Flea products are toxic. There’s no way around this. Look at the ingredients on the product that you are using and look it up. Look up reactions and side effects. Many dogs do fine with them but that doesn’t mean that they should be given this product year round and just because they don’t have a reaction or obvious symptoms, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t having subtle symptoms or long term effects.
A couple of years ago, the FDA put out a communication that some of these chemicals are causing neurological events; seizures in dogs. The way these chemicals work is to paralyze the insect. It effects the central nervous system, CNS. It would be likely that it could effect the CNS of dogs, as well, hence neurological events. If the FDA felt it had to put out this communication, then you know it’s happening to more dogs that go unreported because either the guardian or the veterinarian didn’t make the connection or they think the reaction is from something else. I see this all the time. Veterinarians know this is possible yet, for some reason, many don’t connect the dots. Seizures are the obvious reaction to these drugs but the other more subtle reactions are lethargy, vomiting, lack of appetite, itching. They can have just one of these reactions or all of them. Vomiting, unless it’s constant or goes on for a few days, gets chalked up to, oh he must have eaten something and again, don’t make the connection to the drug and the reaction.
Blue, a 6 month old Labrador Retriever, who came to me for Board and Train, for one month. I’ve had him for 2 weeks now and he’s the mellowest Lab puppy, I’ve ever seen. So mellow, that after a few days of normal expected adjustment, I started to think something was wrong with him. He just didn’t seem to have the endurance or stamina or real crazy puppy behaviors, puppies have. He slept a lot and after just a few minutes of exercise, he wanted to rest. I paid close attention and low and behold, I figured it out. We went on a 1 mile hike in the shade in the morning and after about 10 minutes he just sat and wouldn’t move. This is odd behavior for a 6 month old puppy. My 7 yr old dog had more energy and stamina than this adorable little pipsqueak. Still, I allowed the rest periods when he asked for them while continuing to keenly observe him as the days past.
But, let’s start at the beginning of our time together. When I get a new pup in training it’s common for some not to want to eat the first meal or to have loose stools for a day, so this doesn’t concern me. Blues loose stools lasted for several days and by the looks of them and the foul smell, I suspected Giardia and brought a stool sample in and YUP, he had Giardia. An undetected case of Giardia can zap the energy from a puppy, so I chalked his lack of energy to the Giardia and was awaiting him to feel better and act like a normal goofy puppy. Don’t get me wrong, he had the zoomies after swimming and wanted to play with Timber but it never lasted long and afterwards, he just crapped out. His attention span and enthusiasm for learning and appetite for meals and food rewards was great but he still lacked the luster of a typical healthy puppy his age.
Now, it’s two weeks later, yesterday was the day he was to get his Nexguard, per guardians instructions. Even though we’d been hiking in the mornings in 65 degree weather and the same trail, only one mile, I was determined to see if it was the heat or what, was going on for this boy.We headed out to the trail about 30 minutes after breakfast and his chewable Nexguard tablet, at 7 am. It was 49 degrees. I had water and all the time in the world. He got to meet dogs, people and play in the creek before we headed out. He made it past the point we had been turning around and going back down, but in about 10 minutes, he needed to rest. We took our time and made it the mile to the top of this trail, in 90% shade, and a very cool morning. When we got to the top, he had to lay down again.
We stayed for about 20 minutes, me taking in the view and the dogs resting and walking around with me, if I got up. A few people came up while we were there, so he got to meet and greet them and their dogs, if they had one. He was happy but tired. We then descended the trail, in now 53 degrees and within 5 minutes he couldn’t go any more. He lied down in the middle of the trail. I wasn’t worried about heat exhaustion, he’s been off Giardia meds and stools are beautiful but this pup just couldn’t make it back down without resting/sleeping about 6 times on the one mile downhill trail back to the creek. People passed us on the trail and he woke up for some, but didn’t get up, stayed down the entire time anyone passed us. The hike took us 2 1/2 hours and should have taken us 1 hour at a leisurely sniffari pace. I took a short video of his eyes closed, sleeping on the trail to show the vet. It’s always a good idea to take a pic or video of your dogs vomit, stool, behaviors to show your vet, as it can aid in a diagnosis.
I was becoming more and more concerned. As soon as I got to the car, I called his guardian and said, I think we need to do some lab work on this boy. Asked a bunch of questions about his breeding, parents certified for heart issues, how many dogs in the litter, did the owner know of his litter mates having any issues, etc? She said she would ask the breeder all my questions and get back to me. Since I knew he was tired, I parked in the shade and went into my favorite health food store to get a couple of things and when I left, I said, I’ll be right back, as I always do when I leave my dogs. He didn’t wake up. Crashed out in the back seat. He normally sits and watches me leave before he lays down. 10 minutes later, I return to the car. He’s in the exact same position he was in, when I left and when I got in the car, he didn’t get up to greet me as he normally would. He slept through my leaving and coming back. UGH, is this pup slowly dying on me? What’s going on with this poor boy? Get home, open the car door, release him and he just lay there. I walked away from the car and he didn’t come out. I had to literally lift him up and out of the car. He’s 60 lbs at 6 months of age. I mention this now, because in the beginning of our time together, I thought his lack of stamina and endurance might be related to how big he was for his age. Is all his energy going to growing? I was trying hard to learn about this boy from the onset, as I do with all my charges when they come to me.
I got home and he slept for 4 hours straight. I’m completely puzzled and not going to stop being concerned until I have answers. I started to think about what was different in our day that might be causing him to be even more lethargic than normal and bam, it came to me. I gave him Nexguard that morning. I quickly googled reactions and side effects of the drug in Nexguard; afoxolaner. What do you know? Severe reactions are neurological, as in seizures which I knew about already but the more subtle ones are these: excerpt from vin news (The first isoxazoline product, NexGuard, was introduced five years ago.) About 5,400 of the reports cite one or more neurologic signs, such as ataxia, muscle tremors and/or convulsions. Other, more common, side effects cited on product labels include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy and skin reactions. Please read the vin article.
When I came to this realization, I called his guardian and it jogged her memory that she noticed his lethargy about a month ago and the month before that, when they started giving Nexguard. Now it all makes sense. They noticed it but didn’t make the connection. They let it go thinking he’s just a big lazy, mellow puppy.
This is why I don’t give any toxic flea products to my dogs and never have. There are alternatives to mitigating fleas and ticks and I’ll continue with my protocol. This will be another blog but for now, I want to warn anyone using these products that they are dangerous, even if your dog doesn’t have symptoms. They are designed to kill fleas and ticks by it’s effect on the CNS. Why would we want to take the chance with our dogs? I’m still going to take Blue to the vet for a complete blood panel because, his frequency in urination and his voracious need for water could indicate something going on with his kidneys which could be genetic or a reaction to this drug. Checking his liver enzymes is also something I want to have checked if his body didn’t tolerate this drug, his liver might be effected. Getting a baseline blood panel will help with a diagnosis and for treatment with other drugs if needed in the future. Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do because it’s in his system and we just have to wait it out, and not give this drug to him every again. I will ask the vet how long before it’s out of his system or could this be permanent damage? If it’s temporary and he’s off the drug, I’m hopeful that he’ll regain the energy he needs to be a healthy and thriving puppy for the rest of his puppyhood.
In the end, when we notice something’s not right, we need to become better observers if we want to help our dogs live the best lives they possible can. Any time you’re prescribed a drug for treatment for your dog, look up the drug. The name of the drug is not the name of the product. It’s what’s in the product, the ingredient drug. Look up side effects and reactions to that particular drug. Also, the studies done on most Flea and Tick control are done by the makers and we all know that this is a biased study. The studies are done on rats, then on dogs, and not a large selection of dogs and not for any length of time. So, in the end, why are our dogs getting sicker than ever before? We might ask ourselves if all the medications and toxic products we are giving them, are causing them to be sick. They are depending on us making wise choices for them. They have no control over their health, but we do.
I’ll keep you posted on his blood work.
About the author: Jill Breitner, is a professional dog trainer, award winning author, writing articles for Dogster, The Whole Dog Journal, Animal Wellness and her own blog. She is also a dog body language expert, loving and living her life on the west coast of the USA. She is the author of Dog Decoder, a smartphone app about dog body language recommended and used by veterinarians, shelters, trainers, educators and guardians worldwide. It’s available in iTunes and Google play. Jill, is Fear Free Certified and has been teaching gentle handling/basic husbandry skills to clients dogs for 40 years. She helps you to be your pets advocate for a happier and stress free life. She also does online dog training, worldwide. Join Jill on her Dog Decoder Facebook page