Fleas plague pet owners everywhere. A severe flea infestation can lead to flea allergy, dermatitis, and loss of hair. Flea allergy can turn a pet into an unkempt pariah.
Fleas are among the most common reasons that people take their pets to a veterinarian. However, many people try to avoid an expensive trip to the vet using over the counter remedies with mixed results. Perhaps the most difficult issue for flea treatments by pet owners is choosing a suitable product and applying the correct dose. There are numerous products sold for flea control that vary widely in their effectiveness. Interestingly, the EPA evaluates flea products for safety, but not efficacy. US law requires the consumer to determine whether or not a product is effective (Caveat Emptor!). Many choose ineffective solutions while the flea problem escalates.
Flea sprays, flea shampoos, flea collars, flea medicines, spot on treatments and other flea control products contain insecticides. They are formulated to deliver a dose of insecticide that will kill the flea, yet cause no harm to the pet IF USED ACCORDING TO DIRECTIONS. Unfortunately, many people do NOT read the directions, let alone follow the directions.
Why are directions important? Too low of a dose will not control the fleas. A too high dose can make the pet sick. Some products come in small containers that deliver different doses for “small” and “large” pets. Consumers must read the information carefully to choose the correct size for their pet. Often consumers do not purchase the correct size for their pet. The labeling may be confusing or the pet may fall in between the sizes available. A more severe problem is using a product formulated for dogs on a cat.
In the United States the US EPA tracks complaints about pesticide problems including problems with flea control products. An increase in customer complaints has led the US EPA to both re-evaluate the formulation of flea products and their labeling. One possible improvement would be for venders to provide flea products in more sizes. This might help people with a medium sized dog (for instance) select a product formulated for a medium sized dog rather than trying to decide between a product of a small dog or a large dog. However, it only helps if people read the instructions or the label recommendations for use. Increasing the number of product sizes increases the probability that people will purchase the wrong one (if they don’t read the instructions or read them but do not interpret them correctly).
The fine print may make multiple recommendations depending on age (not yet adult, adult or old age) or health of the animal (For example, not recommended for animals with certain medical conditions or taking other medications). If recommendations are more complicated, the consumer is less likely to follow the recommendations correctly. If a product cannot be used safely by the public, the product must undergo reformulation or be restricted for use only by individuals who are trained to use the product properly (such as a vet or pet groomer). There is a need for affordable flea control advice for people who cannot afford to take their pet to a veterinarian for flea control.
A more critical problem is matching the correct product to the pet. NEVER use a product formulated for a dog on a cat. Species differ in their metabolic capacity. Dogs have a well developed detoxification system based on their long history as scavengers that eat food containing microbial toxins. Dogs can process all toxins (including insecticides) much better than cats and flea control products for dogs typically contain higher doses of the insecticide.
Cats evolved as predators that eat freshly killed meat. Cats have a less developed detoxification system that processes insecticides less well than dogs. A flea control product that can be safely used on a dog might sicken or even kill a cat of a similar size. For this reason, NEVER use a product formulated for a dog on a cat. Products formulated for cats will probably be ineffective if used on a dog.
Flea control products are powerful and keep your pet healthy if used properly. People who have questions about the use of flea control products should consult a veterinarian or other expert who understands the proper use of these products.