Vets: Using wrong flea treatment could be harmful

(NBC) - Outdoor time for dogs and their owners is a welcomed break after a long winter, but it's a field day for ticks and fleas looking to make a home on your pet.

That's why many pet owners have turned to "spot on" treatments applied once a month to keep fleas and ticks away.

Veterinarians have been prescribing them for years because they are so good at keeping fleas and ticks from feeding on your pets, not to mention they're easy to use.

Unfortunately, just a little bit of product can turn to poison. The EPA reports 44,000 sick pets in 2008 because of spot-on products. That's about 50 percent more than the year before, and 600 of those animals died.

The EPA says reactions include vomiting, diarrhea, trembling, depression and seizures.

"We don't believe it was a bad batch. We do believe it was a misuse because labels weren't clear," said Mary Monell of the EPA.

For example, using a dog product on a cat or using a product for a large dog on a small dog.

The EPA says to increase the safety of these products it will "begin reviewing labels to determine which ones needs stronger and clearer labeling statements."

Some pet owners have worries.

Another concern: flea and tick products made for dogs contain a pesticide called permethrin, which can kill a cat.

"When in doubt, consult with your veterinarian, especially if you've got an older dog, a pregnant or nursing dog or cat. Just be more vigilant. It is, it's a pesticide. It's a poison and you want to treat it with utmost care," Monell advised.

Copyright 2010 NBC. All rights reserved.