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The Ruff Report: Pet deaths prompt tougher rules for flea, tick items

More dogs and cats are becoming ill - and in some cases even dying - from flea and tick control products, prompting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to place tougher restrictions on the insecticide treatments commonly used on pets and to require revisions to labeling to help pet owners use the products properly.

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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, have been the focus of "high-priority" monitoring by the EPA after some pets developed skin irritations, had seizures or have died.

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Steve Owens, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, says the agency is committed to better protecting the health and safety of pets and families. “New restrictions will be placed on these products, and pet owners need to carefully read and follow all labeling before exposing your pet to a pesticide,” he states in a media release.

Better labeling is particularly important because some incidents of illness and death have been linked to misuse such as a dog product being applied to a cat or a dosage meant for a large dog being applied to a smaller dog, according to the EPA.

Most people use the products with no harm to their pets, the EPA said, but the an analysis determined that smaller dogs tend to be disproportionately affected by some products and that the exposure of cats to some dog products is a concern.Among immediate actions that EPA will pursue are:
  • Developing more stringent testing and evaluation requirements for existing and new products to help prevent adverse reactions.
  • Restricting the use of certain inert ingredients that EPA finds may contribute to the incidents.
  • 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.
  • Launching a consumer information campaign to explain new label directions and to help users avoid making medication errors.
"Pet owners need to be cautious about using flea and tick products safely," EPA veterinarian Ann Stohlman states in a media release. “You need to take the time to carefully read the label, the package insert, and any accompanying literature to make sure you’re using the product correctly.”

The EPA recently met with officials from 13 companies that make flea and tick products as part of its evaluation of the products. According to a summary report of the meeting, the EPA established a team of veterinarians to review the incidents and the ingredients used in the products.

According to the report:
  • Death occurred in 560 pets in 2007 and 640 in 2008 related to the use of flea and tick products.
  • Major illnesses occurred in 610 pets in 2007 and 740 in 2008.
  • Minor illnesses occurred in 5,100 pets in 2007 and and 27,000 in 2008.
"The agency has historically had concerns about the increase in domestic animal incidents seen over the years and has been looking into this," EPA spokesman Dale Kemery told My Setter Sam. "As a result of the recent sharp increase in numbers of incidents specific to spot-on products, we are making this investigation a higher priority."The EPA put together a group of veterinarians who work for the Office of Pesticide Programs to review incidents involving spot-on products to help determine the cause, Mr. Kemery said. The group had discussions with registrants to learn more about the incidents and gather information to help inform the agency’s evaluation.

Some problems also have occurred involving sprays, collars and shampoos, the EPA reports, and it recommends that pet parents take precautions and consult a veterinarian when using flea and tick products on their dogs and cats. It says people should carefully follow label directions and monitor their pets for signs of reaction after application, particularly when using these products for the first time.

When using flea-and-tick control products on pets, the EPA recommends:
  • Consulting a veterinarian before using on weak, older, medicated, sick, pregnant, or nursing pets, or on pets that have previously shown signs of sensitivity to pesticide products.
  • Reading the product label carefully before applying a spot-on product or any other pesticide on your pet.
  • Using products only on the animal specified by the product label; dog products for dogs only and cat products for cats only.
  • Applying only the amount indicated for the size of the animal being treated.
  • Not applying to kittens or puppies unless the product label specifically allows this treatment.
  • Monitoring your pet for side effects or signs of sensitivity after applying the product, particularly when using the product for the first time.
  • Not applying spot-ons to pets known to be sensitive to pesticide products.
If an adverse reaction occurs, bathe the pet with mild soap and rinse it with with large amounts of water, the EPA says. Keep the package with the product container (such as individual applicator tubes), so you will want to have the instructions and manufacturer's contact information.

The best time to treat a pet is at the beginning of flea and tick season, according to the EPA's Dr. Stohlman. The length of flea season, which peaks during warm weather months, varies depending on where you live. “It can last four months in some places, but in other places, like Florida, fleas can live all year long,” she states.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ticks are found in some places year-round. In most parts of the United States, the greatest chance of infection by a tick bite is spring and summer.

More reports about dogs and health:

The Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group for the environment, urges pet parents to use natural flea and tick control methods rather than products containing pesticides. It recommends frequently using a flea comb, regular bathing of pets, and regular vacuuming and washing of a pet's bedding.


The Ruff Report is a column that appears on, a blog written by Joseph A. Reppucci, a retired editor from The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Massachusetts. Mr. Reppucci worked as a reporter and editor on major daily newspapers in the Boston area for more than 30 years. He is the author of the book, The Hunt of Her Life, a heartwarming story about his once-in-a-lifetime rescue dog. Find it on and


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