Deadly dog collars: Thousands of complaints filed after reports of injuries, illnesses, deaths

They’re federally approved and still on store shelves. But some dog owners are complaining their dog’s flea collar is actually hurting and in some cases killing them.

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Tammy Shugart is the owner of a chihuahua, named Mr. Jones, and said she watches her dog closely now, because he can’t see.

“He got really sick after I put this collar around him in the fall. He started having problems with his salivary glands, and then problems with his eyes,” Shugart told our sister station WSB-TV in Atlanta.

Shugart said she bought Seresto flea collars at a Georgia Walmart and put them on Mr. Jones and her other dog Benson. Benson later died from cancer, Shugart said.

“It was heartbreaking. When I thought about the collars and I wondered if there was a link between the two,” she said.

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Shugart is one of over 86,000 pet owners who have filed formal complaints with the Environmental Protection Agency after putting Seresto collars on their dogs.

“The whole area was covered with dried, um, puss, Puss!” Mickey Hearn, another pet owner who filed a formal EPA complaint said.

“I was furious that they were, that they just denied it. And not just for me but for the thousands of other people,” Hearn said.

Seresto uses two powerful pesticides that spread through your pet’s hair and into their follicles and glands. But the large number of formal complaints has some scientists worried about the approval process for the dog collars.

“I don’t think the testing for Seresto was adequate. We were getting over 86,000 incidents for Seresto, which is a huge number of incidents,” Karen McCormack, a Georgia-based scientist who used to work for the EPA said.

McCormack said the EPA should have viewed the number of complaints as a red flag, but the EPA didn’t do anything.

“We have policies to ensure any concerns related to their use are investigated and addressed as appropriate. Elanco unequivocally continues to stand behind the safety profile of Seresto,” a spokesperson for Elanco, the company that manufactures the collars said in a statement.

However McCormack said the studies the EPA relies on for approval could be misleading for the approving agency.

“99 percent of the information that EPA uses in their risk assessment comes from industry studies. They conduct the studies, the safety studies for their own pesticide products,” McCormack said.

“Some people said it’s like having the fox guard the chicken coop.”

An EPA spokesperson said the collars were approved after determining “the collars were safe for the treated pet, and that the collars were effective against fleas and ticks.”

The label for the collars include warnings about storage and disposal but no warnings about any safety risks.

Nathan Donley with the Center for Biological Diversity, a non-profit conservation group, filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see the complaints and internal EPA emails.

“It was really shocking. I can’t imagine that agency had so much information in front of it, and yet did absolutely nothing with that information,” Donley said.

Donley filed a petition with the EPA to pull the Seresto collars, a request the EPA said it will make a decision after reviewing public input and evaluating additional information from the manufacturer, Elanco.

But some pet advocates and veterinarians are calling for the collars to be banned, not just for their dangers to pets but also to humans.

“When you put a collar around your pets neck, it’s pretty hard to tell your toddler don’t touch that,” Veterinarian Dr. Judy Morgan said.

“We’ve been seeing instance of young children who sleep with dogs at night, waking up and in some cases having seizures and major rashes on their body,” Morgan said.

But despite the thousands of complaints filed, the collars are still sold in store across the country.

“EPA has approved this it must be safe. Well, that’s not necessarily true,” McCormack said.

“How many of our pets have to die? Before we say, hey, we have enough evidence,” Morgan said.

An Elanco spokesperson said “the rate of incident reports for pets wearing Seresto collars is low and has been decreasing over time.. less than a fifth of 1% reporting rate across-the-board. The data show no established link between the active ingredients in Seresto and pet death.”

But for Shugart, she warned others before they choose to use a similar collar.

“I would tell them to look at Mr. Jones. And I’ll tell him about Benson and my life with him and the cancer and I would tell them to do the research, connect the dots,” she said.

According to veterinarians, there are symptoms to watch out for in your dog including vomiting, diarrhea, muscle tremors, seizures, and even a coma. Scientists and veterinarians do recommend alternatives including natural options like collars with natural oils and some sprays.

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