Now that it's flea and tick season here in the US, we have been getting tons of questions about what flea and tick products on the market are safe for us pups (and cats). So, we sought information from the NRDC to help our readers understand about all the flea and tick products on the market, what's safe and not safe for us pets, and why. We emailed them and asked their scientists a few questions, which they were more than happy to answer.
The following is our interview with the great folks at the Natural Resource Defense Council and GreenPaws.org. We thank them for taking the time to provide us with this important information, and hope that you find it as valuable as we did.
Please tell us about the Natural Resources Defense Council, GreenPaws.org and your mission.
In 2000, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a report entitled Poison on Pets which listed in detail the potential health hazards to humans and pets from dangerous chemicals in flea collars and other flea and tick control products. Since NRDC released its flagship report, we've been hard at work to get the most toxic chemicals posing health hazards to people and pets out of flea and tick control products. We've had incredible success removing all but two dangerous chemicals from the original list we published nearly 10 years ago--but still have two left.
GreenPaws.org was founded in July of 2008 to help draw attention to the use of these two insecticides, organophosphates and carbamates, and will be pressuring the EPA to ban pet products containing these ingredients. By providing people with easily accessed information we hope to empower the public to make safer and smarter choices when treating their pets for fleas or ticks.
Can you share information about your past and present research programs regarding toxins in flea and tick products?
NRDC was the first to put the individual risk assessments for pesticides from pet products side by side, highlighting the overall risks to children. NRDC found that pet products then on the market could expose adults and children to toxic pesticides at concentrations that exceed the safe levels established by the EPA by 50,000 percent. The report recommended that the EPA ban all products using organophosphates to protect children and pets from short- and long-term health effects associated with these pesticides.
In our new report we take a closer look at the safety of two dangerous pesticides still permitted for use in flea collars – tetrachlorvinphos and propoxur. In a first-of-its-kind, real-world study we tested the levels of residue found on pets wearing flea collars that could get on a person’s hand when they pet their dog or cat. We found that EPA’s assessments were flawed and drastically underestimated the risks posed by these products, particularly to children.
What effect has your research and action had on the products in the flea/tick marketplace?
At the time of NRDC's initial report, flea control products on the market included seven specific organophosphate insecticides. Since the report's release, six of these organophosphates have been banned and removed from the pet market: chlorpyrifos, dichlorvos, phosmet, naled, diazinon and malathion. Only one -- tetrachlorvinphos -- is still found in stores.
Thanks to an upcoming revision of our Poison on Pet's Report, Green Paws and the NRDC will be hard at work in the next two months to try and eliminate this last organophosphate insecticide and its related class of insecticides –carbamates. Sign up at GreenPaws.org to receive updates and to have an opportunity to take action as we take aim at the EPA, the manufacturers, and the distributors of harmful pet products!
What is the most important thing that dog lovers should know about flea and tick products on the market today?
The most important thing dog lovers should know is that not all over-the-counter flea and tick products are safe for your pet! Many Americans believe that commercially available pesticides, such as those found in pet products, are tightly regulated by the government. In fact, they are not. Many of the products sold in grocery, drug and pet supply stores, even when applied as instructed on the box, can cause serious health consequences to pets and humans. Just because these products are on store shelves does not mean they are safe.
Check our product guide to see if you are currently using a flea or tick treatment that could be harmful to your pet, and to find safer options.
Until the EPA bans the last of these toxic chemicals, consumers should avoid products that list tetrachlorvinphos, carbaryl and propoxur as active ingredients. Let us know if you or someone you love (whether furry or not) has had a toxic reaction to a pet product, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your story.
Pet owners looking to find a non-toxic way to get rid of their pet's fleas can take a look at our Guide to Better Flea and Tick Treatments. The page offers advice on using a flea comb, maintaining outdoor areas, and how to deal with a pet's bedding.
When chemical control is necessary, choose a safer treatment and avoid the most toxic chemicals. All pesticides should be used with caution and in consultation with a veterinarian. Check our comprehensive product guide, and ask your vet about one of the products or treatments marked with a yellow paw.
With the concerns of chemicals, many flea/tick manufacturers are turning to herbal oil based formulas, are these products safer?
While it may seem that herbal oil based products seem like a better option for your pet, not all essential oils are safe for pets or people. Herbal or natural products containing citrus, cinnamon, clove, d-limonene, geranium, tea tree, lavender, linalool, bay, eucalyptus, and rue oils should be used sparingly because they can cause allergic reactions in people -- and severe reactions in cats and dogs have been reported. Avoid the use of any flea or tick product containing pennyroyal oil. It can cause seizures, comas, and even death in animals. Herbal or natural products that contain cedarwood, lemongrass, peppermint, rosemary and thyme are likely safer. Learn more in our Guide to Safe Pets by looking under 'oils'.
What do you recommend as the safest way for pet lovers to help protect their pets from fleas and ticks? What products do you suggest, and how effective are they?
The safest way for pet owners to protect their pets and their family is to avoid toxic chemicals by controlling fleas through regular use of a flea comb, bathing, and vacuuming. Weekly baths and washing pet bedding in hot water can help get rid of existing fleas and their eggs, as will regular vacuuming. For more information visit our page on Better Flea and Tick Treatment.
Thanks to the hard work of the Natural Resources Defense Council, we have an updated version of our Poison on Pet's Report to be release at the end of April. Along with this new report Green Paws will be taking action by petitioning the EPA, manufacturers of flea collars containing the most harmful chemicals, and large retailers who sell these harmful products in their stores. Anyone interested in joining our campaign should sign up at GreenPaws.org and keep checking the site for new videos, news, and useful information!
How can our readers help your cause?
Tell your family, friends, pet groomers, vets, and anyone you know about Green Paws! Feel free to download our fact sheets or handy Wallet Guide to help spread the word about keeping your pet and family safe from harmful chemicals. Your readers may also be interested in ordering an Action Kit which includes materials that can be taken to vet offices, pet groomers, pet stores, and anywhere people and pets gather.
As always, none of our information would be available without the support of generous donations. It costs $75 to run one test to see if a flea treatment leaves toxic residue on a pet's fur. Any size gift will help us to keep funding the research that helps protect our pets, our homes, and the people we love.