Action 9 investigates risky pet product

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COCOA, Fla. - A Cocoa woman claims a flea treatment badly burned her cat, and Action 9 found many pet owners claim the popular flea drops can be very risky.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a warning three years ago but many owners think the flea treatments remain a threat to some cats and dogs.

A day after Elizabeth Messer treated her cat for fleas with drops on his back, she noticed something was wrong.

"He lost hair on the back of his neck," said Messer.

Messer said she followed Hartz UltraGuard Plus instructions, but a deep wound appeared.

According to Messer, a local veterinarian blamed the chemical burn on the drops.

"He said, 'No, no, no. Don't use that type of product, ever,'" said Messer.

Messer's cat was given antibiotics and eventually improved, but online, Action 9's Todd Ulrich saw dozens of owners claim flea drops from various companies injured and even killed their pets.

"People were posting images of their cats that looked identical to the chemical burn on the back of their neck," said Messer.

The EPA issued a warning about flea drop products in 2010 after it said bad pet reaction complaints increased by more than 50 percent.

The agency suggested owners' misused them and it wanted clear label instructions and warnings since it's a pesticide.

At the SPCA Central Florida, veterinarians list flea products not recommended because of possible side effects.

"I've had some present with seizures shortly after applications of spot on treatments," said Dr. Heather Scheuerman.

Hartz is on its list.

Hartz told Action 9 its retail products pass the same EPA testing as vet supplied treatments.  It's working with the agency on clear labeling, and adverse complaints have decreased.         

Messer filed a claim with Hartz.

"They would review it and possible help with part of the vet bills," said Messer.

The EPA told Action 9 2,800 owners said their cats and dogs died after using flea drops since 2007 but the claims have been declining.      

The SPCA suggests talking to your vet about what products are the safest for your pets.

Hartz's response to Action 9:

  • The Hartz Mountain Corporation believes that all pets deserve the best care possible. Safety is our number-one priority. We want to help families use our products properly to ensure the safety of their pets.
  • We are confident in the quality of our topical flea and tick products for dogs and cats, all of which are held to the same safety and efficacy testing standards and labeling direction as all EPA-registered flea and tick products.
  • Because safety is our number-one priority, we undertake rigorous clinical tests on all our products.  All EPA-approved topical flea and tick products sold through retail channels are held to the same safety and efficacy testing standards as those brands purchased from veterinarians.  Labeling direction mandated by the EPA is also consistent for all flea and tick prevention products sold through retail channels or veterinarian offices.  In fact, Hartz® UltraGuard® cat topical treatments contain some of the same active ingredients used by a leading flea and tick brand sold through veterinarians.
  • We will continue to work with the EPA on labeling and other matters to make sure our consumers better understand the proper use of these products and use them with confidence.  Hartz agrees with the EPA on the importance of carefully following label directions when applying topical flea and tick control products to pets.
  • From 2008 to 2011, Hartz® has reduced the number of adverse effects reported per total doses sold by 15 percent. Per the EPA, most reported incidents were classified as minor, meaning effects were minimally bothersome and rapidly resolved.