The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it has seen a significant increase in similar reports of pets suffering side effects from spot-on pesticides for fleas and ticks. The agency late last week announced plans to step up labeling and testing of such treatments. Reactions can range from mild skin irritation to vomiting, trembling, seizures and even death, the EPA said.
For 15-year-old Ranger, the cure for fleas proved worse than the itch.
When the Hudson, Mass., tabby cat came in from outdoors scratching about a year ago, his owner, Jo Ann Everett, picked up a topical flea and tick medication and applied it between his shoulder blades.
Ranger's fur soon came out in clumps in that spot, Everett said.
"I remember noticing the cat starting to shake and basically washed it off," she said Wednesday. "It wasn't a prolonged shaking, but he just hated it."
Ranger turned out OK, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it has seen a significant increase in similar reports of pets suffering side effects from spot-on pesticides for fleas and ticks.
The agency late last week announced plans to step up labeling and testing of such treatments. Reactions can range from mild skin irritation to vomiting, trembling, seizures and even death, the EPA said.
People whose pets became sick from these products said they favor clearer guidelines.
"You need to be careful," Everett said.
Several area veterinarians said topical products play an important part in protecting pets from serious flea- and tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease, but most support the EPA's plans nonetheless.
Often, problems crop up when a pet owner incorrectly uses a product, sometimes by thinking that products are interchangeable, some vets said.
"I wouldn't want people to shy away from these medications because they have a very useful role ... but misuse or misunderstanding of those medications is just as much a problem," said Kiko Bracker, a vet in the Emergency and Critical Care Department at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston.
The American Society for Prevention to Cruelty to Animals said this week it supports the EPA measures and has found cats are significantly more likely to have adverse reactions when not treated according to the label directions.
The EPA plans to require manufacturers to make instructions clearer, including requiring more precise details on proper dosage depending on a pet's weight and disallowing similar brand names for dog and cat products.
The agency also plans to monitor new products more closely, restrict ingredients that may contribute to side effects and launch a campaign to explain new label directions to consumers and help avoid mistakes.
The increase in reported problems may reflect the wider availability and sales of flea and tick products over the counter, said Andy Weitzman, owner and a veterinarian at Acorn Animal Hospital in Franklin, Mass. Problems are rare and usually very minor if products are used correctly, he said.
"People can get these online, they can get them at the pet supply places," he said. "I think there has been a definite increase of a misuse of a dosage formulation for a large dog on a small dog," or a dosage for a dog on a cat.
Such a mix-up can be deadly, said Joan Ogden, a veterinarian at Southborough Veterinary Hospital. She said she generally recommends flea and tick products for most of her patients, but not for animals that are older or have health problems, which may make them more susceptible to side effects.
"We definitely choose our subjects carefully," Ogden said.
Margo Roman of Main Street Animal Services in Hopkinton said she believes pesticides often fail to keep ticks out of people's homes and raise a variety of health worries. There are natural tick repellents, not all of which work, but are better than nothing, she said.
Ogden said in her experience, holistic options don't work well. Topical agents are better than chemical dips used in the past, she said.
Bracker said he does not believe Angell has seen an increase in side effects from flea and tick medication, and most result from misuse. The products should be used judiciously, he said.
"Every medication has potential side effects, and you have to weigh the benefits against the effects," he said.
In Hudson, Everett said her veterinarian initially thought the treatment would be OK for her cat, but ultimately felt it may not be appropriate given his age and kidney problems.
"He's an old boy," Everett said. "It's not for him."
MetroWest Daily News writer David Riley can be reached at 508-626-3919 or firstname.lastname@example.org.