Keep your pet safe: News 4 investigates flea treatments
Reporter: Laurie Waters, News 4
(KMOV) -- Summer is right around the corner and, for many pet owners, that means flea and tick season. Those pests carry diseases, and at the very least, cause you and your pet major discomfort.
But before you buy a product to treat your beloved pet, you may want to do some research. Some say what should be helping your pet could harm it.
â€œYou buy this product, you put it on your cat, and you're essentially killing your own cat," says Judy Van Wyk.
That's her take on over-the-counter flea products. She has launched a one-woman crusade against the pet product giant, Hartz Mountain, and its Advanced Care Flea and Tick Drops.
â€œPrimarily, we want the product off the market. The product is unsafe," she says.
Van Wyk's battle began after she used Hartz flea drops on her three cats. Her lawsuit against the company says in just minutes, all three began behaving violently, screaming and going into seizures.
"At that point, the first thing that struck me when I couldn't find anything like a bee or anything else, I thought, this has got to be the stuff I just put on them," Van Wyk says.
Van Wyk says she soon learned of allegations of dozens of other reactions, including two separate incidents from a cat clinic in Arkansas, which videotaped the pets. They suffered seizures and muscle tremors after being treated with Hartz topical flea products.
The vet bill for Kirby's treatment was over $400 and Hartz paid for it on the condition that Kirby's owner would never sue Hartz for damages.
"In terms of our satisfaction guarantee, we have a policy that consumers who have any disappointment in our products, we will provide a full guarantee and a money back guarantee associated with that," says Dr. Albert Ahn, Hartz Spokesman
Van Wyk wanted more than reimbursement. She wanted Hartz to pull the product. Hartz says there's no reason to.
"We have sold over 132 million doses and when we look at the information that we maintain and that we share with the regulatory agencies, we are led to believe that these products are safe and they're effective,â€ Ahn says.
One of those regulatory agencies is the EPA, which is now examining the complaints. News 4 obtained an EPA document, which recommends Advanced Care for Cats "be re-evaluated for its safety in cats," citing "significant evidence...that some cats develop neurological signs of toxicity after exposure."
And there is something else you should know. Never use any flea product designed for dogs on cats.
"He was going crazy, and we were all crying and everything because we raised him since we were little. It was pretty bad," says Justine O'Neal.
Tigger survived, but the O'Neal family will never forget what happened when they mistakenly put over-the-counter flea medicine for dogs on the family cat.
"The cat was hissing at me. Normally, it wouldn't do that. It was convulsing, shaking real bad. I just immediately took the cat to the bathroom, gave it a bath and tried to get all the applicant and stuff off of him," says Kevin O'Neal.
"We weren't watching the packages as far as what they said. Now I look whether it says dog or cat on the package to make sure," he says.
Cats don't have the same ability as dogs to break down the ingredient permethrin.
"What the permethrins do is they cause a constant excitement of the nervous system in the animal, thereby paralyzing it,â€ says Dr. Steve Sandino, veterinarian.
But the package label, although approved by the EPA, may not make that clear. The EPA is now considering whether dog products should be more clearly labeled to warn of the dangers of toxicity in cats, whether those cats are directly treated or exposed to treated dogs.
â€œAt one time, they were the best things we had. It's just that new things are available. I think the toxic levels are much lower in the new products, and much safer,â€ Sandino says.
Hartz says if its product is properly applied, it will not be absorbed into the cat's blood stream, so of course, use any flea product according to directions and never use dog products on cats.
Should you opt to use the veterinarian recommended products like Frontline or Advantage, you should know they are more expensive, but local vets maintain they are safer and more effective.