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On Tuesday morning, USA Today published an investigation with startling findings: The popular Seresto flea collar has been connected to the deaths of almost 1,700 pets and injuries to thousands more.
Documents from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed the link to the collars, which excrete pesticide to hopefully keep pets pest-free for up to eight months without harming them. However, some pet owners have pointed to the collars as the reason their dogs have suffered from lethargy, loss of motor functions, skin problems, and seizures.
"My takeaway is that it should be looked into," says Elizabeth Trepp, DVM. "I want to recommend the best safe products for my patients, and therefore as a vet I rely on agencies like the [Food and Drug Administration] and EPA to do their due diligence."
If your dog or cat is currently wearing one of these collars you understandably have questions. We talked with some veterinarians, like Trepp, about the Seresto flea and tick collars so you can make the best decision about your pet's care.
My Pet Wears a Seresto Collar. What Should I Do?
For that, we'll employ a phrase you'll read a lot on Daily Paws: Talk with your veterinarian (about whether they recommended using the collar or not).
Your vet weighs what's best for your pet and recommends what they believe to be safe, effective products, says Randy Wheeler, DVM and executive director of the Iowa Veterinary Medical Association. You'll also want to be skeptical of what you find on some corners of the internet—outside of Daily Paws, of course—so it's best to talk to a professional.
"You should feel comfortable with their opinion," Wheeler says.
If you believe you need to take the collar off, you can. But you should still call up your veterinarian. They'll give you other options for flea and tick prevention.
You might also want to check and make sure your pet is wearing the flea collar correctly. It might be tempting to put it on and then leave it for eight months, but these collars do require a little bit of upkeep, says Alicen Tracey, DVM and member of the Daily Paws Advisory Board.
"Flea-tick collars work by interacting with the skin in order to distribute the preventative medication and should therefore be placed around the neck snug enough to create skin contact, but allowing the applicator to fit two fingers beneath the collar," she writes.
If you don't check regularly, the collar can get too loose or too tight, which can cause irritation.
How Widespread Are the Seresto Collar Problems?
We don't really know.
The numbers in the EPA reports are frightening, with Seresto collars seemingly related to the deaths of nearly 1,700 pets and injuries and illnesses in another 75,000. The number of actual incidents might be higher, noted one expert in the USA Today story, because it's unlikely everyone who experienced problems took the time and energy to report them to the EPA.
But how do the number of incidents compare to the number of Seresto collars, which are manufactured by Bayer and distributed by Elanco, out there? The flea and tick collars, which are available for large and small dogs and cats, are the top sellers in their category on Amazon. The low-maintenance collars are also available at retailers like Wal-Mart.
Trepp is one of many vets who's recommended the Seresto collars to her patients. She told Daily Paws that she's "never" had any issues with them, and none of her veterinary colleagues have either. Tracey said something similar: Flea and tick collars "are generally regarded as safe preventatives for cats and dogs."
Trepp also pointed out the idea of correlation not equalling causation: Some pet owners might think the Seresto collar is to blame when it's possible that the dog or cat is suffering from an unrelated health problem.
It's one of the reasons Trepp hopes for a more thorough examination of the collars that doesn't rely on self-reporting pet parents.
"While the article itself doesn't have great statistical information, I do feel that maybe the safety studies should be looked at or perhaps some new safety studies should be done," she wrote in an email.
Most Medications Aren't Risk-Free
The same goes for the Seresto collars. Your vet should be able to walk you through the risks associated with flea and tick collars and help decide which treatment is best.
"There are precautions and warnings with everything," Wheeler says.
He added that, generally, older and younger dogs can be more susceptible to health issues. Plus, every dog is simply different when it comes to their health and biology. That's why you should talk with your vet about whether a collar is the best idea.
(For example, if your dog is likely to take off into a pond or stream while wearing the Seresto collar, it might not be the best idea because the collar isn't supposed to get wet.)
Counterfeit products could also be more likely to cause problems, Tracey says.
"These products are typically purchased online, and are designed to look identical to the company they are trying to knock off," she writes. "The easiest way to prevent purchasing a counterfeit product is to purchase through a reputable source such as your veterinary office, their online pharmacy, the seller's direct website (if applicable), or online pharmacies that require veterinary sign off."
Are There Other Flea Prevention Methods?
Oh yeah. Namely, you can opt for topical drops or oral medication for your pet. They'll keep the pests away differently than the flea collars, but they still work.
"Your veterinarian can help you decide which preventative will be best for your pet based on the risks of your area, the exposure your pet has to parasites, and the delivery route that would work best for your pet," Tracey says.
After talking with other vets in Iowa, Wheeler recommends the topical and oral options rather than the collars. Those first two options have what he called "a wide safety margin," meaning that if you accidentally administer more than the normal dose, your pet should still be OK.
Bottom line: Your veterinarian is the best source for recommending flea and tick prevention that's right for your pet. Give 'em a call.