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The Ruff Report: Improper use of flea, tick items is killing pets

Pet owners are being warned that improper use of flea and tick control products on their dogs and cats can lead to serious illness and, in some instances, even death.

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has placed tougher restrictions on the insecticide treatments commonly used on pets and has required revisions to labeling to help pet owners use the products properly.

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 in recent years after some pets developed skin irritations, had seizures or have died.

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Pet owners need to carefully read and follow all labeling before exposing your pet to a pesticide,” Steve Owens, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, 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.

"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.”

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 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.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group for the environment, urges pet parents to consider using 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 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 has established a team of veterinarians to review the incidents and the ingredients used in the products.

The pet deaths and illnesses prompted the EPA to take action, which included:
  • 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.

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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