Special Report: Poisoned pets - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Special Report: Poisoned pets

By Anna Marie Hartman - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - A potential danger may be lurking in some pet products. The Environmental Protection Agency is investigating at least 70 popular over the counter and veterinarian prescribed flea and tick products.  The focus is on topical insecticides you apply to the back of your pet's neck.

After a recent application of over-the-counter flea and tick ointment, Memphis artist Paul Edelstein's dog, Jenny, got sick.

"She started panting real heavy," he said. "She went outside, started digging holes, and then came back. She didn't act like herself. Then she started shaking her head a lot."

The same thing happened to Deborah Jones' cats.

"They started going into convulsions and seizures foaming at the mouth, biting at their tongues, tongues bleeding," Jones said.

Jones said she followed the directions on the flea and tick ointment she used, but her cats became paralyzed and lifeless.  Some did not recover.

Beatrice Freeze says her dog Pee-Wee was poisoned.

"I thought what I was buying was safe," Freeze said. "I thought I was buying what my dog needed. It turned out not to be."

Freeze couldn't make it to her veterinarian clinic for Pee-Wee's regular prescription flea drops, so she bought some over the counter at a discount store. She followed the directions, but in a matter of moments, Pee Wee was in trouble.

"I think the medication poisoned him," she said. "I really do."

Is it a problem with the products themselves, or the people doing the applying? An EPA investigation uncovered 44,000 reports of problems with spot-on flea and tick treatments - incidents ranging from mild skin irritations to seizures to pet deaths.

"I think owners can misinterpret how to apply these products, but there can be animals that can have sensitivities, but even more importantly, some of these products, pyrethrines particularly, are moderately toxic, and if those animals have a sensitivity to them or ingest them by licking them instead of just have them on topically, that animal can become much more toxic much quicker," veterinarian Dr. Jan Strother said.

There are warnings on the products, but none of the products we found on store shelves alert pet owners of the EPA's increased scrutiny or evaluation of these products.  That's because right now, the EPA is not initiating a product recall or suggesting the products not be used.

"It's really buyer beware," Strother said.

Edelstein, who used one of the 70 products being monitored by the EPA, says the company was aware of problems some pets may have.

"There's a recording that tells you if you've used this product on your pet, put her in the bathtub and get it off of her immediately," he said.

He and other pet owners hope more EPA regulation is coming, so no pet gets poisoned.

Here are some things to remember:

  • If you use a topical insecticide, keep the bottle and the box. It will help your vet if your pet has a reaction.
  • The bottle and box also list the all-important EPA registration number. That registration number is the ONLY way to identify a product if there are problems.

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