Topical pet pesticides. You may know them as Frontline, Advantage, Advantix and Promeris, among others. Perhaps you also use Adams brand flea and tick shampoo and occasionally defer to a Sergeant’s supermarket brand spot-on flea and tick killer when your veterinarian is closed (or when you’re tight on money, as so many of us currently are). 



In case US pet owners didn’t know this, our FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is NOT in charge of these products. Ultimately, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is. 

That’s because flea and tick products are usually not applied inside an animal––they go ON your pet, instead. And because they’re intended to kill things ON your pet, just as pesticides sprayed on the fields go ON the crops to kill bugs ON’s in the EPA’s purview to regulate these products.

Despite the fact that you and I know that anything that goes ON any animal with a porous membrane for protection (i.e., skin) will end up IN him, pet flea and tick manufacturers have long understood that when it comes to animals, life is easier if you’re dealing with the EPA instead of the FDA. 

That’s because the EPA doesn’t require the same stringent standards for safety and efficacy the FDA does. It’s less expensive, then, to produce these products. It’s a quicker process, this approval to market. 

In many ways that’s good. It means more products get the chance to reach vet hospital and supermarket shelves more quickly––and at a lower price. The problem comes in only when it’s time to...

1. ...ensure the product works as effectively as it says it does, and

2. ...ensure that pets aren’t harmed by them.

Recently, the EPA seems to have come to the realization that some of these products don’t the agency’s standards for #2 (i.e., safety). Last week (April 17th) it published an advisory titled, “Increased Scrutiny of Flea and Tick Control Products for Pets.” The advisory listed 7 products that accounted for 80% of 44,000 adverse effects reported in 2008. Here’s most of it:

“Due to a recent sharp increase in the number of incidents being reported from the use of spot-on pesticide products for flea and tick control for pets, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is intensifying its evaluation of whether further restrictions on the use of these products are necessary to better protect pets.

Incidents with flea and tick products can involve the use of spot-on treatments, sprays, collars and shampoos. However, the majority of the potential incidents reported to EPA are related to flea and tick treatments with EPA-registered spot-on products. Spot-on products are generally sold in tubes or vials and are applied to one or more localized areas on the body of the pet, such as in between the shoulders or in a stripe along the back...

...Adverse reactions reported from the spot-on products range from mild effects such as skin irritation to more serious effects such as seizures and in some cases death. Over 44,000 potential incidents associated with registered spot-on products were reported to EPA in 2008. Pesticide registrants are required by law to submit information to EPA on adverse effects resulting from the use of any registered pesticide. The seven products in the table below represent about 80% of that total.”  

So now...drum roll are the seven products:

That’s right. They’re no longer on the site. A few days late to this party, I was unable to catch the breaking news in time. Because the EPA is clearly under pressure by these products’ manufacturers to contain the data until they’ve had time to circle the wagons, who knows when we’ll know which products to inform our clients to avoid––for now, anyway.

Regardless of WHY these products are responsible for 80% of 44,000 complaints, do we not deserve access to the information as quickly as possible? At 44,000 a year, that’s 120 patients per day. Another week without these stats? Another opportunity for 844 patients to succumb to adverse reactions. 

Has the EPA learned nothing from its cousins at the FDA? In case you haven’t caught the connection, let me direct you to Exhibit A: the pet food recall of 2007. In this now-historic debacle, pet food manufacturers failed to reveal the role of their foods in the deaths of many thousands of pets. 

Despite their exoneration with respect to the source of the toxin, the pet food industry’s denials and obfuscations, aided and abetted by the FDA, undercut the reputations of all involved when it became clear that preserving the affected brands’ integrity was more important than protecting our pets. 

Will the same shameful history be repeated again today? Let’s hope not. Contact the EPA and let them know how important this information is to our pets. Sure, we want the EPA to be 100% certain that the information it provides us is accurate. But these deliberations should take place in the light of day, not behind the veil of corporate protectionism, and not if it means more pets will experience the ill effects of products and brands whose regulators cave to their demands at the expense of animal health.