Are Tick and Flea Control Products Safe?

by Darcy Lockman
View Biography

Erin Carter, a 43-year-old homemaker, never ran into problems when she used flea control and prevention products. It was when she forgot to apply them that the trouble began.

"My tabby, Sparkle, had fleas on her skin, which ended up all over my home," she said. "We had to bomb the house with chemicals a few times to make sure they were all gone."

While stories like Carter's are familiar to veterinarians, the Environmental Protection Agency has recently become more concerned about the harm anti-flea-and-tick chemicals may do. After an increase in reports of adverse incidents associated with these medications in 2008, the EPA has made product-labeling rules more stringent and has also increased safety review standards.

Below, Dr. Katy Nelson, a Virginia-based emergency veterinarian, weighs in on the pros and cons of using chemicals - and more natural alternatives - to keep your feline free of fleas.

Human Error
The more stringent EPA labeling requirements clearly reflect where the bulk of problems with flea and tick preventives lie: with cat owners who don't use them correctly, giving incorrect doses or canine-only products on their cats.

"My biggest piece of advice is to really read the label," says Nelson. "If you're not sure about the instructions, pick up the phone and call your vet. Never assume a product made for a dog is safe for your cat just because the animals weigh the same."

The Benefits of Traditional Products
Flea and tick products contain small amounts of chemicals that keep fleas and ticks at bay, protecting your cat not only from disease-carrying bites, but also from ingesting fleas - often carriers of tapeworms. "Cats are good groomers. If a flea is biting them, they're likely to eat it long before you see it," says Nelson.

The risk of tick-borne illness is greater, as ticks carry more deadly diseases, including Lyme disease. Many traditional repellents also contain protection against flies and mosquitoes. Mosquitoes transmit heartworm larvae, so keeping your furry friend from getting bitten is crucial to its heart health as well.

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