Kill or Be Killed

By Tracie Korol

Keep out of the reach of children. Children should not come in contact with the application site for 30 minutes after application.  Causes eye irritation. Harmful if swallowed. Do not get in eyes or on clothing. Avoid contact with skin. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after handling. If contact with skin or clothing occurs, take off contaminated clothing. Wash skin immediately with plenty of soap
and water.

Jeepers! With a warning label like that you’d think this product would be banned or at least carefully monitored. But no. Every month pet owners do not read or casually disregard this very label to dribble a few drops of flea preventative on their Best
Friend’s skin.

The claim is that these topical or “spot on” flea control poisons, so toxic that you should remove clothing if the product touches it, will kill all fleas and ticks yet somehow magically do not get absorbed. They supposedly stay only in the sebum, the fat layer of the outer skin, and don’t get inside your animal.

But wait. Skin is not a rubbery bag which dogs inhabit, is it? Skin is a living, breathing organ supplied with blood capillaries, and full of pores. These same pores are points of exchange. And yep, those chemicals end up entering your dog at those points of exchange. Many pet owners who use the topical treatments think they are applying “medication” to their pet, because they purchase the products from their veterinarian. But they actually are treating their pets with potent pesticides, including permethrin, which also is used to kill pests on crops and yards.

In 2008 the EPA began a yearlong investigation, conducted by a team of veterinarians assembled by the federal agency, and concluded that certain pets — small dogs between 10 and 20 pounds — are most susceptible to serious problems. In small animals, at the toxic dose you may see some of the following: depression, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, in-coordination, respiratory distress, convulsions, muscle tremors, or
even death.

Just last Christmas one of my tiny dog friends spent his entire holiday week at the vet because he lost control of his rear legs after his owner applied a topical. Chihuahuas, shih tzus, miniature poodles, Pomeranians and dachshunds had the most reported incidents, according to the EPA report. 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.

The EPA study was instigated when incidents reported by consumers who used the products on their pets rose from 28,895 in 2007 to 44,263 in 2008, an increase of 53 percent in one year. Most of the problems were “minor” if you consider seizures, vomiting and diarrhea minor, but about 600 dogs and cats died in the incidents reported in 2008, EPA records show.

The active ingredients in these topical solutions include chemicals such as imidacloprid, fipronil, permethrin, methoprene, and pyriproxyfen, all of which have caused serious health problems in animals in laboratories. Even some of the inert ingredients can be hazardous to your animal companion’s health.  “Small breed dogs were more commonly affected with the number of incidents out of proportion to their popularity,” the EPA report says.

Granted, in some cases, pet owners were misusing the products, for instance, splitting a dose meant for a big dog between two small dogs to save a few bucks — but EPA officials stressed that most of the blame goes to the industry, not consumers, because of poor labeling on extremely
toxic products.

The next time you’re standing in the aisle at your local Big Box pet store contemplating throwing caution-to-the-wind and exclaiming, “C’mon, just how bad can it be?” — please turn the package around and read VERY carefully the warning label. Those ingredients are designed to destroy the nervous systems of living organisms, whether it be flea, canine, feline or human. Pesticides aren’t designed to be specific, they are designed to kill.

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