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The Flea Market: Risks to Pets and Kids?

There’s some big news from the front lines in the war on fleas and ticks: protecting your pets just got a lot cheaper.  But there’s some bad news as well: the ingredients in many products can pose serious health risks.

First the good news. Because the patent has expired on fipronil, which is one of the active ingredients in widely sold Frontline Plus, there now are new generic equivalents on the market with much lower prices.

For example, with one of the new competitors called FiproGuard,  the savings can be big.   At, a 6- month supply of Frontline Plus for a big dog (45-88 lbs.) is $87.18, compared to just $54.99 for the equivalent FiproGuard. (In general, if you buy online and order a 6-month supply or more, you can get the best price per dose.)

But here’s the bad news.  Fipronil, which is a pesticide, is considered a possible human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency and is highly toxic for animals.  In fact, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s GreenPaws Flea and Tick Products Directory, you should avoid using it because there are significant health concerns associated with fipronil, especially for families with young children. But because its patent has expired, the cheaper, generic fipronil probably will flood the marketplace. Ironically, there are  safer alternatives, but they are not  going to be cheaper.

To illustrate, consider Advantage II, another popular brand. It contains a different active ingredient, imidacloprid, which is effective and judged somewhat safer for humans. This product seems to be a  better choice from a health standpoint, but unfortunately it kills only fleas, not ticks. And  guess what? A 6- month supply costs about $5 more than the equivalent FiproGuard (both priced online at Drs. Foster & Smith for comparison). Even so, the GreenPaws site advises that products with imidacloprid be used “sparingly around pregnant women and children.”

In general, the GreenPaws site suggests that you take a non-chemical approach and regularly use a flea comb, bathing and vacuuming to help protect your pets. But as a practical matter, this may not be sufficient to prevent infestations. Chemical intervention may be necessary. Fortunately there are a few safer ingredients to use cautiously.

For lower risk products, GreenPaws suggests you look for the following chemicals as the active ingredient: pyriproxyfen, nitenpyram, spinosad, s-methoprene, or lufenuron.

If you have young children, be sure to carefully check ingredient labels on whatever products you currently own or choose. Use the GreenPaws directory to find out which ones could harm your pet or young children. You can download a product list organized by risk.



Joyce Newman
Joyce Newman
Joyce H. Newman is an Emmy Award-winning environmental journalist, educator, and gardener. She holds a Certificate in Horticulture from The New York Botanical Garden, and is a tour guide there.
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