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Flea and tick products can harm everybody
By Robin
July 2015

Quite a few dog owners I’ve talked to recently have asked about Bayer’s relatively new Seresto flea and tick prevention collar, and if it’s better than the other brands on the market.  It’s marketed as being able to last 8 months and is waterproof.  Apparently their dogs have been having strange behavioral reactions to their own (other brand) collars – like not being able to sleep or becoming hyperactive.

This sparked me to dig deeper into what chemicals are in flea and tick prevention products and whether they could be harmful.  Every chemical based flea and tick product basically contains pesticides/insecticides.  Because their function is to KILL fleas and ticks, you can bet there are some nasty chemicals involved. 

According to the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) based in the US, these chemicals can harm your pets, your children and you:

Many flea and tick formulations are safe when used as directed, but two alarmingly toxic chemicals are found in some products.  Called tetrachlorvinphos and propoxur these chemicals are potentially harmful to pets and their humans at the levels found in today's flea collars.

Tetrachlorvinphos (TCVP) is used in flea and tick collars, powders, and sprays, while propoxur is found only in the collars.  Both chemicals are in products marketed for cats and dogs.  Flea collars release the chemicals onto the fur, where they are spread by animals by licking their fur.


These chemicals kill by jamming communications between nerve cells in insects.  On the most basic level, however, we humans are not all that different from insects.  Our human nervous system (and our pets' nervous systems) utilize the same nerve cell messaging system as the insect's, so TCVP and propoxur can harm not only insects but our pets and us.  In high doses, these chemicals can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, wheezing, sweating, and tearing eyes.  More severe poisoning can cause muscle twitching, drooling, seizures, and death. 

Over the past decade, the Humane Society of the United States has received hundreds of complaints of pets experiencing severe reactions or death from flea collars.


Although the amounts in the residue left by flea collars are smaller than the doses that cause acute human symptoms, both TCVP and propoxur may cause long-term health consequences.  Propoxur is known to cause cancer in humans, according to the State of California.  TCVP is classified by the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) as a possible human carcinogen.


TCVP and other chemicals in the family known as organophosphates are also suspected of being linked to neurodevelopmental problems including impulsivity, hyperactivity and learning disabilities in children.


Young children are most at risk, because they spend the most time at pets-eye view, playing on floors and putting their hands in their mouths.  Children also have developing neurological systems that may be more vulnerable to toxic chemicals.


Through pet collars, children are being exposed to levels of tetrachlorvinphos and propoxur that exceed the US EPA's acceptable levels, according to an NRDC study published in 2009.  The study found that after three days, 100 percent of pets wearing a propoxur flea collar and 50 percent of pets wearing a tetrachlorvinphos collar had enough chemical on their fur to exceed the EPA's acceptable dose level for toddlers.


Many consumers assume that whatever is on store shelves must be 100 percent safe for use around pets and children.  But both these chemicals have significant health risks.  Propoxur has been banned for use in homes for other pests, though it is still allowed for use in flea collars!


So what do we do?  We still need to get rid of those pesky fleas and ticks right.


Start with chemical-free methods and use chemical treatments only when necessary.  Try products made with natural ingredients such as essential oils of lemongrass, cedarwood, peppermint, rosemary or thyme.  But don’t blindly assume all natural ingredients are created equal.  While obviously safer than chemicals, some natural oils have been shown to be more likely to cause allergic reactions from the skin than others.  The ones mentioned above are classified as low risk by the NRDC. 


If non-chemical methods haven't worked, look for lower risk chemical products.  Check the label to make sure the product does not contain tetrachlorvinphos or propoxur or any of the other high risk chemicals.


But how do you know what’s high risk?  Visit NRDC's website for a comprehensive list of brand-name products with their chemical ingredients and more information about health risks from pesticides.  This list is awesome.  It lists all of the major brands (such as Frontline, Heartguard, Revolution, Sentry, Virbac) and classifies the ingredients used into low, medium or high risk categories.  Even natural ingredients are included and classified.  

Here’s the website link:


Other steps to take are washing pet bedding (and your bedding, too, if your pet sleeps with you) in hot, soapy water.  Vacuum often to remove flea eggs, and replace the vacuum bag frequently.  Comb your pet daily with a fine-toothed flea comb.  Dispose of any fleas you find.


Hiccup Dog is taking action too by now stocking natural flea and tick prevention sprays for dogs and the house.  Check them out here.