Tick repellent not always safe for dogs, cats

MERRIMACK – Hold your horses, and your cats, dogs and rabbits, before using popular “spot-on” flea and tick repellents, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency and a local animal expert.

The agency is calling for an “in-depth investigation” into the number of adverse effects linked to products meant to protect pets from parasites like ticks and fleas.

Jamie Dekraai, a veterinary technician and manager at the Animal Hospital of Nashua, said the call for more scrutiny has definitely been a topic of discussion among vets and pet owners recently.

“The primary concern is: Are these products truly safe?” Dekraai said. “I would say it’s becoming more prominent for the last two weeks.”

A few pet owners have asked about the EPA’s warning, Dekraai said, but the hospital, which sees between 200 and 300 animals most weeks, hasn’t treated any pets having bad reactions.

In 2008, the EPA received more than 44,000 reports of “adverse reactions” to flea products, according to its Web site. Most of the reports came from pet owners using topical products sold in veterinary offices or over the counter, according to the EPA.

The agency cautioned that the number of incidents doesn’t necessarily indicate a connection to the products but said 80 percent of the reactions were linked to seven products.

The statement didn’t detail which products were linked to the adverse reactions.

Because of the number of incidents, the agency is calling for the investigation and considering potential restrictions on the medications, according to the EPA.

Dr. Dennis Chmiel, a veterinarian at the Merrimack Veterinary Hospital, said his office has seen animals with reactions to the drugs but said they are largely safe so long as pet owners carefully read the instructions.

“They reality is no matter what we give there will be a small percentage of animals that have a reaction to it,” he said. “When you look at the benefit of these products in general, the benefits they do are tremendous.”

The makers of the medications are required to report any reactions to federal officials and many of them say their own internal systems aren’t showing an increase in incidents. Also, the EPA didn’t differentiate between relatively minor reactions, such as skin irritation, and reactions that are more serious.

Anyone using topical flea and tick repellents should first consult with a veterinarian and carefully read the products’ instructions since many of the reactions may come from improper use, according to the EPA.

Chmiel said he still recommends using many of the products, including K9 Advantix and Vectra 3D for dogs and Revolution for cats.

“As a general rule of thumb these are really, really safe products,” he said.

The most common reaction, Chmiel said, is minor discomfort and the animal will often scratch or lick where the drug is applied. Occasionally there will be minor inflammation and, even more seldom, true allergic reactions with more severe swelling and inflammation, he said.

Other than that, the biggest problem seems to be cat owners who unknowingly use products intended for dogs, some of which can kill cats if they ingest the drug, Chmiel said.

Tick repellents are particularly important in New Hampshire and the rest of New England because of the number of ticks in the area, he said.

Recent studies have shown that the percentage of deer ticks carrying Lyme disease has increased from 25 percent to 60 percent in the last several years, Chmiel said, in addition to other diseases they can carry.

“We have a tick population that is increasing and they seem to be carrying more of these diseases,” he said.

Dekraai agreed, and said most of the concern seems to be centered on over-the-counter products because veterinarians have a chance to carefully educate pet owners on the use of the ones they sell at their practices.

She said if you do buy over-the-counter products, it’s a good idea to stick to the ones recommended by your veterinarian.