Since they were first introduced in 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has received more than 75,000 complaints about popular Seresto-brand flea and tick collars. According to those complaints, 1,698 cats and dogs may have died after wearing the collars. At least 1,000 humans became ill after handling the collars.
The information is based on thousands of federal documents from the EPA, which is responsible for regulating these and other products that contain pesticides. Despite the disturbing number of pets reportedly killed or sickened, the EPA has never issued a warning about Seresto flea collars.
“The EPA appears to be turning a blind eye to this problem, and after seven years of an increasing number of incidents, they are telling the public that they are continuing to monitor the situation,” Karen McCormack, a retired EPA employee, says in the report. “But I think this is a significant problem that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.”
McCormack said these collars have the most reported incidents of any pesticide pet product she’s ever seen. Yet the company that makes them, Elanco Animal Health, insists their flea and tick collars are safe.
“There is no established link between death and exposure to the active ingredients contained in Seresto,” an Elanco spokesperson wrote in a statement to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. “We take the safety of our products very seriously, and thoroughly investigate potential concerns related to their use.”
Seresto flea collars are top sellers on Amazon, but the online retailer has not removed them even though many reviewers have complained that their pets developed everything from skin rashes to neurological issues after wearing them.
Two Toxic Pesticides in Seresto Collars
Seresto flea and tick collars are intended to be worn by pets for eight months. They contain these two pesticides:
- Imidcloprid, an insecticide that’s often used on crops — and is connected to the massive killings of bees and butterflies. Because of this, it’s banned for outdoor use in the European Union but is still allowed in flea collars.
- Flumethrin, a pesticide that’s used only in Seresto flea collars, according to the report.
Bayer, the company that created the Seresto collars and has since been bought by Elanco, stated in a 2012 study that the combination of imidacloprid and flumethrin may have a “synergistic effect.” This means it makes them much more toxic for fleas and ticks—and perhaps for dogs and cats as well.
“You don’t even see these kinds of numbers with many agricultural chemicals,” Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, says in the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting report. “For whatever reason, this combination is just really nasty.” He said the nearly 1,700 pet deaths are likely “just the tip of the iceberg.”
Safe Alternatives to Flea Collars
Instead of putting a pesticide-filled collar around your dog’s neck, there are safer ways to help get rid of fleas without harming your pet in the process.
If you don’t want to use any chemicals, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a nonprofit environmental group, recommends doing the following:
- Bathe your pet regularly, since soap and water will kill adult fleas. Just be aware that flea and tick shampoos often contain many of the same chemicals as topical treatments.
- Use a fine-tooth flea comb to brush your dog’s fur. Dunk any fleas in soapy water.
- Wash your pet’s bedding every week using hot water.
- Every day, vacuum or wipe down any furniture or surfaces that your pet’s been in contact with.
Some of the following chemicals may be safer to use than others:
- Oral flea prevention pills that contain lufenuron, nitenpyram or spinosad “can be a better option, for both animals and humans, than treatments that leave residue on fur that might get on hands or furniture,” the NRDC says.
- For topical products, the NRDC recommends those containing s-methoprene or pyriproxyfen, “which are less toxic ingredients—but read the labels carefully because some products use them with other, more harmful pesticides.”
Not surprisingly, the NRDC warns about using flea collars, which “can contain some of the most dangerous insecticides, including tetrachlorvinphos, carbaryl and propoxur.”
What to Do If Your Pet Gets Sick
If your pet becomes ill after wearing a Seresto flea collar or being treated with another flea and tick product, see your veterinarian. Report the illness by following these EPA guidelines.