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May 27, 2009 > Ohlone Humane Society: Are your critters being bugged?

Ohlone Humane Society: Are your critters being bugged?

By Nancy Lyona

Living in a temperate area like the Bay Area is pretty great...mild weather most of the time with plenty of opportunities to experience the great outdoors. The only downside is that it's also a great place for some unpleasant creatures that prey on our animal companions.

With warmer weather comes an upswing in the number of fleas and their fellow travelers... tapeworms. Fleas can make life pretty miserable for animals and can lead to health problems directly associated with them. Once infested and sensitized to these little blood-sucking critters our animals can develop lifelong allergic reactions to even a single bite. It's pretty common in shelters to see dogs, cats and other animals come in covered with flea bites with bloody raw areas on their bodies from chewing, trying to rid themselves of the intense itching that comes from a reaction to the flea saliva.

Many people mistakenly think our animal friends are the source of the fleas, that somehow they spontaneously generate the parasites. Unfortunately, since fleas can also target humans, many "pets" are booted out of the house to be eaten alive by these hungry opportunists. So it's important to understand that they are also victims and not the source of the problem...fleas live and flourish in the same pleasant environment that we enjoy.

Hopefully, the vast majority of us won't allow our animals companions to suffer and will seek products that will discourage and kill the flea before they can invade and conquer. There are many products available that are relatively safe to use but a recent concern has come up regarding the safety of many over-the-counter spot-on insecticide products for flea and tick control. Enough reports of adverse reactions that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced this last April that it is stepping up its evaluation as to whether it will require further restriction be placed on the use of these products that are readily available in grocery stores and pet supply shops.

A number of these products are pyrethroid-based and the Center for Public Safety has released information that the EPA has reported that over the past five years at least 1,600 companion animal deaths have been related to the use of spot on flea products that have pyrethoids as an ingredient. Some products also include organophosphates (OP) and carbamates and the potential for dangers of the use of these chemicals are greatest for companion animals and children. The long-term exposure to these is classified as a "likely to be carcinogenic to humans if swallowed."

The Humane Society of the United States offers the following suggestions to help control fleas while protecting our companion animals and children:
* Use alternatives to pesticides to control fleas and ticks: Comb your pet regularly with a flea comb, vacuum frequently and dispose of the bags immediately after use, mow areas of the lawn where your dog spends time, wash pet bedding weekly, and wash your pet with a pesticide-free pet shampoo. In addition, to protect cats from fleas and ticks, as well as a host of other outdoor hazards, cats should be kept indoors at all times.
* Always consult a veterinarian before buying or using any flea or tick control product on your pet.
* Never use flea and tick products designed for dogs on your cat, or vice versa.
* Remember never to apply pesticides to very young, elderly, pregnant, or sick animals unless directed to do so by a veterinarian.
* Always read the ingredients, instructions, and warnings on the package thoroughly.
* Avoid OP-based products by looking for any of these active ingredients: chlorpyrifos, dichlorvos, phosmet, naled, tetrachlorvinphos, diazinon and malathion. Avoid products with carbamates by looking for the chemical names carbaryl and propoxur on the label.
* Never combine flea control products on your animal without first checking with a veterinarian.
* Consider using a product with insect-growth regulators (IGRs), which are not pesticides. These will prevent the next generation of fleas but will not kill insects already on your pet. Common and effective IGR products include those made with lufenuron (found in Program(r) and Sentinel(r) and available by prescription), methoprene (in Precor(r)), and pyriproxyfen (in Nylar(r) and EcoKyl(r)).
* You might want to consider several topical products (available through veterinarians) that are insecticides designed to have fewer toxic effects on the nervous systems of mammals: imidacloprid (found in Advantage(r)), fipronil (in Frontline(r) or Top Spot(r)), and selamectin (in Revolution(tm)).

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NDRC) has indicated that the following over-the-counter products contain OPs:
Alco, Americare, Beaphar, Double Duty, Ford's Freedom Five, Happy Jack, Hartz, Hopkins, Kill-Ko, Protection, Rabon, Riverdale, Sergeant's, Unicorn, Vet-Kem, Victory, and Zema. The NDRC recommends that to protect your animals and children consumers should consult with a veterinarian before purchasing any of the products.

Although these are hard financial times for many of us, buying the right flea-control products is less expensive in the end. Giving the well-being of your animal family members priority over...say a pizza or a movie...will go a long way in not only saving them from misery and harm but also the rest of your family.

If you suspect your companion animal may have suffered negative health effects as a result of a flea product containing OPs or carbamates, consult with your veterinarian immediately. If you think a child has ingested a pesticide, immediately call your physician or local poison control center. Be sure to report all such incidents to the EPA's National Pesticide Telecommunications Network at 800-858-7378. For an in-depth online report on the use of pesticides in flea control go to:

www.hsus.org/pets/pet_care/what_you_should_know_about_flea_and_tick_products/

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