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Pets

Fight Fleas And Ticks The Right Way

Fleas and ticks can be real problems for pets – and for their owners. In animals, according to the federal Food and Drug Administration, flea bites can cause flea allergy dermatitis , an allergic reaction to proteins in flea saliva. The scratching that results from itches can cause hair loss for pets, permanent skin problems, anemia and even (though rarely) death.

Ticks can transmit infections such as Lyme disease to a pet, and when that pet brings ticks into the home, you and your family are at risk as well.

To combat this pesky problem, there are hundreds of animal treatments, both prescription and over the counter. The remedies include pills, sprays, dips, shampoos and “spot-ons,” liquid squeeze into a dog or ca’s skin between the shoulder blades or down the back.

But, the FDA cautions, owners need to be careful about using these products. Ann Stohlman, V.M.D., a veterinarian in the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, says that pet owners “need to take the time to carefully read the label, the package insert, and any accompanying literature to make sure you’re using the product correctly.”

The FDA has taken an especially close look at “spot-on” products.

As a result of a 2009 increase in pet incidents involving these pesticide products for vets, a federal team from both the U.S. and Canada analyzed pet incidents and the ingredients and labeling of the products. The reactions of pets involved everything from skin irritation to death in some cases.

Although the researchers concluded that many of the incidents took place because of misuse, they also said that some changes should be made in the regulation of spot-on products, including how the packages are labeled+, the clearness of the instructions for use, what size animals should be given the products, and whether the animal given the products should be a dog or a cat.

Those improvements have been made, but the FDA has continued cautioning pet owners not to use the products incorrectly.

Here are some tips from the agency:

Read the label carefully before use. If you don’t understand the wording, ask your veterinarian or call the manufacturer. “Even if you’ve used the product many times before,” says Stohlman, “read the label because the directions or warnings may have changed.”

Follow the directions exactly. If the product is for dogs, don’t use it on any other animal. More doesn’t mean better, so don’t use a product daily if you are supposed to use it only week. Put the product directly on your pet only if that is what’s specified.

If you’re giving a product to more than one animal at a time, keep them apart until the product dries. One animal may groom another and ingest a drug or pesticide that’s been applied topically.

Ask your vet whether you should use any product on an animal that is old, on medication, sick, pregnant or nursing. You should also ask about any pets that have shown signs of sensitivity to the products.

Watch out for side effects such as skin irritation or any unusual behavior, whether you are giving a pet the medicine for the first time or have given it to him or her before.

Should you see a reaction such as skin, bathe the pet with mild soap, rinse with large amounts of water and call your vet. Any more serious reaction warrants an immediate visit to your vet or an emergency vet. (Editor’s note: In case of a pet crisis for any reason, it’s always good to have an emergency vet’s number on hand.)

Do not apply a product to kittens or puppies unless the label specifically allows it. Instead, the FDA says, use flea combs to pick up fleas, flea eggs, and ticks on puppies and kittens.

Wash your hands immediately with soap and water after applying a product, or use protective gloves while applying.

Keep products away from food and out of children’s reach.

To report problems with spot-on flea or tick products, contact the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) at 1-800-858-7378.

If your pet needs immediate medical care, call your local veterinarian, a local animal emergency clinic, or the National Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435. The NAPCC charges a fee for consultation.

For more information on health and consumer issues, visit fda.gov.