More than 2,000 pet deaths in North America since 2008 are linked to the use or exposure to flea and tick treatment products. These products, which are supposedly helping our pets, may contain dangerous chemicals that do not only kill fleas but can also harm pets.
Researchers are also worried that pesticide exposures from flea treatments could have bad effects for humans, especially small children.
“It’s one of those things that is incredibly unfair — it’s unfair for families, it’s unfair for their pets, it’s unfair for kids. And the truth is, there are better options,” public health scientist Miriam Rotkin-Ellmansaid. “We don’t need to put our kids at risk, don’t need to put our families at risk, our pets at risk.”
According to the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), Health Canada received 4,726 incident reports for both cats and dogs related to topical flea treatments between 2009 and 2013.
Health Canada receives reports about cases related to Canadian products used domestically and in the US. Sixty two percent of these reports were for pets in Canada.
The deaths included 1,188 cats and 872 dogs. Most of these deaths are from the United States.
There is a variety of flea treatments on the market including collars, sprays, powder, shampoos, and “spot-on” treatments. Some of these treatments contain pesticides that target the nervous systems of fleas and ticks. But it is the spot-on treatments that are responsible for approximately 80% of the incidents, according to the PMRA. Most of the reports involve over-the-counter treatments.
But how do pesticides in flea collars transfer from the collar to elsewhere in the home?
“There’s mounting evidence that pesticides can be really harmful for kids at low levels,” says Rotkin-Ellman. “When pesticides are on pets, they come into contact with kids all the time.”
Dangers to Small Pets
Pet owners need to be very careful in choosing flea treatments and how they use them on their pets, says Dr. Whitney Chin.
Dr. Chin says a chemical called – permethrin – is common in over-the-counter dog treatments. Using too much of the chemical can be dangerous, and it is extremely toxic to cats.
“I’ve seen it far too many times, unfortunately,” Dr. Chin says. “Some people think, a cat is a small dog and I’ll just use a little dose.”
Felines can also be unintentionally exposed if a dog living under the same roof is treated with a product and “the dog or cat socialize, share the same bedding or if the cat grooms the dog.”
Chemicals transferred that way can be enough to seriously harm a cat, he says.
According to the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA)website, “Toxicity [to cats] from dog flea and tick products is a medical emergency.”
Exposure symptoms can include uncontrollable shaking. The CVMA advises taking affected animals to a vet immediately. “The longer your cat is left to shake, the greater the chance of permanent damage (death included).”
New labeling protocols
New and additional labeling rules came into effect in Canada two years ago. A rule requires some treatments for dogs to show a clear warning label that the product can be toxic to cats. But products manufactured prior to setting the new rules were not recalled. Those products may still be on the market.
CBC Marketplace found treatments on store shelves in fall this year that still did not have the new labels. According to Health Canada, they will investigate these cases.
Dr. Chin is worried that the new warning labels do not go far enough and should more prominently alert pet owners to the dangers of poisoning. The staff at the store may not always tell people who have both dogs and cats about the risks of exposure to both pets.
“People should be aware,” Dr. Chin says.
Human health concerns
Researchers are troubled that pesticides in flea collars can also pose a risk to people, even when used properly.
At the U.S. Natural Resources Defense Council, Rotkin-Ellman tested pets to see how much pesticide from flea collars we may be exposed to.
“Flea collars are designed to release a toxic substance that kills fleas on the pet’s fur,” she says. But “it also can get on the bedding, it can get on kids’ hands, it can go all sorts of places.”
Her team tested pesticide deposits left on fur after observing a pet that wore a flea collar for 3 days.
“We found much higher levels than we expected,” she says.
It was found that children could be exposed to higher levels than are considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency. This was a particular concern for little kids, who could be exposed to these chemicals that can be absorbed through their skin, or if they put their hands in their mouths.
According to Rotkin-Ellman, exposure to the types of pesticides used in flea collars may be connected to behavioral problems, cognitive delay, and problems with motor development.
She advises people that there are other ways to control fleas like bathing your pet and washing bed covers regularly.
Source: CBC News