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Are flea treatments dangerous for your pets?

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Counterfeit flea control products are showing up on store shelves which pose serious health risks for pets. Here’s how to identify these products, and ideas for non-toxic alternatives.

By VIP Pet Insurance Posted May 10, 2010

flea-treatments The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is prohibiting the sale of counterfeit flea treatments by retailers and distributors that could pose serious health risks for pets.

These faux treatments, packaged in cartons designed to look like “Frontline” and “Advantage” products, have been illegally imported into the United States.

Dangerous Doses

One of the ways these phony pesticide treatments pose a danger to your pets is by labeling doses intended for dogs on products labeled for use on cats. Formulas are calculated on a pet’s weight and giving a cat medication prescribed for a dog could induce vomiting, seizures and death, says Dr. Cori Gross, a field veterinarian for VPI Pet Insurance.

If you think that your pet has been given a counterfeit flea treatment, contact your veterinarian. You can also contact the National Pesticide Information Center about poisonings at 1-800-858-7378.

Check Flea Medications for Authenticity

Manufacturers of these two product lines are not responsible for the counterfeit products; the EPA says that retailers might have inadvertently sold both legitimate and counterfeit flea treatments. The agency suggests that consumers determine for themselves whether they have purchased a counterfeit product.

If you discover a counterfeit product, alert the store manager and the EPA. Contact the office that represents your region.

The following are some criteria from the EPA to help consumers determine whether the product is authentic. If the product doesn’t contain all of the following information then the product is most likely counterfeit.

Frontline Flea Products

  • The lot number on the retail carton should match lot number on applicator package and/or individual applicators.
  • Instruction leaflet should be included. The following information should be listed: First-aid statements, including emergency U.S. telephone numbers; precautionary statements for humans and pets; directions for use; and storage and disposal statements.
  • Pesticide is contained in an applicator package, which is child-resistant. Directions for opening child-resistant applicator package include an illustration that looks like the applicator package. Directions say, “To remove applicator, use scissors or lift and remove plastic tab to expose foil, then pull down.”
  • Legitimate applicator package has a notch between the individual applicator packages, which are typically absent on counterfeit products.
  • Text on the package and applicator are in English only.
  • Frontline Applicator Packages: Each individual applicator has a label that includes the registrant’s name “Merial;” the product name; the EPA registration number; the net contents in fluid ounces (not in metric measure, i.e., ml); percentage of active ingredient (fipronil for Frontline Top Spot products; and fipronil and (S)-methoprene for Frontline Plus products); and the statements “CAUTION,” “Keep out of reach of children,” and “See full label for additional directions.”
  • Applicator label for dog products includes the size of the dog in pounds on which the product is to be used.

Advantage Flea Products

  • Check the language that is printed on the applicator tubes. Legitimate Advantage products contain applicator tubes that are printed in English. (Labels printed in French or German indicates a fake product.)
  • Tubes include the EPA registration number, the word WARNING, and child hazard warning (Keep Out of Reach of Children).
  • Applicator tubes will include a reference statement that refers users to the main labeling for directions for use and will include the manufacturing company’s name (Bayer).
  • Applicator tubes contain an active ingredient statement that agrees with the active ingredient statement on the retail carton (9.1 percent imidacloprid). Counterfeit products might have an active ingredient statement, such as 10 percent.

Identify Counterfeit Flea Products

Below is a list of brand names and corresponding EPA registration numbers that many have been reproduced by counterfeiters. The bogus products might use identical names and numbers.

Frontline: Frontline Top Spot for Cats (EPA Reg. No. 65331-2); Frontline Top Spot for Dogs (EPA Reg. No. 65331-3); Frontline Plus for Cats (EPA Reg. No. 65331-4); Frontline Plus for Dogs (EPA Reg. No. 65331-5).
Advantage: Advantage 10 for Dogs (EPA Reg. No. 11556-117); Advantage 20 for Dogs (EPA Reg. No. 11556-119); Advantage 55 for Dogs (EPA Reg. No. 11556-120); Advantage 100 for Dogs (EPA Reg. No. 11556-122); Advantage 9 for Cats (EPA Reg. No. 11556-116); Advantage 18 for Cats (EPA Reg. No. 11556-118).

Pay Attention to Over-the-Counter Product Labels

Cat owners should avoid over-the-counter flea medications including flea bombs, dips and shampoos that contain the pesticides pyrethrin and permethrin. These ingredients are dangerous to cats, and have been known to cause vomiting, seizures, skin reactions and death. The insecticides are so dangerous they shouldn’t even be applied to dogs that come in contact with cats, says Gross. (While the treatments might not necessarily pose a danger to healthy dogs, they could cause a bad reaction in a dog with a predisposed condition.)

It’s especially important that pet owners do not apply a product intended for dogs on a cat, says Dr. David W. Reinhard, a consulting veterinarian for VPI. “The formulation of Bio Spot for cats and dogs is completely different,” he explains. Bio Spot for dogs and Zodiac Spot On contain the insecticide permethrin. Hartz UltraGuard Pro, Flea & Tick Drops for Dogs contains Phenothrin. Neither one of these insecticides is safe for use on cats.

Reinhard says over-the-counter treatments Bio Spot for cats and Hartz UltraGuard Pro, Flea & Tick Drops for Cats contain etofenprox and methoprene which are safe to use on cats according to the manufacturers. He isn’t aware of any problems associated with the products.

Picking the Right Flea Treatment

Gross suggests that as a precaution, owners also ask their veterinarians about new flea treatments. “There are new products coming out all the time,” she says. “Vets are always trying something new, just ask about their favorite.”

VIP Pet Insurance is a Nationwide Insurance company.

For more information on safe alternatives for flea control, see our page: non-toxic flea control.

To control fleas without chemicals, see our Electric Flea Trap.

To control fleas and other insects in the home, use safe, non-toxic diatomaceous earth.

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  • Carrie

    once when i as younger, my dad purchased a hartz product for cats because it was so much cheaper than advantage and that gave my cat a seizure. luckily she was ok after a good bath and a trip to the vet

  • tim Franklin

    You can use some products, but each individual cat will be different, how much do they weigh? are they skinny, or well fat, it makes a big difference, for sure, a very young cat, will need special attention, take them to the vet.

  • harpy

    Whatever you do, don't use neem oil on cats with fleas! My cat got sick and wouldn't eat when we rubbed neem oil into its fur to prevent fleas.

  • Praveen

    My cat got sick and wouldn't eat when we rubbed neem oil into its fur to prevent fleas.

  • As a cat owner I'm very lucky that I've never had to deal with fleas. She's an indoor cat but goes out onto an enclosed patio so she's susceptible to whatever's out there. She's a Maine Coom and very gentle.

  • Veronica

    Fleas must be treated aggressivly. Many people think that they are only out in the warmer months, but are around all times of the year.

  • kris steuter

    Advantage worked well for my cat for 3 years. BEWARE OF ADVANTAGE 2 THE NEW REPLACMENT.
    After applying the NEW ADVANTAGE 2 My Abyssinian Cat was severely ill, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors etc.
    The vet said many cats have this problem to include his own personal cat. Not all cats can handle the added ingredient that replaced the old advantage. The vapor alone can make some cats very ill. Dont believe articles stating there have been no reports of adverse reactions ( Im not talking about allergic reactions either). I have talked with 4 different vets and read online of others experiencing this problem with the new Advantage 2. Be VERY careful when first using this product. I had to hospitalize my cat for one day for fluids. It may work fine for many cats, but can be dangerous for many also. Just be aware!

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