Are Flea Prevention Treatments Safe for Dogs?

Here’s What You Need To Know About Flea & Tick Protection

The jury is still out on the question “Are flea prevention treatments safe for dogs?” And, with so many kinds of flea prevention products on the market including shampoos, collars, sprays, spot-ons, dust, pills, chews and natural repellents, pet owners are left in a quandary. They are asking if natural flea prevention is better than chemical or pesticidal-based treatments, and how to decide what’s right for their pet. The differences between chemical and natural flea prevention are many. This article will show you the latest findings so you may have a better understanding with respect to the question are flea prevention treatments safe for dogs.

First, it’s important to understand that chemical and pesticidal flea killing products for pets are regulated by either the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) because they are considered drugs or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because they are considered pesticides. Both agencies try to keep up to date on if and how flea treatments affect dogs, humans and the environment. They are the regulatory arm that the public depends on in determining are flea prevention treatments safe for dogs. Natural flea repelents are not regulated because they are not considered a drug or pesticide. For example, PawPurity’s Flea & Tick Shampoo and Flea & Tick Spray use rosemary, yucca, cedarwood, aloe vera, lemongrass and thyme to keep pests away.

FDA and EPA Regulations – A Continuous Struggle to Keep Flea Prevention Treatments Safe

Health issues resulting from fleas on dogs should not be worse than the flea prevention treatments themselves. This is why pet owners need to do their own homework on which product is best for their pets. However, after analyzing the many adverse effects dogs were having when using chemically derived flea prevention products, both the FDA and EPA conducted studies and issued stricter guidelines. Are flea prevention treatments safe for dogs is a growing concern and many reports are indicating some are not.

“In spring 2009, the EPA noticed an increase in pet incidents being reported involving spot-on pesticide products for pets. EPA received a large amount of bad pet reaction information reported to the companies that hold registrations for these products. EPA formed a veterinarian team with the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) and Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) to review this information. The team studied incidents involving cats and dogs, looked at the ingredients, studied labeling, and discussed data needs for the future to improve analyses and regulation.”

The findings were significant enough that the EPA made changes in how the spot-on products are regulated including labeling and how companies report data on pet incidences.

“EPA found that the products could be used safely but that some additional restrictions are needed. EPA’s team of veterinarians learned that most incidents were minor, but unfortunately some pet deaths and “major incidents” have occurred. The Agency learned that the most commonly affected organ systems were skin, gastrointestinal (digestive) and nervous.”

Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA’s expert veterinarian team found during their flea treatment research that:

  1.  Small breed dogs were affected more than larger breeds for some products
  2.  The amount of product in a single dose needed to vary more for small to large dogs; that is, how much the dog weighs matters a lot in deciding how much of a product should be used.
  3. Misuse or accidental exposure of cats to dog products was an important problem; cats can be harmed by dog products because they are more sensitive to certain pesticides
  4.  Label warnings against use of dog products on other animals, especially cats, are not working well enough, which appears to be a global concern.

“The team also found that “the data we now require to determine the safety of these products for pets do not accurately predict the toxicity seen in the incidents that took place.”

Environmental Protection Agency

Flea Prevention Treatments

Spot-On Flea Treatments

The American Veterinarian Medical Association became aware of a significant number reports of adverse events. “A total of approximately 43,000 reports were reported for 2008. Products containing the following active ingredients were involved in the analysis: cyphenothrin, pyriproxyfen, phenothrin, S-methoprene, permethrin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid, amitraz, methaflumizone, fipronil, and etofenprox. Specific products involved can be viewed on the EPA website. The EPA states that approximately 1% of the adverse events associated with these products resulted in death in 2008.

Pills and Chews for Flea Prevention

Many veterinarians recommend pills and chews for dogs and they are perfectly safe. However, with so much that pet owners don’t know or understand about flea prevention products, it is best they do their own research particularly if they question the options offered by their veterinarians. While most pills and chewable flea prevention treatments have FDA approval, there are instances where even the veterinarians were taken off guard by the very same products.

For example, the FDA alerted pet owners and veterinarians to “be aware of the potential for neurologic adverse events in dogs and cats when treated with flea prevention drugs that are in the isooxazolineclass even though the products already obtained their respective FDA approvals. The FDA issued a fact sheetfor pet owners and veterinarians regarding potential adverse events that are associated flea and tick products containing isoxazoline.

In an article posted by UC Davis Veterinary Hospital, “all flea control products are potentially toxic or may produce unexpected side effects. Toxicity may result from accidental overdose or unexpected sensitivity. Known side effects, although rare, are vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, sluggishness, weakness, or abnormal behavior. Adverse reactions may occur from minutes to days following application. Insecticides can be toxic to people; all products should be handled carefully, avoiding direct contact as much as possible. Keep all products out of the reach of children. In any case, once your dog has fleas, it’s best to see a veterinarian for treatment. There are many products on the market including shampoos, pesticides- given orally or spot-on treatments and pills. Unfortunately, some of these treatments may cause potentially dangerous adverse reactions. If you experience adverse events associated with spot-on (topical) flea or tick products, contact the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) online or by calling 1.800.858.7378. To report problems with FDA- approved drugs go to How to Report an Adverse Drug Experience.

Flea Prevention Collars

The same adverse effects found in pills and chews containing isoxazoline, also are associated with a specific brand of flea prevention collars. As recently as March 2, 2021, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting and USA Today published findings that the EPA has received more than 75,000 incident reports involving a popular brand of collars since they were first introduced in 2012. Those reports included 1,700 deaths of pets and about 1,000 incidents of harm to humans. While the company claims this information to be misleading, the American Veterinary Medical Association is gravely concerned.

“Isoxazoline products have been associated with neurologic adverse reactions, including muscle tremors, ataxia and seizures in some dogs and cats,” the FDA added. Ataxia is a lack of muscle control and can cause animals to stumble or twitch.

Natural Flea Prevention TreatmentsWhat Does That Mean?

After all the news about the dangers of various pesticidal flea prevention and treatments, natural ways to prevent fleas are quickly coming into vogue. There are natural sprays and shampoos that are excellent at repelling fleas that don’t pose any danger to dogs because, unlike other flea prevention treatments on the market, they are not made from chemicals and pesticides. Their repelling agents and preservatives are plants, minerals and essential oils, which are extremely powerful in keeping fleas away.

These products primarily repel more than kill fleas. Their primary function is natural flea prevention void of any potentially harmful ingredients. Natural flea treatments are gaining in popularity because they contain potent natural repellents without pesticides or chemicals. Find out more about natural flea and tick shampoos and other chemical free pet care products. Natural flea prevention treatments like shampoos or sprays may not necessarily be the best if your dog already has a significant flea infestation but there are natural ways to go about killing the fleas. If you are wondering are natural flea prevention treatments safe for dogs, children and pet owners, the answer would be yes if the right formulation of plants, herbs and minerals are used. But because 100% natural flea repellents is a fairly new concept, it could take some time to catch on. If you look at some of the ingredients in natural flea and tick shampoo and spray, you will see why they are effective in repelling fleas, which is much preferred over having to deal with an infestation.

The facts are on the labels. While most people are seeing words they cannot pronounce on flea prevention treatments they have been using or those the veterinarian suggests, natural products are straightforward and have recognizable ingredients. For example this flea and tick shampoo contains pure plants, minerals and essentials oils void of pesticides and other potentially harmful chemicals. It represents what a truly natural shampoo should contain. Its ingredients include: olive oil-based cleanser, aloe vera juice, distilled water, calendula, yucca root, horsetail, red clover, nettle leaf, witch hazel, apple cider vinegar, Himalayan salt, vitamin E, frankincense, Colloidal Silver, marjoram essential oil, cedarwood essential oil and lemongrass essential oil. Most pet owners are not familiar with such ingredients and questioning their ability to prevent fleas. However, formulations from various plants have been used for centuries to repel fleas, but not by pet industry manufacturers because they are more costly to make. Again, however, natural flea prevention products must contain ingredients that are known to be safe to dogs. Some ingredients that are safe for dogs, are not for cats..

A Natural Way To Treat A Flea Infestation

If your dog already has a flea infestation, diatomaceous earth is natural way to get rid of it. Adult fleas may begin to die as quickly as four hours after coming in contact with diatomaceous earth. The particles may kill some flea larvae as well, however, it is not effective against flea eggs or pupae. Calcium Carbonate (baking soda) with a sprinkle of salt is a dehydrating agent that dries out fleas, their eggs and the larvae. This will kill them off so that they do not reproduce and spread. The main point of handling a flea infestation is to stop it from spreading. The natural formula is not harmful to children or pets. It is important to check the dog for open cuts or wounds prior to applying this formula, as salt can sting. Again, prevention is the best way to protect against flea and tick infestation.

Prevention Takes Priority

So the question, “are flea prevention treatments safe for dogs” requires research, as it’s a decision that should not be taken lightly. It’s a given that flea prevention is key to ensuring your dog does not get an infestation in the first place. Most veterinarians do their best to keep up on the latest research, however, it’s an ongoing learning process. And until there is a negative report to say otherwise, they will keep recommending the products they believe to work. And many of the products on the market are safe. But, as the trends show pet owners are moving toward more natural approaches to flea protection, veterinarians may need to be educated on why and how they work. There are two schools of thought here: natural vs pesticidal. And while there are many ways to protect your dog using natural products without using harmful chemicals or pesticides, it is still a new concept. A decision to go natural, although this may seem foreign to most, pet owners just may just save their furry friends from having to endure the misery caused by a flea infestation without having to use products that could have adverse reactions. And, natural ingredients may prevent endless trips to the veterinarian office for skin issues.

A press release distributed by University of Pennsylvania PennVet outlines the dangers of what fleas on dogs can do and ways to keep them away. Flea prevention is key to avoiding infestations.

“Keep your pet well groomed. Daily brushing or combing lets you check for fleas and ticks. Ticks can carry infectious diseases and fleas can cause allergic reactions and “hot spots” in dogs. Hot spots are large, wet lesions that appear suddenly in areas where the dog has scratched. See your veterinarian for flea and tick preventives or if a hot spot appears.”

Understanding the various flea prevention treatments on the market, chemical vs natural, and how products are regulated gives owners a leading edge on answering the question are flea prevention treatments safe for dogs. Because of the findings of products with potential risk, it is the duty of every dog owner to do their own research. We urge all dog owners to discuss with their veterinarian the pros and cons of a flea treatment and the various flea treatment methods, including natural flea prevention products. Keep in mind though, veterinarians are cannot be expected to understand the powder of natural flea treatments. In this case, ask them why they have not considered natural products. It may simply be they just don’t understand their effectiveness.

All things considered, we hope this article has provided insight into answering the question “are flea prevention treatments safe for dogs”? There is a lot to think about, but much depends on making the right choice. Please visit our Contact Us page if you have questions or topics you would like to see covered.