Are flea-product safety concerns valid?

2009-02-18 00:00

The manufacturer of a flea and tick product has rejected concerns raised about its safety in an e-mail that is circulating in cyberspace.

In the e-mail, a dog owner describes her dogs’ behaviour the morning after applying the product Promeris: “When I woke up this morning I got a huge fright because none of them came when called — I found all of them lying around almost like they were drunk,” she says. “They were unresponsive to my voice and would not get up, only after I physically coerced them to. My five-year-old female was lying in her own urine — the first time this ever, ever happened.”

This e-mail is not a lone voice, but one of many complaints circulating the blogosphere in which the following adverse reactions to the product are mentioned: restlessness, lethargy, drooling (hyper-salivation), vomiting, twitching, disorientation, seizure and even death.

Responding to the allegations, Dr Ralph Patzelt, business unit manager at Afrivet (marketers of Promeris in South Africa), said: “I guarantee you there is no known case where Promeris caused death.” Patzelt is a trained vet with a PhD in veterinary parasitology. “All those products that you put onto dogs to kill ticks and fleas are pesticides. Those are by definition potentially harmful; if they weren’t they couldn’t do the job.” Promeris undergoes stringent testing and is registered with the Ministry of Agriculture in South Africa and licensed with the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States. “It is a safe product, we know that,” said Patzelt.

Promeris for cats contains a new active ingredient called metaflumizone that has a low toxicity, according to Dr Patzelt. Promeris for dogs contains metaflumizone as well as amitraz to provide broad-spectrum control of fleas and ticks.

With amitraz, “you eventually will have a toxic effect because amitraz is very closely related to other sedatives, so the main thing you will get … is a sedative effect.”

The product is supposed to be applied directly onto the dog’s skin, between the shoulder blades. “Promeris will not be absorbed at all. It will spread along the fatty layers of the skin and then basically, after 12 hours, it will bind there and then the dogs cannot even lick it off. But that gap of the first 12 hours is the problem. People don’t apply the product correctly.” He said if the dog licks off the product “they can get sedated, they get lethargic and sleepy, and if the owner is not warned, it can be a shocking sight”.

“In the unlikely case where the product is actually licked by the dog, the metaflumizone will do nothing and the amitraz can cause, in some dogs, a sedation which is transient and will disappear without any treatment within six to 12 hours. If the dog is taken to the vet, the vet can give them an injection of an electric stimulant that will counteract the sedation effect,” said Patzelt. “There is no long-term toxicity to any organ systems.”

“One of the most important things is that Promeris has the highest efficacy and the longest residual effects against yellow dog ticks; those are the ones that transmit biliary, and biliary is killing more dogs than anything else in this country,” he concluded.

In a survey of local vets, none of them had seen any serious side effects.

Said one: “Nobody has reported anything to me, but that is not to say it couldn’t happen. Any animal can show adverse reactions to any product, whether it is registered or not.” Another vet feels it necessary to inform customers that the product could have a sedative effect if licked.

When approached for comment, Witness pet columnist Glynne Anderson cautioned: “We are told that there is no harm in vaccinations, pesticides, processed food, parasite control, medication, anaesthetics and drugs, etc. which are all used on our pets without warning of the dangers and cumulative effect. These are dangerous poisons and caregivers should always be aware of this and proceed with the utmost caution.”

• Kate Richards is a full-time mother and freelance copywriter.

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