KHOU – video included
By Jeremy Desel / 11 News
There is no doubt that many pet owners love to pamper their animals. But could you be putting you pet in peril by trying to help keep them comfortable? For months, 11 News has been looking into a product that is pushed by the largest pet product company in America. It’s a product that may be in your home right now.
Spring is the time of year that fleas and ticks start to pester our pets and people look for ways to protect them. One of the hottest products is also one of the newest. And some say it’s potentially dangerous, even deadly.
Kiser and Stryker are two important feline members of the Hiatt family.
Brian Hiatt likes to think he looks out for his animals and takes good care of them, “They’re very special, they are a part of our lives,” Brian says.
That’s why he decided, two weeks ago, to get them set up for spring with an anti-flea treatment. But not long after he applied the product, Hiatt says Stryker started acting strange.
“It looked like the cat was almost drunk. If it tried to walk, it was really unstable, and then it would just drop and fall, and fall on his side. And all throughout his muscles, through his side, and his back, would just sit there and convulse,” says Brian.
Then Kiser began to exhibit the same symptoms. Hiatt says he was worried for his cats’ lives. He rushed both Stryker and Keiser to Dr. Cindy McCauley’s emergency clinic in Sugar Land
In the animal hospital, they received anti-seizure drugs and were cleaned with dishwashing soap. But even hours later, the cats still exhibited muscle tremors.
Brian says he applied Hartz Advanced Care Plus to both of his cats. Tens of millions doses of the product have been sold nationwide. The active ingredients are Phenothrin and S-Methoprene; they’re both pesticides.
Dr. McCaully’s report shows the Hiatt’s cats had a reaction to flea meds, acute Phenothrin toxicity.
According to vets consulted by 11 News, what happened to Keiser and Stryker is not an isolated incident. Dr. Angela Rose saw enough cats come through her Arkansas office that she started to videotape them.
She taped two-year-old Punkin, who’s owner says she applied Hartz Advanced Care Plus to her pet in July of last year. Hours later, the vet reported extreme muscle tremors, and grand mal seizures. Dr. Rose says the cat suffered a toxic reaction to a topical synthetic pyrethrin.
“If you look at all of the flea and tick products, there is always that very small possibility that they may have an adverse event associated with them,” says Dr. Albert Ahn, Chief Scientific Officer for the Hartz Mountain Corporation.
New Jersey- based Hartz Mountain is the world’s largest manufacturer of pet products and the maker of Advanced Care Plus.
“We have done a whole battery of tests and each time we do we get the same result. That these are safe products,” says Dr. Ahn. “These are effective products.”
But the Environmental Protection Agency reports some of Hartz’s testing is unacceptable.
That’s not the only finding of the EPA’s staff review of the Advanced Care Plus product line for cats in 2001. The report continues to say, “It is recommended that the product be re-evaluated for its safety in cats,” because “a margin of safety has not been established in the studies.”
The EPA reports include 35 cat deaths and 64 life-threatening episodes that may be associated with the product. In addition, the company reported thousands of minor incidents.
The EPA stresses that in many cases it did not have sufficient information for cause of death.
The vast majority of the complaints registered with the EPA about the Advanced Care product actually came from the Hartz Mountain Company itself. Calls came in to its customer service center and were then forwarded to the federal agency.
Dr. Bill Plaff thinks he may know why some cats get sick. For much of his 25-year career at Texas A&M, Plaff studied the family of pesticides used in the Hartz products. He says it’s the mixture of S-Methoprene and Phenothrin that is causing trouble. He compares the reaction to the kind patients would have when taking two different medications together.
Dr. Plaff said, “Often when you take a combination, one drug interferes with the metabolism of the other, so the combination is much more toxic than you would expect it to be alone.”
Dr. Plaff says the mixture of Phenothrin and S-Methoprene increases the toxicity by 10 times. Dr. Ahn from the Hartz says he’s never heard of anything like that.
“The data that we have supports that this is a safe and effective product. The data that we have that we shared with the EPA,” says Dr. Ahn.
Reminded that the EPA found the Hartz testing unacceptable, Dr. Ahn says, “Well, again, as I said, this is a matter of discussion.”
After watching his cats suffer, discussion is not enough for Brian Hiatt. “I’d have to believe they understand what is going on with their product and what the chances are.”
While, the product label meets federal regulations, Hiatt and his vet say pet owners should be warned about these incidents.
“No mention anywhere that this product could cause reactions to the central nervous system or potentially kill your pet,” says Dr. McCaully.
Hiatt says, “There’s no indication of anything that severe even in a small percentage of cases.”
It goes no further than saying that some animals may be sensitive to flea and tick products. According to Dr. Ahn, “That is correct.” But It doesn’t mention that animals may suffer muscle tremors and full body seizures and potentially die. “Well…” says Dr. Ahn, “we are always looking for ways to improve our products.”
Hartz is adamant that the EPA’s findings are simply preliminary and are open to discussion. But 11 News has learned that in addition to the product review, the EPA is also conducting an investigation into the specific Advanced Care Products for cats.
A spokesperson for Hartz told 11 News that they are unaware of any additional EPA investigation and “are confident in the safety and efficacy of our product.”
In the meantime the product is still registered with the EPA and on store shelves.