Flea & Tick Collar Exposure

As a pet owner, you may ask “How can I best protect my beloved Fluffy from fleas and ticks?”  The answer is simple – you start from scratch. Fleas and ticks are active throughout the year in the U.S., however many types of fleas and ticks will be more active during the warmer months of the year.

There are different options for flea and tick prevention including topical products applied to the skin, chews given by mouth, and collars that are worn year-round. Your lifestyle may help you decide which product fits your dog or cat’s needs as these products are used or administered either monthly or every few months. For some owners, it may be the most convenient to pick a flea and tick collar that provides several months of protection. What cat doesn’t like to wear some new bling?

However, there may be certain animals that a collar for prevention is not ideal. For example, if you have a new puppy, Sherlock, who enjoys investigating everything he sees by putting it in his mouth, a collar may not be the right fit for him.  Several flea and tick collars contain toxins that affect the neurologic system of insects, such as pyrethrins or pyrethroids, or insecticides such as imidacloprid which are all aimed at killing those pesty bugs. These ingredients found in flea and tick collars generally have a very wide margin of safety in mammals and the concentration in collars rarely cause negative effects in pets.  However, if they are chewed or ingested, clinical signs may develop.

If a pet is more sensitive to the ingredients in a flea/tick collar, mild skin irritation may be seen.  If your pet ingests a flea and tick collar, the most common clinical signs are vomiting and possible decreased activity.  In animals swallowing large pieces of the collar or with those that are more sensitive to the ingredients, difficulty walking, tremors and seizures may occur depending on the active ingredients.  Clinical signs of poisoning may be seen within 30 minutes – 3 hours after the ingestion in animals that swallowed large pieces of the collar. In some cases, clinical signs may be delayed up to 12-24 hours.). It is also important to be cautious while using flea and tick collars in debilitated, geriatric, pregnant or lactating animals as they may be at a higher risk of poisoning from these products.

Now you are probably asking yourself, “What can I do at home if I caught my pet eating their flea and tick collar?” or “Oh no, Sherlock did swallow a few small pieces of the collar, what do I do?” When small pieces of the collar are ingested, these exposures are generally non-life-threatening. At home, you may feed your pet a snack, offer fresh water, or offer something tasty such as canned chicken to help dilute the product as mild, self-limiting stomach upset may occur. It is also crucial for you to monitor your pet at home and take your animal to a veterinarian if any neurological or gastrointestinal signs develop (as noted above).

It is a different story if your pet eats a large amount of the collar, or the entire collar. If this is the case, bring your animal to a veterinarian as soon as possible as they may start to show neurologic signs soon. The veterinarian may monitor your pet for a minimum of 48 – 72 hours for any elevation in body temperature as well as central nervous system changes such as difficulty walking, seizures and tremors. To treat these signs, your veterinarian may bathe your pet, provide intravenous fluids and medications to stop the seizures or tremors. The veterinarian also may need to take x-rays to determine where in the gastrointestinal tract the collar is to determine if the collar pieces should be removed.  It is important for the veterinarian to assess if the collar is at risk of causing an obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract.

If you have any other questions, please contact your veterinarian or the veterinary professionals at Pet Poison Helpline®.


Written by:

Jessica Hall, DVM student extern, Midwestern University Class of 2022

Shannon Boos, CVT, Veterinary Information Specialist