ATLANTA — Although fleas and ticks are a threat to pets year round– this time of year, the nuisance becomes even greater and our state sees a high number of tick-borne illnesses.
Tens of thousands of pet owners believe flea collars hurt or killed their pets.
Our sister station, WSB-TV in Atlanta, looked into consumer complaints about Seresto flea and tick collars and what the Environmental Protection Agency is doing about them.
Tammy Shugart is watching her little chihuahua, Mr. Jones, closely. She has to because he can’t see.
“He got really sick after I put this collar around him in the fall,” Shugart said. “He started having problems with his salivary glands from him, and then problems with his eyes from him.”
She bought the collars at Walmart, and put them on Mr. Jones and her other dog, Benson, who ended up dying from cancer.
“It was heartbeaking,” she said. “When I thought about the collars and I wondered if there was a link between the two.”
Shugart is one of more than 86,000 pet owners who filed a formal complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency after using Seresto collars.
Mickey Hearn is another. She took a video of what happened to her dog, Buddy.
“I was furious that they just denied it,” Hearn said. “And not just for me but for the thousands of other people.”
Scientists said Seresto uses two powerful pesticides that spread through your pets hair, into their follicles and glands.
“I don’t think the testing for Seresto was adequate,” said Karen McCormack, a former EPA scientist. “We were getting over 86,000 incidents for Seresto, which is a huge number of incidents.”
She said the number of complaints should have been a red flag, but the EPA did nothing.
Elanco issued a statement saying:
“We have policies to ensure any concerns related to their use are investigated and addressed as appropriate. Elanco unequivocally continues to stand behind the safety profile of Seresto.”
“99% of the information that EPA uses in their risk assessment comes from industry studies,” McCormack said. “They conduct the studies, the safety studies for their own pesticide products. Some people said it’s like having the fox guard the chicken coop.”
The EPA also issued a statement, saying it registered Seresto collars after determining the collars were “safe for the treated pet, and that the collars were effective against fleas and ticks.”
The label includes warnings about storage and disposal of the collars, but doesn’t include anything about safety risks.
“So these are very, very potent insecticides,” said Nathan Donley. Donley is with the Center for Biological Diversity. The conservation non-profit used the freedom of information act to see the complaints and internal EPA emails.
“It was really shocking,” Donley said. “I can’t imagine that agency had so much information in front of it, and yet did absolutely nothing with that information.”
Donley filed a petition with the EPA to pull Seresto collars. The EPA said it will make a decision after reviewing public input and evaluating additional information Elanco sent.
Pet advocates like veterinarian Dr. Judy Morgan also want the collars banned. She said they are dangerous, not just for pets, but people too.
“When you put a collar around your pets neck, it’s pretty hard to tell your toddler ‘don’t touch that,’” Morgan said.
“We’ve been seeing instances of young children who sleep with dogs at night, waking up and in some cases having seizures or major rashes on their body,” Donley said.
Despite the thousands of complaints, the collars are still sold in stores across America.
“EPA has approved this it must be safe. Well, that’s not necessarily true,” said McCormack.
“The rate of incident reports for pets wearing Seresto collars is low and has been decreasing over time. Less than a fifth of 1% reporting rate across the board. The data show no established link between the active ingredients in Seresto and pet death.”
“How many of our pets have to die?” asked Morgan. “Before we say, ‘hey, we have enough evidence.’”
Shugart spent thousands trying to save Benson, and Mr. Jones, whose health is still at risk. She recently got a rescue dog, named Typhoon.
Shugart said she wanted a little companion to help her when Mr. Jones passes.
In the meantime, she has this advice for researchers:
“I would tell them to look at Mr. Jones,” Shugart said. “And I’ll tell him about Benson and my life with him and the cancer. I would tell them to do research to connect the dots.”
Vets say symptoms can include everything from vomiting and diarrhea, to muscle tremors, seizures, and even a coma.
Scientists and vets say there are plenty of natural options out there, like using a spray.
Shugart switched to a collar that uses natural oils and says it works great.
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