It is alleged that Hartz flea or tick treatments contained pyrethrin or a synthetic version of the chemical called pyrethroids—substances "known to poison animals," the suit claims. The various actions allege that there were 48,000 adverse reactions from spot-on or squeeze-on products in 2008 alone.
This is not a recent phenomenon, if postings on the blog HartzVictims.org are any indication. The blog features accounts from pet owners dating back to the fall of 2001, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched an investigation into what was reported to be thousands of cases of pet illnesses and deaths following use of Hartz flea and tick drops.
At the time, Austin veterinarian Dr. Christine Duvall was seeing animals die from what she thought was a bad reaction to over-the-counter flea and tick drops. "Over-the-counter flea products have been a serious problem for a couple of years now and I'm surprised at how long it's taken for things to occur, but now there's finally a lawsuit happening," Duvall told "8 Austin," a media outlet in Texas, on November 30, 2001. "The EPA is finally getting involved and hopefully very soon there'll be something done and possibly pull these products off the shelf."
It was in June 2001 that Josh and Elise Janicek of Austin forwarded their first letter of complaint to Hartz Mountain Corporation: "On Thursday, June 21, 2001 my fiancé and I bought a three month supply of [Hartz Advanced Care Brand Flea and Ticks Drops Plus] from a reputable pet supply store. We applied one tube of the product, as directed, to our cat's back at approximately 12:30 am on Friday, June 22, 2001. I awoke at 7 am that same morning to our cat crying, shaking and delusional. We called our veterinarian immediately and were instructed to wash our cat and bring him in as soon as possible. We followed the vet's instructions and brought him in.
"Our pet was sedated and given intravenous medication throughout the day. The cost for this treatment totaled $88. I have researched and documented numerous instances of this exact same occurrence with other people and their cats. Nowhere on the product's box do you give warning of any reactions."
"Adverse reactions reported range from mild effects such as skin irritation to more serious effects such as seizures, and in some cases, death of the pet," the advisory said.
Secaucus-based Hartz Mountain Corp, Summit VetPharm LLC of Rutherford, Morristown-based Bayer Healthcare LLC, Merck & Co. of Whitehouse Station and Sanofi-Aventis Inc. of Bridgewater are named as defendants in suits filed over the last four months. Hartz Mountain Corp and Summit VetPharm LLC are owned by Sumitomo Corporation of America, the New York-based subsidiary of a Japanese trading and investment company.
The products named include Hartz Ultra Guard flea and tick drops and Summit VetPharm's Vectra 3d.