FDA warns about flea pills for dogs and cats

Chewable products that protect dogs and cats against fleas can cause neurological problems such as stumbling or seizures, and pet owners need more warning, the Food and Drug Administration said Thursday.

The FDA issued an alert to owners and veterinarians and said it was requiring clearer labels on the products.

The flea pills and chews all contain a pesticide called isoxazoline, the FDA said. They include products sold under the brand names Bravecto, Nexgard and Simparica.

"Another product in this class, Credelio, recently received FDA approval. These products are approved for the treatment and prevention of flea infestations, and the treatment and control of tick infestations," the FDA said in a statement.

"Isoxazoline products have been associated with neurologic adverse reactions, including muscle tremors, ataxia and seizures in some dogs and cats," the FDA added. Ataxia is a lack of muscle control and can cause animals to stumble or twitch.

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How to avoid tick bites
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How to avoid tick bites

1. Stay in the middle of the path

When hiking, make sure to stay in the middle of the path. Weeds, grass and trees make it easier for ticks to crawl onto you. Don't venture out to the grass or bushes, where ticks are formidable to be hiding. 

2. Wear long pants and closed toed shoes

Protect your skin. Adding an extra layer makes it more difficult to latch on to you. It's smart to wear pants, long sleeves and hats, especially in the summer.

3. Invest in deer-resistant plants. 

Since ticks feed on and are transported by deer, try looking into deer-resistant plants. French marigolds, rosemary, mint and crape myrtle are just some of the greens deer tend to "overlook". 

See a complete list of the herbs and flowers here

4. Check your dog! 

Dogs can literally bring ticks right to your front door. Prevent ticks by keeping their coats short in the summer. Use your hands to check the fur, stopping if you feel a pea-sized bump. Favorite spots ticks like to hide include the ears, toes and under the tail. 

Dog ticks don't "harbor diseases that sicken people", but you should still be wary. 

5. Yes, repellant can help. 

According to TickenEncounter, spray with DEET does not provide "sufficient" protection. Get spray for your clothes like Permethrin, which instantly kills ticks. 

6. Dry your clothes 

The CDC recommends tumble drying clothes immediately for ten minutes after you've been outside. Ticks can easily "dry out" with high heat, but you should make sure the clothes are completely dry. 

Warning: Ticks can survive the wash. 

7. Tuck your pants into your socks.

This covers the small, easily accessible space in between your pants and ankles. Especially if you are sitting, it makes it easier for ticks to latch on. 

8. Stay in the sun.

Since ticks survive in shady, humid environments, researchers agree that staying in the sun lowers the risk for ticks. According to LiveScience, ticks "can't survive" in places with lower than 80% humidity. 

9. Invest in Permethrin socks

The chemical is successful in protecting against ticks, mosquitoes and other types of bites. Lymedisease.org estimates that permethrin-treated footwear offered 74 times the protection from bites.

10. Mow your lawn

Cut your grass, clean your yard, get rid of any extra firewood or wood chips. 

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"Although most dogs and cats haven't had neurologic adverse reactions, seizures may occur in animals without a prior history," the FDA added.

The labels on the products, sold mostly as flavored chews, already mention the risk of neurological side effects, and the risks have been reported by consumer groups. It is just important for vets and owners to get more information, the FDA said.

"The FDA carefully reviewed studies and other data on Bravecto, Credelio, Nexgard and Simparica prior to approval, and these products continue to be safe and effective for the majority of animals," the agency said.

"The agency is asking the manufacturers to make the changes to the product labeling in order to provide veterinarians and pet owners with the information they need to make treatment decisions for each pet on an individual basis."

Fleas and ticks carry a range of diseases, including plague and Lyme disease, which can affect animals and their owners. Pets can also develop allergies or sensitivities to the bites, and they can lose large patches of fur as a result. They can also become susceptible to worms and other parasites if they suffer allergic reactions to flea bites.

The FDA said hundreds of pesticides are on the market to protect against fleas and ticks. They include "spot-on" products applied to an animal's skin, flea sprays, powders and collars. Many can cause nausea, vomiting and neurological side effects.

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11 warning signs of cancer in dogs
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11 warning signs of cancer in dogs

Collapsing

If your dog collapses, get to the vet immediately. Collapsing, weakness, and general lethargy (not greeting people at the door like usual or less interaction) are common signs of cancer, says Jake Zaidel, DVM, of Malta Animal Hospital in upstate New York. “I see this particularly in large breed dogs—even if they fall down and seem better the next day, bring them in because it could signal a tumor of the spleen,” says Dr. Zaidel. And don't miss these 10 silent signs that mean your pooch is actually sick!

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Coughing

Coughing doesn’t automatically signal cancer; for example, small breed dogs tend to develop coughs because they have windpipe problems. “If the dog coughs once or twice, it’s of no concern, but if it continues to cough for more than a few days, that’s a concern and could signal lung cancer,” says Zaidel.

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Weight loss

Weight loss is the number-one dog cancer symptom Dr. Zaidel says he sees. It’s often the sign of a gastrointestinal tumor. “I’ve had a lot of dogs stop eating because of gastrointestinal tumors, so they lose weight very rapidly,” he says. Cancer can also cause dogs to lose weight while maintaining their regular appetite. If you notice your dog shedding pounds, either rapidly or slowly, make an appointment with your vet. Make sure you know the surprisingly common dog dangers that lurk in your backyard!

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Mouth changes

Sores, lumps, a strange odor, bleeding, or a change in gum color can be a sign of oral cancer, particularly in older dogs. This cancer sign in dogs often goes unnoticed for too long. “We commonly find visible oral tumors because people don’t examine their pet’s mouth,” says Dr. Zaidel. “Many oral tumors can be really devastating because people don’t find them until it’s really advanced.” He also suggests brushing on a regular basis.

It’s a good idea to watch when your pet yawns or eats, advises Timothy Rocha, DVM, an oncology specialist in New York City. See a vet if you notice something out of the ordinary.

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Nose bleeds

Nosebleeds are never normal, says Dr. Rocha. “With an older dog, a nosebleed is particularly worrisome. It can be a sign of cancer in the nose,” he says. “With younger dogs, I would worry more about something like a foreign object stuck up there before cancer.” (These are the 12 common foods that could be detrimental to your dog's health!)

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Diarrhea or changes in bathroom habits

Occasional diarrhea usually isn’t a sign of cancer in dogs, says Dr. Rocha, but if it persists or gets worse, get your dog to the vet. Constantly begging to go out to go to the bathroom, difficulty peeing/moving bowels, vomiting, or blood in the urine or stool are also potential dog cancer symptoms, according to PetMD.com.

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Discharge

Persistent discharge from the nose or eyes is cause for concern, says Dr. Zaidel. Nasal discharge is a common sign of facial tumors, and eye discharge can signal an eye tumor. (Check out these 23 facts about animals that are actually all wrong!)

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Seizures

Seizures can be a sign of brain tumors and are typically seen in older dog cancer patients, says Dr. Zaidel. If you start to notice sudden and uncontrolled bursts of activity, like champing and chewing, jerking of the legs, or foaming at the mouth, your dog could be experiencing seizures and you should see a vet immediately, according to WebMD.com.

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Skin changes

“Every lump, bump, or skin change should be checked,” says Dr. Zaidel. “It could be benign or cancerous, but it’s always easier to treat the earlier it’s caught.” Feel for bumps, lumps, or swelling as you pet your pooch. If you notice something iffy, don’t delay—there’s no way to distinguish between a lump that’s benign or malignant without taking a sample. Also pay attention to any sores that won’t heal or lesions that seem itchy or painful. Also, don't forget to keep an eye out for these dog flu symptoms.

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Weight gain

Sudden weight gain or bloating can be a sign of cancer in dogs. If your dog is eating less but seems to be bulking up, take a trip to the vet, says Rocha. A sudden spike in appetite also warrants a visit.

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General pain or discomfort

“Pain is a rather substantial sign of cancer,” says Zaidel. If your dog whines or cries out when you pat her tummy or pick him up, call your vet. Mouth tumors may cause noticeable discomfort when eating. (Keep your pet safe and learn which 11 household items can make your furry friend seriously sick!)

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It is important to make sure that the right product is used, the FDA said.

"Flea treatments meant for dogs can be deadly if given to cats instead. It is important to use only flea and tick products specifically designed for cats, and to administer the proper dosage," the FDA cautions.

Products containing permethrin are safe for dogs but can kill cats.

"If you have both dogs and cats in your household, you should be aware that using a permethrin 'spot-on' product on a dog may cause illness in a household cat," the FDA noted.

The FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency have warned about potential dangers of spot-on flea products and required makers to include clearer labels.

"If your pet experiences a bad reaction from a spot-on product, immediately bathe the pet with mild soap, rinse with large amounts of water, and call your veterinarian," the FDA advises.

The isoxazoline products are designed to interfere with the insect nervous system. They were not believed to interfere as much with the nervous systems of mammals. Earlier this year, one group of researchers proposed testing them in people to protect against mosquito and other insect bites.

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