The proper use of ectoparasiticides in domestic animals

External parasites can cause serious illnesses in animals, or even lead to diseases that are transmissible to humans. To control and/or prevent these diseases, a range of veterinary medicinal products are available.

Ectoparasiticides (designed to kill parasites that live on the exterior of a host) treat and/or prevent animal infestations by certain insects and mites (fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, sandflies or even biting flies). In the same way as for all veterinary drugs, marketing authorisations require an assessment of the data relating to their quality, safety and efficacy, confirming that the benefits of use outweigh the risks incurred by the animal receiving the treatment, as well as by the person administering the drug or the people in contact with the treated animal.

Use appropriate antiparasitics to treat your pet

Marketing authorisations for veterinary medicinal products are issued for a given animal species. So it is important that each veterinary medicinal product be administered only to the species for which it is intended. Permethrin-based ectoparasiticides, for example, are intended for dogs. They can cause serious effects in cats, including neurological disorders (tremors, convulsions, ataxia, agitation, coma) sometimes associated with digestive signs, which can be fatal, owing to the inability of cats to eliminate the compound from their bodies. With some concentrated formulations such as pipette products, just a few drops placed on the skin or licked up may be sufficient to induce serious effects in the most sensitive cats. Similarly, rabbit owners should not treat their pets with veterinary products for dogs or cats containing fipronil. This compound is toxic to rabbits and can cause serious or even fatal effects.

Any side effects concerning animals must be reported through the national veterinary pharmacovigilance scheme.

Antiparasitics for animals must not be used to treat head lice in children

Veterinary products authorised for use as antiparasitics, insecticides or acaricides are intended for pets and must never be used for treating head lice in children. In the event of lice infestation, we recommend that you use the appropriate treatment based on the child's age, and that you seek advice from a healthcare professional (pharmacist, doctor).

Marketing authorisation procedure

The risk to humans is assessed as part of the marketing authorisation procedure for veterinary medicinal products. Any precautions to be taken by the user or any recommendations concerning people in proximity with the animal are described in the summary of product characteristics (SPC) of each medicinal product and are also included in the instructions. This assessment places particular emphasis on case where the animal may come into close contact with children.

Precautions to be taken to avoid adverse effects in humans

Adverse effects in humans can occur through contact with treated animals, or through direct contact with a medicinal product during administration to the animal. They can also occur as a result of incorrect handling or use, or accidental ingestion. To prevent this type of effect, it is essential to ensure strict compliance with the conditions of use set out in the instructions provided with each product:

  • wash hands after use;
  • carefully rinse your skin or eyes with water in the event of accidental exposure or splashes;
  • do not smoke, drink or eat during application;
  • do not handle treated animals or allow children to play with them until the site of application is dry or for the period of time specified in the instructions, where applicable.

It is preferable to treat animals in the early evening and not to let animals that have just been treated sleep with their owners, particularly children.

Monitoring adverse effects

In France, all reports of adverse reactions following the use of veterinary medicinal products are recorded by ANSES for continuous monitoring. As a result of this monitoring, the marketing authorisation of the product may be reviewed or new precautions for use added, particularly for users. Authorisation may even be suspended or withdrawn if the risks are considered to outweigh the benefits.

In most cases, the symptoms observed in humans following the use of ectoparasiticides are transient and relatively benign: mainly skin, eye and/or respiratory irritations. In the same way as for any other medical product, it is essential to read the instructions before using the product. The instructions describe the main precautions for use and give advice on what to do in the event of an adverse reaction.
In the absence of emergency, any adverse reactions occurring in humans following the use of a veterinary drug can be reported through the Ministry of Health’s portal for reporting adverse health effects. In the event of poisoning, we recommend calling your local poison control centre and/or consulting a doctor depending on the information given in the instructions.