Adjustments also should be made based on an animal's health, Dr. Murray said. "A veterinarian must always be consulted before using spot-on flea and tick treatments on very young, old, sick or pregnant pets."