Jack Haskins: Flea treatments can be problematic

Dear Old Trainer: I applied Frontline to Rip, my Weimaraner, and by the end of the day he was scratching like mad. The next day he had a red spot on his chest and scratched constantly. I shampooed him several times to get the product off and he stopped scratching. Are flea products that you apply to the skin of a dog safe?

– Rand, Wichita Falls, Texas

A: Not in my opinion. Every one I know of contains toxic chemicals so lethal they cause cancer in humans and are regulated by the EPA, not the FDA. The chemicals are absorbed into the bloodstream, brain, organs and fur of your dog.

Liquid flea products are relatively new and no research exists on long-term effects. What we do know is that many dogs, like Rip, suffer more from the flea medications than from the fleas, and that dogs suffer an extreme rate of skin cancer.

I first became suspicious two years ago when one of my border collies developed dark red sores the day after I applied one of the liquids. I did some research and was shocked by what I found. Every product applied to the dog’s skin contained at least one cancer-causing chemical.

All the flea products warn against getting the liquid on your skin and advise you to wash with soap and contact your doctor if you do. The instructions on a tick collar sold by most veterinarians read, “If the product touches your skin wash with soap and water for 20 minutes and contact your local poison control center.”

If merely touching it is that dangerous, what is it doing to your dog when it is on the skin and in the blood for months? And what happens to you and your children when you pet the dog every day?

No one at the companies that make the products could answer that question. Neither could the vets who sell the products. No one knows if they are safe or not.

That’s why I advise you use the common-sense approach. Look at the ingredients and check the EPA site to see if they are carcinogenic. If they are, don’t use them on your dog or yourself.

But fleas and ticks themselves may cause serious illness if untreated, so how do we protect our dogs? I chose to fight the pests with products that are natural and contain no toxins.

I found one flea product – Comfortis – that is effective, but contains no toxic chemicals. It is given orally and appears to have no side effects (I buy anything I use and accept no free samples). The ingredient that kills fleas is spinosad, rated a natural product by the EPA. It may not be perfect, but at least contains no toxic chemicals. In addition I clip my dogs’ fur short and check them every day for fleas and ticks. I put hydrocortisone cream on any skin irritation I see. I also hose them down three times a week in summer. They enjoy it and contact with water kills most fleas. It takes a little more time, but my dogs are safer and so am I.