FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. — Federal environmental regulators are warning pet owners and veterinarians to closely follow instructions and monitor pets if they use several popular flea and tick treatments, lest the animals have a serious reaction.
The Environmental Protection Agency last year received 44,000 complaints about "spot-on" pest prevention products -- liquid pesticides, usually packaged in small tubes, that are squeezed onto a dog or cat's fur and rubbed into the skin. The reactions included mild skin irritation, seizures and even death, the EPA said.
Among the well-known brands on the review list: Hartz Mountain, Sergeant's and Frontline. Others include Farnam Companies, Zodiac, ProMeris and Tradewinds.
ProMeris for Dogs is one of the 24 products out of the 44 on the EPA's list that are registered in Florida, said Charlie Clark, state environmental administrator for pesticide registrations. Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs officials, who by law must examine even EPA-approved pesticides before they can be sold in the state, last year flagged ProMeris when they discovered it contained the chemical amitraz.
The EPA recently posted the list online, but has since removed it from its website. In its place, the agency posted a note saying it is "reviewing the completeness of the list" and will re-post it when finished.
None of the items have been pulled or labeled hazardous, but all still are being reviewed, EPA spokesman Dale Kemery said.
"We are advising consumers to take precautions, to make sure they use the products correctly," he said.
Regulators required manufacturer Fort Dodge Animal Health to draft an advisory for veterinarians to give their clients. It warns that amitraz can cause neurological damage, especially to children.
In a written statement, Fort Dodge said consumers might be confused about how to use ProMeris because it is a new product, and that the company is cooperating with the EPA.
The EPA said in late April that it was concentrating on those products that had constituted about 80% of the complaints. The majority were lower-cost treatments available in pet and discount stores, not products that must be purchased through veterinarians.
Dr. Melinda Fernyhough of Hartz, the top brand in retail stores, said its five cat products on the EPA list accounted for only 2%, or 956, of the reports -- and among those, 75% were considered "minor" or "asymptomatic." A total of 3 million doses were sold in the U.S. alone last year.
"I think it is important to stress all topical drops are regulated in the same manner . . . and are held to the same standards of efficacy and safety, whether sold through vets or at retail," said Fernyhough, the company's manager of scientific affairs.
But Dr .Marcia Martin, a holistic veterinarian at Calusa Veterinary Center in Boca Raton, Fla., said she advises against over-the-counter flea-control methods. With most products purchased through vets, "you could put the whole package on and not get a toxic reaction," she said.
Clark said federal regulators were trying to determine whether the recent complaints were due to pet owners misapplying the product or to a chemical formulation issue. He said the state would take no action until the EPA finished its review.