Some popular pet medication may be causing side effects such as seizures, tremors, even death, according to a growing number of people who have dogs and cats.
The medication is meant to protect, but our investigators found many pet owners complaining about dangerous reactions they say were caused by some flea and tick products.
Bad reaction to flea and tick medicine
Amy Vasquez said her dog, Mack, had a bad reaction to a medication. “He would reach around and bite at himself,” Vasquez said. “He was scratching himself, and wouldn't stop it.”
Normally those are signs of either flea or ticks bites. But Amy said it was caused by a medication that is supposed to protect dogs from pests.
Amy bought Sentry Pro XFC, a spot-on flea and tick product that’s supposed to be applied directly to the pet’s skin.
“[It] had a nice package on it, and I thought it's the most expensive one. So, it’s probably pretty good,” said Vasquez.
She said she followed the directions. “You kind of spread the fur and you just put it on about halfway down the back,” Vasquez added.
Hours later, Vasquez said Mack was acting strange.
“He was jumping around like something was poking at him. He just wouldn't sit still. I was like ‘what is wrong with this dog?’” she said.
Then, she said she looked at the spot where she’d applied the Sentry Pro XFC.
“It looked like the worst sun burn you'd ever seen. It was obvious it was exactly where I’d applied it,” Vasquez said. “I gave him a bath, and washed it off. [That] worked until it got dry. Then, it came back. [Mack was] scratching, scratching and scratching. This went on and on until we gave him another bath.”
Vasquez said Mack still wasn't better even after they gave him multiple baths.
Many complaints online
Vasquez said she went online, looking for answers. She found hundreds of posts complaining about the same problems.
“And, the other dogs had it worse,” she said. Among the posts were complaints of vomiting, seizures, burning and open wounds.
But, those are just some of the side effects dog owners said some spot-on flea and tick medication has caused.
We found videos and e-mails from dog owners across the country describing the “horror of watching our loved one suffer.” One e-mail described the pet’s reaction as like “watching them die.”
EPA begins investigation
Many spot-on products use pesticides as the main active ingredient, because it kills pests like fleas and ticks.
These products that contain pesticides are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Now, the EPA is taking a close look at what it calls a large and growing number of cases involving side effects such as tremors, seizures – even death.
According to the EPA's records:
•More than 24,000 incidents were reported in 2008 relating to all spot-on flea and tick products.
•More than 250 major cases and nearly 350 deaths were reported in just one year.
Those most complaints were made against the company Sergeant’s, who makes the product Sentry Pro XFC – the same medication that Vasquez said caused her dog’s side effects.
Sergeant’s received more than 10,000 complaints out of all the reports collected by the EPA from 2008. According to the EPA’s records, that’s more than three times the amount of complaints reported against any other company that makes flea and ticks products.
Vets recommend an alternative
Dr. Diane Paster is the Associate Director for Emergency Animal Clinics of Arizona. She said it’s common to see pesticides used in flea and tick medications. But, Paster said the real problem may be the kind of pesticides being used. She said she tells her patients to only use flea and tick medications based on their vet’s recommendations.
“I think the ones that you can get from your vet are a little bit safer.” She said. “I think they're more effective.”
Cincinnati veterinarian Dr. Dan Meakin has seen adverse reactions to flea and tick products, though he could not comment specifically about Sergeant's.
"We had a patient that used one of the topicals, and ended up with a severe reaction to it," he said.
Dr, Meakin, head vet at the Clermont County animal hospital "All Creatures," suggests customers use only flea and tick medications their vet recommends. He says, "consult with your veterinarian, cause they have the best products and most effective products, and if you have a problem, you have the the full support of the vet and the companies."
According to the EPA's records, products sold by vets received very few complaints.
Sergeant's says it's, "not taking the products off store shelves because more than 99 percent of the millions of doses sold have provided pets and their owners with extremely effective protection from fleas and ticks and with no adverse reactions."
That is not the reaction Vasquez wanted.
“I'd like it to be banned forever, taken off the shelves and not sold anymore,” she said
Full sergeant's statement
In a statement, Sergeant’s said:
“All of Sergeant’s flea and tick