Advantage is a popular flea killer for household pets. Its active ingredient is imidacloprid, classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a general use pesticide. Advantage kills fleas on contact by disrupting their nervous systems. As with all pesticides, humans should take care to minimize contact to the skin when administering Advantage to their pets.
Pet owners are understandably eager to keep their pets--and household--free of fleas, which can carry health problems and be difficult to eradicate. Consumers can now choose from an array of effective, easy-to-use pet flea-control products that were once available only through veterinarians. Advantage is just one of many products now found in grocery stores, pharmacies and large retailers that kills fleas on contact.
How Advantage Works
Each brand of flea control might use a different active ingredient. In Advantage, this active ingredient is imidacloprid. Imidacloprid interferes with insects' nervous systems, causing a blockage that eventually leads to an over-abundance of a particular neurotransmitter. This causes paralysis and then death. It does not have the same immediate, toxic effect on humans because of differences in the nervous systems. The Extension Toxicology Network states that "imidacloprid is quickly and almost completely absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract, and eliminated via urine and feces" in humans and animals. However, some people have reported side effects from Advantage.
Some pet owners have reported numbness after having contact with Advantage. According to the Extension Toxicology Network, in addition to irritating the skin and eyes, other symptoms can include "fatigue, twitching, cramps and muscle weakness, including the muscles necessary for breathing."
It is not just the active ingredient in Advantage, imidacloprid, that can have toxic effects. All flea-control medications have "active" and "inert" ingredients. The EPA registers the active ingredients, like imidacloprid, after rigorous testing. The same comprehensive testing is not mandated for inert ingredients, and flea-control product makers are not required to list those ingredients individually on labels, even though many are toxic. Undisclosed ingredients could have unknown risks.
Your best protection against any harmful side effects of Advantage is to avoid contact, so always wear gloves when applying. If you do come in contact with Advantage and experience side effects, remember that there is no first aid treatment and you should contact a physician or go to a clinic for medical attention.