EPA Takes a Closer Look at Pet Pesticides Today

UPDATE: EPA has released the results of its assessment and announced it will increase restrictions on flea & tick products – urging consumers to use them with extra care. Among those changes – it will immediately start looking at labels to see which need “stronger and clearer” warnings, and it will “develop more stringent testing and evaluation requirements for both existing and new products.”

Ever spent any time in the flea control aisle of a pet store?  There are boxes, cans and bottles of all shapes and sizes.  Most of them are plastered with pictures of happy dogs and cats.  But, the story behind the small print on the back of many of these products will keep you up at night. 

In recent years, there have been a slew of reports of poisonings of both pets and people from the use of products that the EPA determined to be safe.   Last spring, EPA initiated a review of one type of flea control product, known as a spot-on treatment, where a concentrated amount of the pesticide is applied to the pet’s fur.  Today, the EPA is announcing the results of this review. Those of us worried about pesticides used on pets are hoping that they will take strong steps to protect pets and their families. It’s good to see EPA moving on this issue and revisiting the safety of pre-approved products, but it also serves as a reminder that just because they’re in stores, does not mean they’re safe. (Scroll down for tips to protect yourselves in the meantime.)

As part of NRDC’s work to protect families and pets from dangerous pesticides used in flea control products, I’ve spent a fair amount of time reading the labels on flea control products.  Those doggy smiles advertise products full of chemicals known to cause cancer, reproductive harm and nervous system damage.   They work by spreading the flea-killing chemicals over the pets’ fur.  Unfortunately, this also means that pet owners, and the pets themselves, can get a harmful dose of these toxic chemicals - and that’s pretty worrisome.

Today’s announcement from EPA relates to spot-on products that go directly on the fur, but last year NRDC did a study of another pet product – flea collars – that also raised flags about the reliability of EPA testing. Our study found residue levels on pets’ fur that were much higher than what the EPA assumed in their safety assessments.  In fact, when we looked into it, we found that the EPA safety assessments were woefully inadequate and the levels we found were high enough to be of real concern for both children and adults who spend time with their pets.

NRDC has been working to protect pets from these products in various ways. We petitioned the EPA and even sued manufacturers and retailers for selling these dangerous products in California without any warning labels. And now, we’re encouraging consumers to tell the nation’s two largest pet retailers (PETCO & PetSmart) directly that these dangerous products must come off store shelves (tell them yourself here). Unfortunately they’re still around, for now.

In the meantime, there are some easy ways to control fleas without using dangerous chemicals.  Baths in regular pet shampoo and frequent cleaning of bedding and carpets can control most flea situations. 

And for those instances when chemical control is needed, NRDC has some great tools to help you safely navigate the aisles and choose safer products:

  • This online, user-friendly guide breaks down products by brand and chemicals, and rates their safety – including telling you which ones to avoid at all costs.
  • And get the power of the guide straight to your phone – just text "pets" and the name of the product to 69866 to get a text back with toxicity information and alternatives.

Pet owners shouldn’t have to worry about the safety of products on the shelves of pet stores.  EPA needs to be more diligent in assessing the safety of these chemicals that children and pets are exposed to. And dangerous chemicals, like those used in the pet collars we tested, should not be allowed. In the interim, pet stores should be proactive and get dangerous products off the shelves.  Now that would be something for dogs and cats to really smile about.

Find NRDC blogging more on pet product safety here.