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Pet Products May Not Be as Safe as You Think They Are

By Leslie Sinclair, DVM

Pet Products May Not Be as Safe as You Think They Are - By Leslie Sinclair, DVM

Take the Following Quiz:

Which of the following can seriously harm or even kill your animal companion?

  1. Medication prescribed by your veterinarian specifically for your pet.
  2. Bedding or nesting material labeled for use by your type of pet and sold by your local pet supply retailer.
  3. Over-the-counter flea treatments.
  4. A toy chosen especially for your pet.
  5. All of the above.

If you chose “E – All of the above,” you were correct.

Surprised? So were the many people who have told the Humane Society of the United States the heartbreaking stories of their pet’s injury or illness as the result of using such products. These pet owners contacted the HSUS because they wanted to be sure other companion animals didn’t suffer the same fate.

Too often, pet owners fail to realize that any product, even one designed specifically for pets like theirs, can be harmful. Individuality is the culprit. While we love each pet for his individual characteristics, the fact that every companion animal is different makes it impossible to create a product that will be safe for use by all of them. Individual animals may have unforeseen adverse reactions even to drugs that have been prescribed for thousands of other animal patients. While there are hundreds of products available for treatment and prevention of fleas, these drugs and pesticides can be quite toxic to pets if used in the wrong manner. Even when these products are used properly, their effects can be harmful or even fatal for some animals.

To make matters worse, there is little government oversight of the safety of pet products. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has jurisdiction over about 15,000 types of products, but the agency does not accept complaints or issue warnings about pet products. Calls about products for use on pets are referred to the National Pesticide Network, part of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A call to that office (1-888-858-7378) reveals that the EPA can accept reports and provide information about pesticides for control of parasites on pets, but not about other products.

Even if there were an agency whose mission was to guard your pet’s safety, it could not act as a substitute for the protection you can offer by following some simple guidelines:

When your veterinarian prescribes medication for your pet, be sure you understand what the medication is meant to treat and how to administer it properly. Ask your veterinarian to explain how the drug works and whether there are any known side effects. Check the label carefully to be sure you’ve been given the proper prescription, and inspect any refills carefully as well. Administer the drug as directed, and contact your veterinarian if your pet’s responses differ from those your veterinarian told you to expect.

Fleas, ticks, and other parasites can be a medical problem for your pet. Not only do they cause damage themselves, but the drugs and pesticides used to eliminate or prevent them can be harmful if used in the wrong manner or if your pet is sensitive to them. Despite the availability of “do-it-yourself” flea products from grocery stores and pet-supply retailers, always ask your veterinarian about the best approach to flea prevention. Read and follow label directions, and never use a product on any animal for whom it is not meant. Also be aware that a flea product applied to one animal may be harmful to another animal that lives in the same home, so discuss this possibility with your veterinarian as well.

Choose chew treats carefully. Avoid products such as rawhide chews and pigs ears. The chemicals used to preserve them may be irritating to your pet’s digestive system. [This type of chew can also cause blockages in ferrets]. And, if they are improperly preserved, they can become contaminated with pathogenic bacteria – like salmonella – that can be easily transmitted to pets and humans.

When choosing toys, bedding, collars, or other items for your pet, inspect them carefully to ensure that they are well- made and cannot be easily pulled apart. Look for parts, like buttons [or sewed on or glued on eyes] that might come off and choke your pet. Even if a toy or other item appears safe, watch your pet interact with it. Some toys are appropriate only with supervision and should not be left where your pet can get to them. If your pet attempts to ingest any toy, bedding material, or other substance, take the item from him right away. If he appears to have already ingested it, consult your veterinarian immediately.

Here’s a final quiz:

  • Question: Who can best protect your pet from the unforeseen dangers of toys, medications, and other pet products?
  • Answer: Only you. Your pet counts on you to keep him safe!

Dr. Leslie Sinclair, DVM – is the former HSUS director of Veterinary Issues, Companion Animals.

[intlink id=”fair”]This article originally appeared in the May/June 1996 issue of "The F.A.I.R. Report".[/intlink]