Is Poison Walking Around Your Home?

When I was a kid we finally sweet-talked my mom into a cat. She kept saying she didn’t want to be responsible for another thing that had to be taken care of, she already had four children. One day a cat started hanging around our house and we started to take care of it. When we finally found it’s real owner, my mother was hooked and got us a cat. We had “Kitty” for almost twenty years.

lounging black and white cat


Once we adopted Kitty Mom took her to a vet, got food and dishes, a kitty litter setup and a flea collar. Pets always got flea collars back then. It was an item you could get so that your pet wouldn’t bring icky, gross fleas home, so you bought one and put it on your cat or dog. I remember that the process was to take the collar out of the box, stretch it to activate it, put it on the cat snug enough so it wouldn’t fall off, and then cut off the end. The instructions said to wash your hands afterwards, but I wasn’t ever sure why, they were just powdery. We didn’t realize that we had just turned our new pet into a walking ball of poison.

We know a lot more about chemicals now. I know that those collars didn’t just have products that made fleas and ticks want to stay away, they had insecticides, which are a class of pesticides, that would kill the fleas and ticks. Scientists may have always known about the effects that flea collars have on nervous systems, but I never thought about it before. I never thought about the fact that the collars were designed to release poison slowly, over time, that would work itself all over the pet. Each time we pet our cat the poison would get on our hands and clothes. Sure, you should wash your hands between petting your animal and putting your hands near your food or nose, but do you really? Every time?

The EPA and the makers of flea and tick collars have come to an agreement to remove many of the products from the market because of their adverse effects on human health. If it’s bad enough that the companies that make them have voluntarily agreed to stop making and selling them, that scares me.


Pete Dog

It’s pretty upsetting to realize that something that people consider a regular part of owning a pet is actually poisonous to people and pets. I’m very glad that the cats we have had in our home over the past 10 years have all been indoor cats and that they have never had flea or tick collars. I recently listened to an NPR story about how pesticide exposure before children are born is linked to all sorts of problems including lower IQ scores and ADHD.

The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental action group, filed several petitions with the EPA asking them to evaluate the safety of flea and tick collars and treatments. In February 2014, they sued the EPA over this issue. While the EPA did not respond directly to the petitions, they undertook a study of the products. In March 2014 they announced an agreement with the manufacturers of products containing propoxur to “cancel their registrations”. We can do a lot of reading between the lines here, but the EPA website said that this agreement was the most expeditious way to get these products off the market – although they can still be legally sold until March 2016.

The EPA has said that flea and tick collars containing propoxur are not safe for use around children, but they cannot stop their sale any more quickly than 2 years. Many Americans believe that “our government wouldn’t allow companies to sell things that aren’t good for us”.  However, Americans do not like government intervention in business. We can’t have it both ways. (Don’t even get me started on the fact that our government just approved the sale of POWDERED ALCOHOL! Talk about something that isn’t safe!)

sergeants-flea-collarThe statements on the EPA website about flea and tick collars and treatments are very conservative. Their webpage on the issue includes the following questions and answers:

How can I protect my family from propoxur residue?

Read the label carefully and follow all directions on the label if you use propoxur pet collars on your cat or dog. Do not allow children to play with the collar and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling it. In addition to this safety precaution, try to keep the pet away from your young children for a day after putting on the pet collar to minimize your child’s exposure to propoxur residues.

Should my family/children be evaluated by a physician for pesticide poisoning?

If you suspect a pesticide poisoning, you should always call your doctor or a find a local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222. Although we do not expect a risk of poisoning if label instructions and precautions are followed, excessive exposure to propoxur could cause poisoning symptom including nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, sweating, diarrhea, excessive salivation, weakness, imbalance, blurring of vision, breathing difficulty, increased blood pressure and lack of control of bladder or bowels.

The NRDC has stronger statements about all flea and tick collars. They recommend that you avoid using chemical treatments for flea and ticks if at all possible. However, they recognize that sometimes treatment is necessary. They provide an interactive guide called GreenPaws Flea and Tick Directory and have a pdf version for download.

This entire topic came to my attention while listening to a story on Living On Earth, by Public Radio International, about the EPA decision. It brought to mind a segment I heard earlier in the week about pesticide exposure during pregnancy affecting the IQ of children

Do you use flea and tick collars on your pets? Will you reconsider using them now?

Happy Greening


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