Fleas can be a major problem for pet owners. Not only are these tiny creatures a nuisance, they are also the cause of many diseases such as flea anemia, flea bite dermatitis, and tapeworm infestation. Therefore, strict flea control is a necessary step in the health care of any animal. The eradication of fleas from our animals and our homes necessitates the use of products containing insecticides, either in the form of a mousse, spot-ons, oral suspensions, powders or spray mists.
While there are many safe insecticide products available for use on pets, caution must be used. Pet owners should be careful when using flea products on or around their animals. Products should be used strictly according to their label directions.
The following are some guidelines for pet owners to follow when choosing and applying a flea control product:
1. Never use insecticides on very young, pregnant, debilitated, or elderly animals without consulting your veterinarian. With such pets, you may want to consider avoiding the use of some insecticides directly on your pet. Instead, you could comb the fleas off the animal with a flea comb then submerge the fleas in a small container of soapy water. This would also be a good alternative for pets that love being groomed but who violently refuse baths or the application of a spray.
2. Before using ANY product on your pet read the label instructions completely. If you do not completely understand the instructions, you should contact the manufacturer or your veterinarian for clarification. Observe the species and age requirements listed on the label. NEVER use a product labeled "for use on dogs only" on your cats.
Cats react very differently than dogs to some insecticides. Some dog products can be deadly to cats, even in tiny amounts.
3. NEVER use flea control products that contain "permethrin" on your cats, unless they are specifically labeled for use on cats. There are some products that are labeled for use on cats that contain small concentrations of permethrin, usually less than 0.1%. When used according to the label instructions, these can be used safely in cats.
However, there are many permethrin products available over the counter for use on "dogs only." These contain high concentrations (45-60%) of permethrin insecticide. These permethrin products have a good range of safety when used on dogs, but even a few drops of concentrated permethrin could be lethal to cats. The reason for this species difference is yet unknown.
4. Always use caution when using shampoos, sprays, topical spot-ons, or mousse near your pet's eyes, ears, and genitalia. Inactive ingredients can cause irritation to these sensitive tissues.
5. When using a fogger or a home premise spray, make sure to remove all pets from the house for the time period specified on the container. Food and water bowls should be removed from the area also. Allow time for the product to dry completely before returning your animals to your home. Open windows or use fans to "air out" the household before returning your pets to the treated area. Strong fumes can be irritating to your animals eyes and upper respiratory system.
Birds are more sensitive to inhalants and usually require longer time before their return to the treated home. Contact your veterinary health professional for advice on product usage around your birds.
If you are uncertain about the usage of any household product, contact the product's manufacturer or your veterinarian to explain the directions BEFORE use of the product.
6. Insect growth regulators like lufenuron, methoprene, and pyriproxyfen can be used in combination or alone with flea control products. They can help break the flea life cycle by inhibiting flea maturation. Growth regulators have minimal adverse effects and can improve the efficacy when used in combination with adult flea insecticides.
8. Just because a product is labeled to be "natural" product does not mean that the product is completely safe. Many such "natural" products can be harmful when used inappropriately on pets. For example, d-limonene and linalool are citrus extracts that are used as flea control agents. Though they are natural products, they still can have serious side effects if used on sensitive animals or if used improperly.
9. Observe your pet closely after using flea products. If your pet exhibits unusual behavior, or becomes depressed, weak, or uncoordinated you should seek veterinary advice immediately.
Once again, read the label. This could save the life of your pet!
Jill A. Richardson, DVM
Veterinary Poison Information Specialist
ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center
March 3, 1997
July 17th 1999