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dogs and cats
skin irritation
closer look
flea and tick
Are Flea And Tick Preventives Safe?
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Are Flea And Tick Preventives Safe?

In the spring of 2009, the EPA announced that it would increase its scrutiny of spot-on flea and tick medications for all pets. The closer look included all of the popular brands including Advantix, Frontline Plus, and Bio-Spot. They took this step because the number of complaints about pets becoming sick from these applications had increased considerably, and there have even been reports of serious illness leading to death.

Ever since, people wonder whether to use these products. Well, since the announcement, additional research has yielded some answers:

1. Cats are more susceptible to becoming ill from spot-on flea and tick treatments than other pets.

2. The vast majority of reported illness has to do with misuse of the products. That is, people did not follow the directions on the packaging. For example, repeated application over a given 30 day period is dangerous.

3. Products intended for dogs must never be used on cats, for they can cause death.

4. A veterinarian must always be consulted before using spot-on flea and tick treatments on very young, very old, sick, or pregnant pets. These groups are more vulnerable to problems than mature, healthy, non-pregnant pets.

5. When dogs and cats are treated according to the package labeling, there are significantly fewer problems.

6. When dogs and cats became ill even though the product was applied according to labeling, the effects were relatively mild. They included skin irritation and stomach upset and usually resolved in 24-48 hours.

The ASPCA Poison Control Center says the basic message is that people should continue using spot-on flea and tick medications and follow the directions on the packaging. If your pet is in any of the above-mentioned risk groups, do not use the treatments until you have checked with your veterinarian.

You may wonder what precautions you should take if you decide to accept the ASPCA PCC's advice, apart from following the directions on the package and verifying that your pet isn't in one of the above risk groups.

The most important precaution is your attitude when using flea and tick preventives. These medications are all strong chemicals. As with vaccines, doses and frequency need careful monitoring. You need to know your dog's exact weight and only use medication designated specifically for him (the packaging will tell you in what weight category the medication should be used.) If your pup is on the cusp between one weight and another, use the dose for the lighter weight. Post a calendar in a high traffic part of the house and put an attention-grabbing sticker on the day of each month when the medication is due. Never apply a dose before it's due.

Your cautious approach should also keep you on the look-out for spills. The medication should only go on healthy skin on the back of your dog's neck where he can't get to it with his tongue. Part the fur carefully and squeeze the container contents onto the skin. Dribbling onto the surface of the coat puts your family and your dog at risk, because anyone who touches him after the application will transfer the medication to human skin which can absorb just as dog skin does. As for your dog, if he scratches his neck with his rear foot, then licks the foot, he'll ingest the chemicals (which are only safe when applied to his skin).

With careful usage, flea and tick preventives are not only safe but necessary. Fleas and ticks carry cause discomfort and carry disease. Medication is a case of the benefits outweighing the risks.

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