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Topical Flea Control Products

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International American Champion "Pinafore Show Girl"     

There are at least 21 topical or "spot on" type products to control fleas on your dog or cat.  Although they are applied in the same manner, they are not all the same chemical.  The bottom line is to read the active ingredient on the label (not just the trade name).  This tells the real story of what you are applying.

Of these 21 plus products, at least 15 are "permethrins" as the active ingredient.  Permethrins, tetramethrins, allemethins and other "methrins" are in the same class of synthetic pyrethrins and are used to control insects on animals, house or gardens, and in agriculture.  If you read the active ingredient label on wasp & hornet killer, flying insect killer, ant & roach killer, house foggers and fumigators, yard sprays, and commercial insect killers, you will see you may be applying the same chemical to your pet.  (Although at different concentrations depending on the product.)

Flea control products are a primary source of exposure that leads to poisoning in small animals.  The difference and problem with permethrin products, for instance, is that after application, these are absorbed into the animal's bloodstream.  On insects, these chemicals stimulate the central nervous system resulting in convulsions, muscle tremors, paralysis, and death.  In small animals, at the toxic dose, you may see some of the following: depression, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, incoordination, respiratory distress, convulsions, muscle tremors, or even death.  There is no antidote for permethrin toxicity, and this class of chemicals is listed in the top 25 agents causing poisoning in animals by the National Animal Poison Control Center.  In a recent article in the Journal of The American Veterinary Medical Association July 1999, was a report of toxicosis in cats treated with permethrin products.  Thousands of reports of poisonings reported to the Environmental Protection Agency were analyzed.  Besides improper application it was noteworthy that some cats became toxic from rubbing up against, or grooming, a dog that had a permethrin applied to it.  (Granting cats are much more sensitive than dogs due to lower rate of liver processing of the chemical.)

There are 2 flea products that are not absorbed into your pet's bloodstream, and are considered by authorities to be more effective and safer alternatives.  These products are only supplied to veterinarians but are often illegally diverted and found elsewhere due to their desirability.  These products work so well they have eliminated the need to treat the house and yard for fleas, saving time and money on additional products.  They are safe on puppies and kittens (read label directions).  Since fleas obtain the chemical by contact (not from biting) plus the quick elimination of fleas may help resolve flea allergy dermatitis.

  • Advantage (active ingredient: imidacloprid) has exhibited that a single dose will kill 98% to 100% of fleas (and flea larvae) on dogs within one day and prevent further infestation for at least 4 weeks.  Additionally, Advantage has proved to kill flea larvae in the environment at greater than 2 months post application to pet, due to normal hair shedding and debris falling off into the environment.

  • Frontline (active ingredient: ftpronil) kills fleas for up to 3 months, ticks and earmites for 1 month and is touted as being waterproof due to its localization in the sebacious glands in the skin.  This product requires "normal body oils" so no bathing can be given for 3 days prior and 3 days after application.  It also may not work as well on animals with very dry skin.

Revolution (active ingredient: selamectin) is a topical parasiticide for dogs and cats that protects against heartworm (in both species), treats and protects against fleas, sarcoptic mange, earmites, intestinal parasites, and ticks (with possibly more applications to come with FDA approval).  Although this product does absorb into the bloodstream, it is extremely safe even for puppies and kittens at 6 weeks old, as well as pregnant and nursing pets.  This product is a heartworm preventative, not a treatment (animals should be tested prior to use).

Check with your veterinarian for more information on any of these products.  Remember to read the "active ingredient" part of the label and label directions, your pet is worth it and is counting on you to treat them safely.

The above is a reprint of an article written by Jack Landess, D.V.M., as a public service.  Reprint permission was obtained from the Florida Pet Pages.

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