EPA Takes a Closer Look at Flea and Tick Treatments
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced it will increase restrictions on topically flea and tick products because they recently documented “a significant increase” in the number of cats and dogs suffering adverse reactions to these products. Dermal, gastrointestinal and neurological effects were the reactions most commonly reported.
Over the last five years, the deaths of at least 1,600 pets related to topical flea and tick treatments were reported to the EPA. Because this was a dramatic increase in such events, the EPA recently conducted an intensive review of these products.
The Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) and Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) collaborated with EPA. The combined group studied incidents involving cats and dogs, looked at active and inert ingredients and evaluated product labeling. Data was collected from the manufacturers (or registrants) and other available sources.
The evaluation was somewhat problematic because each company collected different data on adverse reactions and information reported by pet owners was sometimes inconsistent. Incidents that weren’t included in the EPA’s evaluation were those from products without EPA registration numbers (I assume these are herbal products, but I’m not sure about this); those from other countries; reports that were considered to be ambiguous; those that involved other pesticides or drugs (because the reaction couldn’t be definitively tied to the product); and incidents that involved multiple animals (because many of these included ambiguous data).
EPA stated that their evaluation indicated that additional restrictions should be applied to these products, though they didn’t provide much information on what these restrictions might be and they didn’t state whether restrictions will apply to over-the-counter products, prescription products or both.
They reported that small breed dogs were affected more often than medium and large breed dogs. This effect was especially pronounced in products containing cyphenothrin (the active ingredient in TriForce, Sentry Pro and Sargeants Gold) and permethrin (the active ingredient in K9 Advantix, Bio-Spot On and Vectra3D ).
They noted that thinner skin and a larger skin area to body volume in small dogs may be a factor in these reactions. However, EPA also stated that dosage ranges for many products appear to be too broadly defined on the lower end of the scale. They noted that pet owners who overestimate their dog’s weight and subsequently overdose their dogs may also be a factor. Attempts to save money by purchasing large doses to split between small dogs were believed to cause some problems as well. EPA emphasized the importance of following the manufacturer’s directions carefully, as misapplication may have been related to many incidents.
I was frustrated to see that while the EPA stated that they believe that the “inert” ingredients in these products are an important factor in adverse reactions – they aren’t discussed in the report because most of them are proprietary ingredients.
It was also disappointing to see that the EPA stated that the data currently required to assess the safety of these products don’t provide an adequate picture of the potential risks they pose to pets and pet owners. Apparently we should be a bit more cynical about the trust we put in the agency to protect us from chemical hazards.
Because most reactions occurred in dogs that were less than three years old, EPA encouraged pet owners to monitor their pets carefully for adverse reactions the first time a product is used. This is likely a factor, but I wonder if the fact that there are more young than old dogs and the strong possibility that young dogs are more often out in places where they’re exposed to pests and are therefore get treated more often, may be important too.
EPA notes that “a comparison of the absolute numbers of incidents among the different spot-on products in this report are not appropriate.” Ironically, they do not provide information on the number of incidents for each product – so I guess we just won’t worry about that (after all, we don’t want to stress out manufacturers). Problems in direct comparison include the fact that some products are used more frequently than others; some products have different market niches (which may affect usage and reporting); the relative ease of product use may affect incidents; data were collected and recorded by different entities; negative publicity about a product can have an effect on reporting; and as noted above, some incidents were not evaluated. While these are valid points I think that the consumer’s right to see this data outweighs the potential harm to manufacturers and vendors.
I couldn’t review the data but EPA noted that deaths and adverse incidents were reported for all the products included in the study.
In the end, the EPA recommended that pet owners get a veterinarian’s advice before using any product — especially if you are treating a weak, geriatric, sick, pregnant or nursing pet; a pet that is on prescription medication; or a pet that has previously had a reaction to similar products.
The agency is inviting public comment on how to implement new measures to safeguard our pets from these products. A Federal Register notice announcing the opening of a docket was published on March 19, 2010. The docket number is EPA-HQ-OPP-2010-0229. Go here to comment.
Tips for safe use of topical flea and tick treatments
Weigh your pet before applying any treatment. Especially if you have a small dog. Overdosing is preventable!
Keep records of the products you use and the dates you treat your pet. This helps prevent over-dosing and can also be helpful information to your vet (and the reporting agency) in the event of an adverse reaction.
Read the label and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Pay attention to prohibitions against using a product on weak, elderly, sick, pregnant, or nursing pets. Follow all age restrictions. Only use a product on the species it is listed for (i.e. don’t put a product made for dogs on your cat and vice-versa).
Don’t put a product on your pet right before you leave for work or at bedtime – especially if this is the first time you’ve used this product on your pet or if the pet has had adverse reactions to products before. Keep an eye on your pet for a few hours so you can catch an adverse reaction quickly if it happens.
Keep the package the product came in. Don’t throw it out after you use it. Lot numbers and other product data are vital information if your pet has an adverse reaction.
Consult your veterinarian before using any product on a weak, elderly, sick, pregnant, or nursing pet; on a pet that has had adverse reactions to flea and tick products; or a pet that is on a prescription medication.
If your pet has an adverse reaction – call your vet immediately. If your regular clinic is closed, call an emergency clinic or the Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435. Have the product information ready and keep your pet in a quiet area where you can watch him.
Reporting adverse reactions
EPA recommends that veterinarians use the National Pesticide Information Center’s Veterinary Pesticide Adverse Effects Reporting portal to report incidents. This page is ONLY accessible by vet clinic staff. Please encourage your vet to use this service.
You can report adverse reactions to the company that manufactured the product. When you do, they are required to report it to the EPA. You should be able to find contact information on the product package.
You can also report adverse reactions to the EPA via their “ask a question” page. To do this go to the Pesticides Frequent Questions Web page and select “flea and tick” in the drop-down box. Then click on the “ask a question” tab and use the fields there to submit information on the product and reaction instead of asking a question.