Keeping PETS out of vets since 2011

Is Bravecto Safe? Here we lay out the facts…

fleas on dogs

Is Bravecto safe for dogs? Well, in 21 months it sold 40mil doses. In that time, the EMA cites it killed every 52,000 doses. How badly do you want to kill the fleas your dog doesn’t have?!

Bravecto is a flea and tick killer made by pharmaceutical giant Merck. It’s fair to say it has come in for a lot of flack lately with “is Bravecto safe” now a very trending search term on Google. Why is this? Is it just a conspiracy against another harmless chemical company? Here are the facts to help you decide:

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) “Committee for Medicinal Products for Veterinary Use” describes Bravecto as the following:

The active substance of Bravecto, fluralaner, is an acaricide and insecticide belonging to the isoxazoline group. Isoxazolines act at the central nervous system or the neuromuscular junction of the insect, rather than directly on muscles fibres…this results in uncontrolled activity of the central nervous system and death of insects or acarines

If you want to find out is Bravecto safe, you don’t read the back of the packet, you wait for an independent group to check it out. A European field trial conducted by the European Medicines Agency (an independent body) followed the fate of 479 dogs dosed with such chemicals. 325 dogs were treated with Bravecto and 154 with a spot-on containing fipronil, the active component in such products as Frontline. 57 adverse events were reported (40 in the Bravecto group, that’s a harm rate of 1 in 8 doses, which is seems very contrary to the safety figures quoted by Merck themselves).

In field studies and safety studies, no dogs or cats experienced serious adverse events.1-3,7,8

More worrying, the EMA goes on to state that since it’s release in 2014, Bravecto is killing dogs at the rate of 1 in 52,632 doses (18mil EU doses resulted in 342 recorded and attributable deaths)

According to the company, about 41.6 million doses had been distributed worldwide, of which approximately 18 million were in the European Union (EU) between February 2014 and December 2016. By 15 August 2017, suspected side effects had been reported electronically for 5,326 dogs, of which 2,144 were in the EU. Between February 2014 and 15 August 2017, deaths had been reported in 1,265 dogs worldwide and 342 in the EU.

EMA website, 2017

And these are just the official cases that were reported correctly and does not include serious side effects.

The FDA freely admits that only a small percentage of adverse reactions are reported for any given drug. This is particularly problematic for drugs that last long periods of time after being administered. If the pet has a reaction within the first 24 hours of administration, it is fairly easy for the pet owner and veterinarian to see a cause and effect relationship. When a drug stays in the body for 90 days or more, side effects may occur days to weeks after administration, making it more difficult to show a cause and effect relationship.

Dr. Judy Morgan, DVM

Despite the deaths, the EMA have not moved to recommend Bravecto is pulled from the pet shop shelf. These figures (dogs) are deemed to be “statistically insignificant”. So, worryingly, in answer to your question is Bravecto safe, the EMA is happy to stand over these sort of figures in dogs. Can you imagine such a thing being accepted in human medicine?!

Let’s convert Bravecto’s known kill figures into human terms…

Some time ago I posted on Facebook about a new drug available…

parallax chemical flea killer

It was a tongue-in-cheek post to try and put the above known kill figures in some form of human example. The post went like this:

You can’t see them folks but parasites are real and they’re EVERYWHERE. What’s more, IF your child picks one up and IF you ignore the symptoms for a long period of time and IF you do not see a doctor at some point then your child is at GREAT RISK of harm.

If you loved your child then please rush to your doctor and ask them for Parallax. That’s right, at last, the same companies that developed all the fantastic chemical preventatives for our pets, have finally come up with a range of kill-all parasite preventatives for humans.

They have developed three fantastic products under the Parallax range, two to cover our endoparasites, including one for all our worm parasites (including tapeworms, hookworm, whipworm, threadworm, trichonosis, toxocara), one to cover all our flukes (five different types) and one to cover our ectoparasites like scabies, head lice, pubic lice, botfly, fleas, ticks and of course, mosquitos. It’s strange it took them until now to make these considering how prevalent some of these baddies are in the population.

Our medical boards are recommending these chemicals be used in every child in every country regardless of the prevalence of the actual parasite in certain areas.

While no external body has looked into the safety of these products in any real way, our authorities assure us the data arising from the in-house safety trials conducted by the manufacturers themselves is more than adequate.

This drug is PERFECTLY SAFE folks but please wear gloves during application onto your child and dispose of the container safely. Studies show the chemical will remain in and on their skin for weeks so please keep your child out of reach of children during that time and always wash your hands thoroughly after interacting with them for the duration on the month (when you will put on another dose).

The producer’s in-house trials indicate that not only are these chemicals highly effective, Parallax is NO MORE HARMFUL than those given to dogs. In this respect, on the pet product side, only 1 in 125 babies are expected to experience mild side effects, which the manufacturer states may include “skin irritation, hyperactivity, listlessness, vomiting, depression”.

Better news still, the manufacturers assure us only 1 in 10,000 babies will have convulsions after use and in terms of death, luckily less than 1 in 50,000 doses kills (figures based on the European Medicines Agency report on Bravecto, where 17mil doses given in EU resulted in 342 “reported” deaths, which it states is within “acceptable safety parameters” .

Thus, looking at just Europe alone (500mil people) and her 200mil children, Parallax will only result in 20,000 convulsing children and kill no more than 4000 of them each year.

I jest, of course, we would never permit such a drug on the market if this was it’s KNOWN safety record, let alone if we had the real figures, and certainly not for a few parasites that they are not only highly unlikely to pick up but often easy to prevent and treat.

It’s fine for our dogs though…

dog fleas

Consumer affairs programs are now questioning is Bravecto safe, and it doesn’t look good…

While the powers-that-be have an almost total lack of interest in the matter, pet owners rightfully are disgusted and up in arms. Countless Facebook groups have been set up attempting to bring attention to this potentially lethal drug, the most popular of which being “Does Bravecto Kill Dogs?” which now has 38k+ members, many of whom are veterinarians reporting first-hand information.

Radar is a consumer affairs show in the Netherlands who has been following the story closely (you would hope it would have been a veterinary group). Last year they did a half hour special on it.

This all has resulted in petitions in many countries, the most successful of which have been in the Netherlands thanks to the Radar piece above. It quickly received more than 10,000 signatures (the threshold required) and was recently handed into the Dutch government where it is now under consideration.


It’s not just Bravecto flea killer…

Nor is it just Bravecto you should be concerned about. Trivexis too has its share of campaigners with harrowing stories. The Facebook group Does Trifexis Kill Dogs? now has over 11k+ followers. Nexgard and Simparica too have extremely high adverse reactions.

Then there are the “more natural” types. Well, not natural in the classical sense, but natural in the I’m-a-chemical-producer-and-have-produced-a-chemical-based-on-something-that-once-resembled-a-plant. Case in point pyrethrin versus pyrethroid. The former is a naturally occurring compound from the chrysanthemum plant and the latter is its synthetic counterpart. Dogs Naturally Magazine reports that The Center for Public Integrity found that from 2002 through 2007 at least 1,600 pet deaths from pyrethroid spot-on treatments were reported to the EPA, nearly double the number of reported fatalities linked to flea and tick products without pyrethroids.

Then there are flea collars called Seresto. One vet, using an FOI (Freedom of Information) request found that over just 18mths, from January 2016 to July 2017, there was a staggering 14,159 incidents reported to the US Environmental Protection Agency. These cases involved both humans and dogs. This included:

  • 300 animal fatalities
  • 980 major animal reactions
  • 3115 moderate animal reactions
  • 8515 minor animal reactions
  • 1118 moderate, minor and unknown severity animal reactions

So Toxic They are Poisoning Life in our River, Lakes and Oceans…

These chemical treatments are so toxic that papers are now reporting that rivers and lakes are being decimated by dogs with spot-on treatments swimming in them. Researchers have found that significantly high levels of the flea chemical imidacloprid, something rarely used by farmers these days, in rivers and streams in the remote Scottish Cairngorms mountains, the Ouse in Bedfordshire and Lincolnshire’s River Ancholme. They have asked dog owners to stop letting their pets use the water.

Matt Shardlow, the chief executive of Buglife, said: “We are devastated to discover that many British Rivers have been heavily damaged by neonicotinoid insecticides. It is vital that action is taken to completely ban these three toxins”

The Telegraph, January 2018

Fipronil, the active ingredient in many chemical flea and tick treatments such as Frontline, is suspected of killing insect life in San Francisco bay, a result, the researcher suggest, of pet owners simply washing their hands after use:

Scientists sampled wastewater coming from neighbourhoods into eight sewage treatment plants around San Francisco Bay, from San Jose and Palo Alto to Oakland, Martinez and Fairfield. They also took samples of the wastewater after it had been treated and was flowing out to the bay.

In every case, they found levels of Fipronil in treated wastewater at concentrations between 14 and 49 parts per trillion — all above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “aquatic life benchmark,” of 11 parts per trillion for Fipronil.

Mercury News

Sooo, are humans Safe from chemical flea treatments?!

I think it has been clearly established that these chemicals harm dogs but little time is given to their human handlers. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) works to protect wildlife and to ensure a healthy environment for all life. It is America’s most effective environmental action group, combining the grassroots power of 1.3 million members and online activists with the courtroom clout and expertise of more than 350 lawyers, scientists and other professionals. The New York Times calls us “One of the nation’s most powerful environmental groups”. They have an excellent article that ranks flea control by name and risk level to humans from a poison perspective. They base their findings on findings of the likes of The National Pesticide Telecommunications Network (NPTN), Pesticide Action Network and the Veterinary Human Toxicology Journal, so it’s pretty reliable info.

When you go through their list it’s very hard to pick a chemical that you would put on the mother in law but let’s take Advantage as an example as one of the safest out there. The active ingredient in your Advantage is the easy-to-say imidacloprid. The NRDC states that it:

…disrupts the nervous system of sucking insects and may be toxic to the human nervous system as well

Not a great start. The manufacturers go on to note:

Advantage flea control and other imidacloprid-containing products should never be stored close to food or water sources that are intended for human consumption. This is to prevent leaked product from accidentally being consumed

Sounds ominous. The manufacturers advises washing the product off thoroughly with soap and water should it make contact with your skin.

So, despite many vets reassuring us that these chemicals are “perfectly safe” and only harm the insects they are targetted at, there is clearly is some concern on behalf of the manufacturer for the safety pet owners.

Advantage has a twin brother, Advantix. On the Advantix insert it clearly states in bold;

Hazardous to Humans

Harmful if swallowed. Harmful if absorbed through the skin. Avoid contact with skin. Wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling and before eating.

I’m assuming they wouldn’t say this willy-nilly as it’s not great PR.

So now consider this – after being dosed, your dog at some stage will rejoin the family unit where your kids will naturally pat their head and neck, and then bite their fingernails. Are you and your kids to wash your hands thoroughly after petting the dog every single time?!

A study published in Toxicology Mechanisms and Methods in 2005 looked at the “human exposure to imidacloprid from dogs treated with Advantage”. It found that transferable residues were present on the fur 4-5 weeks post-dosing. They state:

whether this low-level chronic exposure will pose a health risk to pet owners and other animal handlers (e.g. vets) remains to be seen

Soooo, good luck with that.

Are the ones sold by vets any better / safer than the ones in supermarkets?

There is nothing differentiating the chemical parasite control sold in your pound shop or the most expensive veterinary hospital you can find. There is no legal requirement or “extra level” of control for where chemical parasite control is sold. The only difference is marketing. So no, from a safety point of few, there is absolutely no difference bar perhaps your vet would ideally be keeping an eye on negative reactions whereas the pound shop might not, not that this has stopped the likes of Bravecto, possibly one of the worst, being recommended almost exclusively by our vets today.

Why are you dosing your pet with potentially lethal chemicals for a problem they DO NOT HAVE?!

Let’s use the human analogy of head lice. Your child has an approximate 1 in 10 chance of getting head lice in Irish and UK schools. Itchy, unsightly and potentially embarrassing head lice. Annoying but not life-threatening to any degree whatsoever. So, can you name the chemical we use to prevent this terrible infliction?! That’s right, there’s isn’t one of mention. If you see nits (baby lice / eggs) in their scalp you vomit in your mouth and reach for your solution of choice (lots of natural remedies for head lice here, just in case!).

Now imagine, instead of treating the little monster when you see it, a chemical producer brings out a head-lice killing insecticide that all kids, those with nits and the majority who do not, are recommended by your doctor to chew every 3 months and after 3 years of sales 1 in 10 are found to suffer an adverse reaction and one thousand European children are dead.

A robust immune system keeps fleas at bay…

The truth is a healthy dog is unlikely to pick up fleas, a strong immune system keeps them at bay. They want to live on a healthy dog as much as you want to live beside a power station. It is when this forcefield is down that the baddies get in. This is the way of things, killing off the sick, reducing the number or walking dead about the place and ultimately leaving the host population stronger as a result. Hence fleas love old, diseased, weakened (pups) and dying animal.

I heard an interesting story from a vet nurse friend of mine who rescued a now famous Great Dane from a pound. Riddled with demodectic mange and clearly a very, very ill old girl, she took the dog and just stuck her in with her bunch of 7 dogs. She moved the dog on to a fresh meat diet and followed a flea routine that you’re about to read about below. The dog was right as rain in weeks, bounding around, the picture of health and free of mange. More to the point not one other dog in her fresh fed and chemical free pack / group (I prefer pack, sue me!) “succumbed” to mange. I was actually startled with this display of utter confidence in the power of a robust immune system. As she informed me, the parasite, called Demodex, is ubiquitous. It is present on virtually every dog. There’s a reason mange brings forth the image of an emaciated, weak looking stray or highly stressed kennel dog. These dogs are no longer able to control Demodex, and it gladly runs amok.

It’s the same with fleas. This is why, when a dog presents with a flea infestation, a more natural-minded vet will wonder “what’s wrong with this dog under the hood that he has all the fleas?”. In a way, there are a symptom.

We have 20k followers on Facebook now. Few if any of us using chemical flea treatments. And still no fleas?! Maybe the odd case here or there, but very rare and always treated very easily with the steps below.

How best to prevent fleas on dogs…

As the main underlying issue is probably a low immune system first consider all the things that could be causing that. These are:

Add in some immune boosting echinacea, some raw garlic (1/2 of a crushed clove per 20kg of body weight, more on feeding garlic to dogs here), maybe a drop of cod liver oil or some good quality kelp. A dirty mouth will deplete the immune system. Clean up those teeth with some nice raw meaty bones.

And remember, feeding your dog a nice, healthy, fresh diet that fuels his immune system is probably the best protection from fleas he can get.

We have fleas!!! What do we do?!

photo of a blue dog flea comb

Step 1: Check Dog for Fleas

Controlling fleas in dogs is easy. Get a flea comb and every so often groom near the lower back or base of the tail, then check for fleas or flea debris (digested blood which looks like black specks). To determine if it is flea debris, put the black speck on white paper and drop some water on to it. If it is flea debris it will turn red/brown. If it is flea debris then continue on to Step 2!

a close up of fleas on a dogs coat

Step 2: If you Detect Fleas, Get Diatomaceous Earth (or D.E. for short) and Wash Bedding

DE is the crushed up remains of millions of tiny sea creatures called diatoms. Their little bodies are pulverised into something akin to talc. It works in a completely physical/mechanical manner. The tiny diatom fragments scratch the surface of the flea, be it an adult or an egg, and draws the water out of its body, desiccating it. This means they can’t build up a resistance to it. Better still it is not chemical and has zero chemical toxicity nor smell, so it’s safe for you and your pet. This means you can treat them, their bedding, the carpet and floor and anywhere else in the home. Plants can even be treated with it to kill aphids.

natural tick repellant for dogs
Natural flea & tick repellant by legendary vet Dr Nick Thompson

Step 3: Maybe Try a Homemade Flea Prevention Bath!

Bathing a dog kills the majority of fleas. No need for fancy soaps or shampoos as they can destroy coat condition. Fleas and midges hate citronella or d-limonene (citrus derived), that’s why they are used during camping trips. Luckily it is easy to make:

How to Make a Natural De-Flea Bath

  • Chop up orange or grapefruit skins and simmer them for 15 mins.
  • Choose an oil to add to it. Either neem, eucalyptus, rosemary or lavender oil. These can be bought in the local health store
  • Add a drop of the oil into the mixture in the warm water.

Once the preparation is prepared simply add it to the bath and then bathe the dog in it. Begin at the head (avoid the eyes), under the chin, top of the head, behind the ears etc. Once the dog starts getting a soaking the fleas may head for higher ground, by starting at the top it will stop them going here for safety. After applying the shampoo, leave it on for 15 minutes before rinsing it off.

Other tips for fleas in dogs…

Set up a flea trap near the dogs bed to weed out any remainders. To do this, get a plate of warm soapy water and a night light or table lamp. Point the light directly at the water, making it warm. Fleas love heat and will hop out under the light. Repeat each night until the flea problem has been taken care of.

flea trap for dogs

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