Is it true that flea collars are toxic?
July 10, 2012 3:29 PM   Subscribe

How do flea collars work? Are they helpful or harmful? Our cat never had fleas, but we put a flea collar on him preventively because he's an outside cat. Now it looks like he's scratching himself really often, which we have never seen him do before. Should we take the collar off? How do flea collars work anyway?

Any advice warmly welcomed.
posted by ruelle to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've heard this is a bad year for fleas, but my understanding is that flea collars are pretty much always a low-level poison. Have never had outdoor cats, so never faced this, but if he only started scratching *after* the collar, he could well be sensitive to the chemicals it gives off. At minimum, try a different brand.

(I am not a vet!)
posted by acm at 3:34 PM on July 10, 2012

I think flea collars are pretty primitive technology compared to back-of-the-neck and pill-based flea prophylaxis (some of which also control worms, another likely problem for an outdoor cat). I am told that heartworms are now an issue for cats, which is another reason to go pill-based.

Flea collars are impregnated with pesticide, yes. This is also true of the back-of-the-neck liquid. The pills work systemically, but like any drug can also be toxic.

I don't know if I've heard a vet recommend collars in a decade or more.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:39 PM on July 10, 2012

IANAV, but I have always been told not to use flea collars on my pets. From what I understand if the collar is in contact with their skin not only can it cause on site irritation, but that poison (which is pretty much what it is) can absorb into their skin and cause potential internal health issues as well. There are plenty of horror stories online of cats or dogs having problems with organ functions because of poisoning from flea collars.

I would recommend talking to your vet about using Frontline or something similar if it is a problem. Its more expensive, but its better for them.
posted by Quincy at 3:41 PM on July 10, 2012

the pesticides in some flea collars have been shown to cause neurological problems in pets, plus they have lower efficacy than Frontline or Advantage. you can read about the toxins in various kinds of flea/tick solutions here:
posted by hollisimo at 3:43 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

A few minutes with a cat comb will reveal "flea dirt" (i.e., shit) and maybe some live fleas if your cat has a major flea problem. If there are only a few fleas, you won't find them.

I've had indoor/outdoor cats for years and only two suffered flea outbreaks. When it happens, bust out the Frontline. Preemptive pesticide seems like overkill.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 3:46 PM on July 10, 2012

Flea collars are awful, ineffective and potentially harmful. Use a proper high-quality preventive like Frontline Plus or Advantage (Frontline in particular does not go systemic, so there is no reason not to use it, it's safe even for very young and pregnant or nursing animals). It's better to prevent a flea problem than try to treat one, usually by the time you notice fleas, you've got an infestation, and this is going to be a great year for external parasites (a bad year for dogs and cats).
posted by biscotti at 3:49 PM on July 10, 2012 [8 favorites]

Ditch the collar, use Frontline or Advantage. My cats are indoor cats, but I have a dog who goes outside (for walks and in the backyard). She gets dosed with Frontline during the summer months and have never had a flea outbreak.
posted by deborah at 4:08 PM on July 10, 2012

Frontline is definitely preferable these days, and was even recommended years ago when my family had outdoor cats. However, unfortunately Frontline doesn't repel ticks and our cats got deer and dog ticks all. the. time. So we eventually went back to the collars because they seemed better than having to rip ticks out of their skin several times a day. But they are fairly nasty stuff.

Neither of our cats were bothered by them though, aside from not seeming to like the whole concept of wearing a collar in general. If your cat seems bothered I'd ditch it and just go with a regular identification collar (make sure it's a breakaway model though! and get a microchip!).
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:31 PM on July 10, 2012

The collar made a huge difference in the number of ticks our cat gets. From pulling one off of her every day to none at all for years now. In our case the tick-borne illnesses are a more pressing danger than the pesticides in the collars, especially as our cat didn't have any real reaction (aside from "noooo collar noooooo").

(P.S. Where are the pictures?)
posted by anaelith at 5:04 PM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Frontline Plus kills ticks. If you must use a collar, use Preventic, not BioSpot or Hartz or one of those ancient old-school dangerous brands.
posted by biscotti at 5:42 PM on July 10, 2012

Flea collars contain permethrin, which is *extremely* toxic to cats. Unless your cat is being besieged by fleas that prescription treatments (topical or oral) from your vet aren't managing, I'd steer clear.

We have a cat who is sensitive to topical flea treatments, and who is also an indoor-outdoor cat because of indoor-allergies. A few times a year, we work food-grade diatomaceous earth into his coat (making sure we/he don't breathe in the dust during the process) and that takes care of any fleas that are hanging on. Incidentally, it also works great in the house; you can sprinkle it on the underside of couch cushions and work it into rugs. It's basically tiny, sharp pieces of silica-rich earth -- fleas and their eggs are shredded by it and subsequently dehydrated-to-death as they crawl through.
posted by muirne81 at 6:22 PM on July 10, 2012

Quincy notes that they can cause issues. One of mine had a reaction to her (admittedly cheap Exelpet) flea collar and it irritated her skin, and then somehow fused to it (I suspect from blood and/or mucus.

It was very distressing. I raced her off to the vet who said it was not an unknown reaction in the cheaper flea collars. The hair has never grown back.

Of course, I have a friend who has used them for years without issues.

Frontline does seem to be the go at my vet.
posted by Mezentian at 7:29 PM on July 10, 2012

Talk with your vet. When I discussed my cat being indoor/outdoor with my vet, Revolution was recommended. A simple monthly application is all it takes.
posted by exphysicist345 at 9:49 PM on July 10, 2012

We use Revolution - prevents fleas, ticks, heartworm (yes, cats can get it) and is better for cats. Aside from toxicity issue with collars our vets says they work great as a place for the fleas to hide!
posted by leslies at 4:47 AM on July 11, 2012

Flea collars are not recommended anymore. Get a topical or oral anti-flea med.
posted by radioamy at 9:19 AM on July 11, 2012

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