Toxins in flea collars
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Toxins in flea collars

You may want to stop using flea collars to protect your pets from pests. Most collars contain the toxic pesticides propoxur and tetrachlorvinphos (TCVP), which can hinder brain development and even cause cancer. These pesticides pose the biggest threat to babies and children, whose brains and bodies are still developing, but they're also hazardous for adults and, very likely, dogs and cats. "Propoxur and TCVP are both way too dangerous to be on the market," says Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, senior health scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

NRDC has been pleading for the Environmental Protection Agency to ban propoxur and TCVP for nearly a decade. Just this week, NRDC filed a lawsuit against EPA, hoping a judge can force the government agency's hand. Since the EPA has already outlawed or restricted use of most other, similar neurotoxic pesticides, Rotkin-Ellman sees no reason why propoxur and TCVP shouldn't also get the axe.

Flea collars leave a pesticide residue on dogs' and cats' fur, which then gets all over carpet, furniture, and us, when we hug and pet them. These chemicals get absorbed through our skin or go directly into our nose and mouths when we grab food or use our smartphones. Little kids, who play on the floor and stick their hands in their mouths, are especially at risk.

"You don't need to douse your home in toxins in order to control fleas," Rotkin-Ellman says. "Instead, give them regular baths, keep them groomed, keeping areas where they sleep and eat clean. In the event chemicals are needed, find a product that's less toxic, and use as little of it as possible."

To find safer flea control, check out the NRDC's Green Paws product guide. This online tool also ranks more than 125 flea and tick products based on ingredients and assesses each one's safety for people and animals.