Q. Could the insecticides in my dog’s flea collar or shampoo be toxic to my three-year-old if she plays with him a lot?
– Julie, CA
A. It’s possible your pet's flea treatment could harm your toddler, yes. Some flea collars may contain organophosphates, a type of insecticide that has been linked to cancer and Parkinson’s disease in humans, according the Natural Resources Defense Council. Several organophosphates have recently been removed from the flea product market, but one of them — tetrachlorvinphos — is still used in flea collars. Shampoos and powders may also contain chemicals called permethrins, which could also be harmful to your child or pet. The NRDC has called for the EPA to regulate the potentially toxic ingredients in pet products more tightly.
In the meantime, there are plenty of safe ways to keep your dog free of fleas without putting your daughter — or your dog — at risk. “I don’t recommend flea collars anyway. They’re outdated and unnecessary and there are plenty of alternatives that are safer for your pet and your child,” says Margaret Gordon, VMD, a veterinarian in Minneapolis, MN. First, check in with your vet to see if a chemical treatment is really in order. If, for example, your dog stays indoors most of time and you haven’t had a flea problem before, you might not need to use a chemical at all. But if your dog does have fleas, or your vet recommends some kind of chemical treatment as a preventative measure, simply chose a product without tetrachlorvinphos or permethrins. There are oral pills, as well as topical treatments that use newer, less-neurotoxic chemicals.
Check out Greenpaws.org, too for a product guide and an information kit that you can take to your vet or groomer.
Story by Tobin Hack. This article originally appeared in Plenty in September 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.