Flea Products – Are OTC Products Really Safe and Effective?

Thirty years ago, as I first stepped out as a veterinary practitioner, fleas and the products to kill them were practically our bread and butter. These first products consisted mainly of  organophosphates and carbamates,  similar to the same ingredients that made up the nerve gases of World War I. These products had to be applied frequently to kill the fleas and were also toxic to both humans and pets, yet the fleas evolved and still managed to survive these products over time.

Over the years, new products were developed that were less toxic to humans and pets and still killed the fleas and prevented egg hatch outs. Many of  flea products that were effective were only available through your veterinarian. This insured that the flea products were used correctly in order to prevent accidental over-dosage or applying the products meant for dogs onto a cat.

With the development of the World Wide Web, many of the flea products became available to purchase on the internet and skipped the advice and counseling of your veterinarian. There were some toxicities that occurred because of incorrect applications and several of the products have been recalled. But because the lucrative market of flea and tick products topped $1 billion, many companies expanded into the flea and tick market in order to get their piece of the pie.

Several companies began to make “generic” products that were supposed to contain the same ingredients as the original. One such product contained the ingredient fipronil, the active compound found  in Frontline®, that veterinarians have used for years.  Merial had to sue them for patent infringement and won their suit this month forcing the company to withdraw their generic product and remove them from the shelves. But, many other “generic” products as well as counterfeit products still exist.

How does this affect you and your pet?

Can you count on the product you purchase to be safe and effective?

What exactly is a generic medication and how is it different from the original?

Whenever a new product is developed, the company must undergo rigorous testing, drug trials and sometimes strict FDA guidelines in order to get the product approved. These companies apply for a patent so they can have exclusive rights to the formulation in order to cover their research and development costs. When the patent expires, other companies can then manufacture and market their own product with out having to do the trials and testing, thus they can sell the product for less than the original products.  Other companies ignore our patent laws all together, making their own product in a foreign country and counterfeiting the product, packaging and logos, making it look the same as the original product. These products can enter the market without having been tested and may not be as safe or effective as the original product.

The generic products will utilize the same active ingredients as the original, but they often are not exactly the same product. Also, the inert ingredients (inactive ingredients) may be different.  In the case of many of the flea medications, it is the inert ingredients that help spread the product over the body of the pet, or allow the product to adhere to the pet which will make the product more effective, longer lasting and less likely to be washed off during swimming or bathing.  The FDA only requires that the generic manufacturers prove that their product exhibits bio-equivalence to the original product.

In the past, some “generic” drugs contained contaminants or products that actually proved harmful. One case that I can recall was L- Tryptophan, a product used by many as a sleep aid in the late 1980’s. In an attempt to manufacture the main ingredient faster, one company altered the manufacturing of the amino acid and the contaminate caused serious side effects of those people that had consumed it.

With the topical flea and tick products, many of the products are parasiticides and are regulated by the EPA rather than the FDA.  In this case, you can purchase the product without a prescription, but many of the companies choose to sell their products with the label “under veterinary supervision” in order for their products to be administered correctly by the consumer. A lot of the generic manufactures ignore  this and their copycat products end up on the shelves of large stores and internet pharmacies across the country. I regularly treat pets that have been treated with the OTC products that have experienced serious side effects, especially when a dog product was applied to a cat. Also, many skin conditions, itching and hair loss may not be caused just by the fleas, but can be caused by skin infections, mites, allergies and other factors. Only an examination and sometimes diagnostic tests can fully determine the cause of your pet’s skin conditions. As stated before, the product may  not have the same effectiveness as the original product and some products, such as the flea collar, are totally worthless.

In order to combat the counterfeit products that have been showing up in the internet companies, many veterinarians have added their own on-line pharmacies. The products in these pharmacies are purchased directly through the manufacturer and not third parties so that we know the products are genuine and they are also backed by the manufacturer with a guarantee. Our on-line pharmacy is located in the Pet Portal. The pet portal is also synced with your pet’s medical records so that we know what products your pet is on and you can also check your pet’s medical records and know when their next vaccinations are due.

Many of the more effective flea products are now combined with the heartworm prevention making it easier to administer to your pet. Revolution and Advantage-multi were topical products that were applied to the skin and are very effective. However, the medication often left a sticky residue on the hair coat, or didn’t get all the way to the skin for complete effectiveness. Trifexis is the newest product to be introduced and it is a chewable tablet that controls fleas, prevents heatworms and protects against the intestinal parasites; roundworms, hookworms and whipworms.  Trifexis starts killing fleas in 30 minutes and keeps working to prevent flea infestations all month long. Because fleas, heatworms and intestinal parasites are major problems here in Houston, I routinely recommend for my client to use both the flea and heatworm medication every month all year long, in order to prevent flea infestations in the home and to prevent heartworm disease. Since the Trifexis is a chewable tablet, you don’t have to worry about it being washed off or leaving a dirty streak down the back of your dog. Trifexis is now available in the Pet Portal area.  I have even switched my own dog to this medication.

Information on Trifexis can be found at Trifexis.com

Each pet has unique problems and your veterinarian can help you choose the product that is best for your pet.  Many products can have an adverse affect on your pet, especially if a heartworm prevention is given to a pet that is already harboring heartworms. A heartworm test is performed on dogs every year to insure that the pet has not been infected by the heartworms and parasite tests (fecal examinations) are routinely done as well to detect other parasites that may have been picked up by your pet, many of which can also affect humans as well.

I hope this helps you the next time you choose a product for your pet or even yourself. Many of the “generic” products available are really not exactly the same and may not work in the same manner or be as effective at the original product. Your veterinarian and their team are here to help you when it comes to choosing the safest and most effective flea medications for your pet.