Class-action lawsuit filed against producer of Seresto flea and tick collars

Two pet owners who claim their dogs either died or developed problems after using Seresto flea and tick collars filed a class-action lawsuit this week against Elanco Animal Health, alleging it misrepresented the safety of its product.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court of California in Los Angeles, comes just days after a congressional subcommittee asked Elanco to voluntarily recall the flea and tick collars in the wake of reporting by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting and USA TODAY on thousands of incident reports about pet and human harm linked to the collar. The lawsuit cites the news outlets’ reporting. Elanco declined to voluntarily recall the product.

The lawsuit is likely the first of “dozens,” said Spencer Sheehan, a New York-based consumer liability attorney with a history of filing class-action suits. He is part of the legal team representing the plaintiffs in this case and said he expects other law firms to file similar cases across the country.

Colleen Dekker, a spokeswoman for Elanco, said the company does not comment on pending litigation. In a previous interview, she said Elanco has investigated reports of incidents and deaths in which the pet collar was present and “there’s nothing that suggests it’s the active ingredients in the collar that’s at fault.”

Seresto has two active pesticide ingredients: imidacloprid and flumethrin. 

The two plaintiffs blame their dogs’ issues on Seresto.

Faye Hemsley of Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, claims in a federal lawsuit that her 13-year-old terrier mix named Tigger Shadow died in February 2020 after wearing a Seresto flea and tick collar. (Photo: U.S. District Court of California in Los Angeles)

Faye Hemsley of Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, claims in the suit that she purchased a Seresto pet collar in January 2020 for her 13-year-old terrier mix named Tigger Shadow. Tigger was fine at an annual veterinary check-up on Feb. 19 but suddenly died five days later in Hemsley’s son’s arms, the suit claims.

The other plaintiff, Aitana Vargas of Los Angeles, first purchased a Seresto collar for her 10-year-old Siberian Husky named Lolita in March 2020 and the second one in November 2020, the lawsuit claims. Two months later, Vargas noticed a lump on the dog’s neck near the site of the pet collar that was later diagnosed as cancer and removed during an emergency surgery in January this year.

“Had Plaintiffs known the Seresto collar Products would cause, or increase the likelihood of causing, serious injury and/or death, they would not have purchased them,” according to the lawsuit. 

Aitana Vargas of Los Angeles claims in a federal lawsuit that her 10-year-old Siberian Husky named Lolita developed a cancerous lump on the neck after wearing a Seresto flea and tick collar. (Photo: U.S. District Court of California in Los Angeles)

Since the collar was sold beginning in 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has received more than 75,000 incident reports about pet and human harm linked to use of the collar. These incident reports include at least 1,698 pet deaths and 907 humans harmed. 

The EPA is in charge of regulating products that contain pesticides. The agency has known about these incidents for years but has not informed the public of the potential risks associated with this product, said Karen McCormack, a retired EPA employee who worked as both a scientist and communications officer. 

McCormack said the collars have the most incidents of any pesticide pet product she’s ever seen.

The reporting by the Midwest Center and USA TODAY prompted congressional action. On March 17, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Illinois), chairman of the subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, sent letters to Elanco, asking the company to recall the product and issue full refunds to customers, and Bayer, asking the company to release information about the toxicity of the product. 

Seresto collars were developed by German pharmaceutical giant Bayer, but the company sold its Animal Health division, which includes the Seresto collar, to Elanco for $7.5 billion in 2020. In 2019, Bayer reported annual revenues of more than $300 million on sales of the collar. 

Dekker, the Elanc spokeswoman, said in a recent interview that the incident reports are “raw data” that need to be further investigated. 

Dekker said Elanco has investigated all 1,698 death incident reports and found no link in those deaths to the active ingredients in the pesticides. Each report came back as either “unlikely” or “unclassified,” Dekker said. She said the company either conducts these investigations internally or hires out a group to investigate the death. 

“There’s nothing that suggests it’s the active ingredients in the collar that’s at fault,” Dekker said.

Dekker said the company has sold more than 25 million collars and has an incident report of .3%, meaning that about 1-in-300 pets have an adverse effect. Dekker said the vast majority of adverse effects are dermal issues, such as irritation, redness or hair loss.

The lawsuit alleges that Elanco “misrepresented the Product through affirmative statements, half-truths, and omissions regarding the safety of the Product.” Because of that, the company was able to sell the product for more than what it would have otherwise.

This story is a collaboration between USA TODAY and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. The center is an independent, nonprofit newsroom covering agribusiness, Big Ag and related issues. USA TODAY is funding a fellowship at the center for expanded coverage of agribusiness and its impact on communities.

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