Are Spot-On Flea & Tick Treatments Safe?

Spot-On flea & tick products hurt my dog.For years, I have been poisoning my dog!  Many readers of this blog will recall my stories of Gator’s skin rashes, loss of fur, itchiness, bouts of vomiting for no reason, excessive drooling.  Since all of it began around 2005, I attributed these events to Gator’s diet.  I spent years studying pet food and how it affects the health of dogs and cats, in hopes of finding a cure for my big boy’s suffering.  Gator was subjected to many rounds of antibiotics and an oral steroid to control the worst of the symptoms.

Do you know that moment of clarity when the little lightbulb in your head suddenly turns on?  Jim and I experienced one of those moments this morning.

Yesterday afternoon, I applied Frontline Plus® to the back of both dogs’ necks, as I have done every month since 2005.  Yes, I have written about the dangers of these spot-on flea & tick preventatives and warned consumers to be very careful with the products…to read the directions before using.  But because our pets never experienced any side effects or repercussions from them (or so I thought), I continued to apply them to my dogs monthly.

Two hours after receiving his Frontline Plus treatment, Gator stood up to go outside for his late afternoon walk around the lake.  He didn’t get very far before he staggered and stumbled.  Jim took him to the grass to potty, and our big boy…who still squats like a girl dog…could barely do so without falling.


Back inside, Jim gave him a big dose of Benadryl, and we watched him all evening.  Every hour, Gator was walked and gradually, his gait improved.  Early this morning, he woke Jim to take him out because he was trying to vomit.

Common symptoms of adverse reactions to the spot-on flea and tick products include skin, G.I. tract and nervous system issues.  Skin reactions include redness, itching, hair loss, sores and ulcers.  Gastro-intestinal symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and salivation.  Nervous system problems include lethargy, nervousness, movement problems, tremors and seizures.  (

Most of the incidents reported to the Environmental Protection Agency occurred in dogs under 3 years and most likely after their first exposure to the products.  And most dogs reported were smaller breeds.  I fear Gator is one of the exceptions.

Until 2005, Gator could eat anything.  But he suddenly began experiencing bouts of unexplained vomiting and loose stools.  The veterinarian gave him antibiotics and then when the episodes were repeated weeks later, she prescribed Prednisone.  Gator dealt with years of this, along with frequent changes of pet food as I sought to find what food ingredient could possibly be causing his misery.  Little did I know!

Looking back, I believe Gator’s large size prevented really severe reactions to the spot-on treatments.  With each flare-up of hot spots and rashes, vomiting and excessive drooling we changed his diet.  That usually cleared up the problem…until the next time.

Yesterday’s reaction frightened us.  Because it was evening when Gator’s neurological “episode” appeared, we decided to watch and wait.  Within a few hours, he was walking better, though not completely steady.  By this morning when Jim rushed him outside to relieve himself and purge his tummy, his gait was normal.  Now, we will continue to watch for skin breakouts and loss of fur to confirm that connection.

I believe the reason that I didn’t connect Gator’s past issues with the spot-on treatments is because his gastro-intestinal upsets, followed by skin problems, always occurred a couple of weeks after he received the spot-on treatments.

What You Need to Know

As reports of adverse reactions to the spot-on flea and tick preventatives grew back in the early 2000’s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigated the problem.  Many dogs and cats were reported to be ill or have died and the owners and/or veterinarians suspected the spot-on products.   As many as 600 pets died, reportedly after being treated with the spot-on products.   In 2010, the EPA acknowledged that changes and clarifications to the labeling and package were needed.  On March 17, 2010, the EPA released the results of their years of study and investigation.  Some of their recommendations were:

*New restrictions should be placed on flea and tick products.  Consumers were to be cautioned to use the products with extra case, and the EPA report, “Review of Enhanced  of 2008 Pet Pet Spot-On Incidents” was made available.

*Dosing concerns were addressed.  Concerns arose because some reported incidents involved dogs that were given higher doses that packaging suggested.  Some cats received product intended for dogs because of mix-ups in reading the labels.

*Label and packaging changes were required, resulting in a more narrow pet weight range per vial.  Labeling was improved to prevent confusion between cat and dog products.  www/

Opinions vary among veterinarians.  Our vet in Englewood, Florida, believed the products were safe if used as directed.  A clinic manager of a Venice, Florida, veterinary practice felt otherwise.  She told me, “The over-the-counter stuff makes me see red!  We’ve treated several pets for serious side effects from 2 of the major brands.  They are big companies, and they make so much money from sales that paying replacement costs for a beloved pet that dies is nothing to them.  It kills me to see a cat or dog come through the door of the clinic with the sometimes fatal effects of that stuff.”

Here’s a different reaction from Diane Palmer-Ponleit:

“Advantage Multi turns my beautiful white Maltese fur YELLOW! Same with my other white dogs and it has to be cut out; it does not wash out.”  While this reaction may not be life-threatening, one would wonder what kind of chemical reacts on white fur that way.

As usual, I’m not going to tell you not to buy a product.  I will say you should be vigilant about reading and following the directions that come with products.  Always consult your veterinarian before beginning treatment with any  kind of flea and tick product.

There are many natural ways to protect your dog or cat from fleas & ticks and other pests.  Next week, I’ll post an article about natural pest control for your pets.  I can assure you that in the future, our pets will go that route.  We will never again use a chemical-laden preventative on them.


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