The Norman Transcript

August 22, 2013

Pets can have adverse reactions to flea/tick drugs

The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Dear Dr. Fox: A few years ago, we got two Pomeranians. In May, seeing a proliferation of fleas and ticks, I let my guard down and went with my vet’s recommendation of Vectra. We applied it to our small Pom in the recommended dose and forgot about it.

Within three weeks, my healthy 3-year-old dog was dying; her immune system shut down, and she was no longer producing red blood cells or platelets. Our vet asked if she had access to rat poison.

More than $10,000 later — after transfusions, bone marrow and other tests, two weeks in the veterinary hospital and many drugs — she survived and came home. She has sort of recovered but is now sentenced to a lifetime of cyclosporine — her immune system is shot, and she’ll never be the same.

I welcome your thoughts and sincerely hope you don’t condone putting what is well understood to be horrible poisons onto an animal’s skin.

— B.G., Toms River, N.J.

Dear B.G.: I trust that you and the attending veterinarian have sent in a report to the company and also to the Food and Drug Administration. You can also report it at this website,


As you may know from my newspaper column, I am fundamentally opposed to the use of these kinds of anti-flea and tick drugs. I receive many letters concerning adverse reactions in dogs and cats.

Even though Vectra is supposedly one of the safer of these insecticidal drugs, I advise against their use except as a last resort when all nondrug flea control and eradication steps fail. For details on such procedures, see my article on my website.

Check any of the topical flea-killing products on the Internet for adverse reactions in dogs and cats. They can range from scratching, panting and vomiting to seizures and death. If your dog was also vaccinated around the time she was treated with Vectra, an adverse reaction to the vaccination (called vaccinosis) cannot be ruled out.

Dear Dr. Fox: I know you enjoy hearing stories about humans and beloved pets in the afterlife, so I wanted to share a story about my husband and his beloved cat, Rita.

A few months ago, Rita was nearly 20 years old, and my husband took her in to be put to sleep due to her ailing health. My husband and Rita were great buddies and always hung out together around the house — watching TV together, watching birds, etc.

My husband recently went to the hospital for what was supposed to be a simple procedure, but he had complications and ended up staying for weeks. His doctor decided to perform a relatively simple procedure to determine what was causing all the complications.

A couple of days before surgery, my husband said that he didn’t want me to think he was crazy, but in the evening, Rita had come by to see him. He was not on any pain medication that would have caused hallucinations. He said that she had strolled close by his chair so he could pet her on the way and that she sat up in the hospital window and they’d watched for birds.

Then Rita curled up on his bed. I told him that I totally believed in animals reaching us from beyond and that Rita was just trying to lift his spirits. My husband, however, was worried that her appearance was an omen and that he wouldn’t make it through the procedure. If that were the case, he was thankful that he’d had such a wonderful life.

Much to our surprise and sadness, my husband did not survive the “simple” procedure. Evidently Rita was the omen he thought she was. As much as I miss my husband, I am comforted knowing that Rita escorted him to the other side and they’re both up there in a better place and out of their physical pain.

— C.D., North Beach, Md.

Dear C.D.: I am sure that many readers will appreciate your extraordinary account of a beloved, deceased cat manifesting as an omen, yet giving some sense of an afterlife to your hospitalized husband.

Hospital psychosis is a not-uncommon hallucinatory malady, especially in elderly patients. But it seems as though your husband was in no way psychotically disoriented.

Some readers may complain that this is not the domain of “Animal Doctor” issues and that I should focus solely on animal health and behavioral topics. But spiritual and metaphysical realms are part of the human/nonhuman bond, and it is love, empathy and compassion (as between Rita and your husband) that cement the cornerstone of animal and human health and well-being.

Send all mail to or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. Visit Dr. Fox’s website at