Amber has a German Shepherd companion and enjoys sharing information with other pet parents.
Ticks are the spawn of Satan, seriously. They are disgusting, disease-infested, creepy-crawly parasites that are nearly impossible to kill. Of course, you could crush them with enough force, drown them in isopropyl alcohol, or suffocate them in a wad of tape, but no matter which way you go about it, these nasty little arachnids will not go down easy.
Ticks are far too easy to pick up, and most of the time, you won't even notice. If you've got a dog, especially ones with dark or long fur, it's next to impossible to spot a tick on them. The best prevention is avoiding areas infested with ticks, like woods and fields. However, avoiding tick-infested areas may not always be possible, or you may enjoy taking your dog for a hike through the forest.
So when tick-infested areas cannot be avoided, any good, responsible pet owner does the next best thing: treat their pet with a preventative tick medicine. Even if ticks aren't a problem, most responsible pet owners use a preventative flea medicine, as fleas are also nasty disease-infested parasites that cause their own host of problems.
As such, there are a lot of different products on the market for flea and tick prevention. Each comes with its own side effects and with varying degrees of success. For the first four years of my dog's now six years, I used the same topical flea and tick preventative and never had a problem with ticks or fleas.
Two years ago, however, tick season came with a vengeance, and the topical solution did little to nothing to prevent ticks. It may have killed the ticks after they bit him, I don't know. That's not really helpful, though, when my dog was bringing ticks into the house on a near-daily basis despite the medication. Ticks plus my house equals a big, fat NO!
Desperate for a solution, I talked to my vet, and she recommended I try Bravecto. And therein started nearly a year's worth of problems.
What Is Bravecto?
Bravecto is an oral chew that—unlike topical treatments—only has to be re-administered once every 12 weeks. It claims to kill fleas, the black-legged tick, the American dog tick, the brown dog tick for 12 weeks, and lone star ticks for 8 weeks. Merck, the chemical giant, created the medicine, and if you don't know who they are, then you must live under a rock.
The fact sheet that comes with the medicine states the potential side effects include vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, lethargy, refusal to eat, and liver damage. In a study conducted by Merck of 224 dogs, results found that 7.1% of the dogs experienced vomiting, 6.7% experienced decreased appetite, 4.9% experienced diarrhea, and 5.4% experienced lethargy over a 182-day period. If those numbers mean nothing to you, in my opinion, those percentages are quite high.
Merck severely downplays the side effects, and they are so confident in their product that it comes with a satisfaction guarantee. But I am going to tell you what Bravecto could potentially do to your pet, and why you should think twice before trying an oral chew.
Bravecto Side Effects
Before I get into the nitty-gritty details, first a disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian. I am merely describing my encounter with the drug and what it did to my poor dog. Second, I am not saying every dog who takes this drug will have adverse reactions. I am just saying that it's possible, and to be on the lookout for it if you decide to try an oral flea and tick medicine.
With that out of the way, I'll start from the beginning. The problem with Bravecto was not immediately apparent in my dog, Harley. Despite the fact that Harley already had a long history of stomach problems before the Bravecto, Harley (a purebred German Shepherd for those wondering) showed no visible side effects from the first dose.
He didn't vomit, he didn't have diarrhea, he didn't have seizures or lethargy, and he continued to eat his food like normal, which is to say he already ate sporadically and when he felt like it, which was never. So when it came time to re-administer the medicine, I did so without hesitation believing there to be no adverse reactions.
Refusing Food and Vomiting
The problems did not start until weeks after I gave him the first dose. It began with my dog refusing to eat breakfast and then throwing up later in the day. By the next day, he'd start eating again and would be fine. As stated earlier, my dog had a long history of stomach issues. He often refused to eat and often threw up because his stomach was empty, so I didn't think anything of it at first.
Cycling Symptoms and Diarrhea
Then he started to get worse. Once a week every week, he would refuse to eat, throw up, and then get diarrhea, before rebounding the next day. I was worried, but not overly concerned yet. I thought, given time, it would pass.
Aggression and Blood
Then Harley started getting aggressive. In my article "Living and Coping with an Aggressive Dog," I talk about how aggression issues are not unusual for my dog. However, he was getting worse and getting aggressive towards people he'd never had a problem with before. To make matters even worse, (and as if I wasn't worried enough already) blood began to appear in his vomit and diarrhea.
A few months after my dog started getting sick on a weekly basis, and a couple of weeks after the blood appeared, I finally made a vet appointment. Due to my dog's extensive stomach issues in the past, which included bouts of serious diarrhea that lasted for days and a previous incident where he threw up blood, the vet wanted me to bring in my dog for a full checkup.
When I mean a full checkup, I mean the vet ran pretty much every test she could think of. Now before you ask, my vet is very good, and no, she was not trying to scam me. The vet took x-rays of his stomach, did an ultrasound, ran blood work, and sent a sample to a lab for a GI panel to check for pancreas problems, which are common in German Shepherds.
The Test Results Showed Nothing
In the end, the bill came to nearly $800, and I was a nervous wreck. I worried it was cancer or an ulcer or that he had perhaps swallowed something, and it was stuck in his GI tract somewhere. I feared most of all that I might have to put him down.
The result? There was absolutely nothing wrong with my dog. No obstruction, no ulcer, no pancreas problem, and everything in his blood work came back completely normal except for an elevated white blood cell count.
I was absolutely shocked. How could my dog, who was throwing up and pooping out blood every single week, not have anything wrong with him?
Solutions We Tried
Changing His Diet
The vet thought maybe it was his food. We switched him to a very expensive, low-fat, prescription-only food. No effect. Maybe it was something in the creek I took him to play in every week? So I stopped taking him to the creek, but it made no difference.
Treatment for Parasites
Since the problem persisted despite the tests proving there was nothing medically wrong with him, the vet decided to treat him for parasites. My dog had been treated for whipworms in the past, and the vet decided to treat him again for whipworms despite the fact multiple fecal tests came up negative for parasites because whipworms are notoriously hard to detect. In the end, the special prescription food and the whipworm treatment cost another $200.
Obviously, the parasite treatment had no effect whatsoever on my dog, and he kept getting sick week after week. I am ashamed to say that it took me a couple more weeks to figure it out.
Finally Realizing It was the Bravecto
It took me a while to put two and two together, but once I realized that my dog was getting sick on the same day every week, it finally clicked for me. "What if it was the Bravecto," I finally thought, "And the reason he was getting sick on the same day was that the Bravecto was a time-released drug?"
Is Bravecto actually time-released? I don't know, but it got the gears turning in my brain. I began to notice, as it came to the end of the 12 weeks of the most recent dose, that he wasn't as sick as he usually was. I skipped his next dose of Bravecto, and almost miraculously, at this point, my dog did not get sick that week.
As the weeks went on, my dog continued to improve immensely after being taken off of Bravecto. Though he still has the occasional stomach issues, I am very relieved to say he is no longer puking up blood, and there is no longer blood in his diarrhea. There is no doubt that it was the Bravecto that made my dog sick.
Purebreds and Bravecto Do Not Mix!
My dog's experience with Bravecto is not an anomaly, and a quick Google search also shows that adverse reactions to Bravecto are not as rare as Merck would like to make them out to be. While the problem is not limited to purebreds, and any dog can experience adverse side effects from Bravecto, purebreds appear to be more susceptible to adverse reactions.
If you have ever owned a purebred, then you already know they can be very high-maintenance and often come with a whole host of medical issues. For example, along with hip dysplasia, stomach problems are so common in German Shepherds that the Hill's Prescription Dog Food Brand makes a food specifically tailored to the breed.
However, German Shepherds aren't the only purebred at high risk for developing side effects from Bravecto. In talking to my obedience trainer, Collie owners are also actively speaking out against Bravecto for the nasty side effects it can cause in the breed.
Alternatives to Bravecto
In the end, I will obviously never give my dog Bravecto nor any other kind of oral flea and tick prevention medicine. Topical medicines never made my dog sick, but they appear to be useless in preventing ticks. Personally, I have switched to using a Seresto flea and tick collar. Not only have I found it to be effective in preventing fleas and ticks, but it also doesn't make my dog puke up blood every week.
Will your dog get sick from taking Bravecto? If you believe the makers of Bravecto, the chances are low. In defense of the medicine, my vet commonly prescribes it, and so far I am the only one who has noticed side effects and come forward about it. Therefore, Bravecto is most likely safe to give to most dogs.
However, I wanted to write this article because of all the time I spent worrying about my dog and the limited information out there. I ended up giving my dog three doses total, and because neither my vet nor I made the connection immediately, I spent months worrying about my dog, anxious that there was something seriously wrong with him, like cancer or a pancreas problem or an ulcer.
I also spent nearly $1,000 at the vet between tests and treatments that did not work, simply because of this product (though I will admit my dog's previous stomach issues did play a role in that).
This isn't a warning, nor is it a "never give your pet Bravecto ever" PSA. I just wanted to provide information on the side effects so no one has to worry for months on end about their beloved pet as I did for something that can so easily be fixed.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2018 Amber
David loftis on May 08, 2019:
We have a begal 5 years old and took him to vet origanally for a short mild seziure. I was told all dogs are ok for one seziure. Ended up getting bravecto for fleas not knowing that it causes seizures as side effect .Why would a vet prescribe that. Needless to say our dog 6 days after taking the chew had the longest seizure and just about died. Since then no more of that bravecto. And the vets need to tell customers of side effects .
Anip on January 28, 2019:
Bravecto & certain other flea & tick products are dangerous. Have a look at the facebook pages called ”Is Bravecto safe” and “ Does Bravecto kill dogs”. If you thing your dog is OK with Bravecto it may be just a matter of time before the toxins build up & the next dose may be fatal.
JOHANNA on October 07, 2018:
Thank you very much for your article, now I know why my dog has the same reaction. I will stop giving Bravecto strait away to my dog (Great Dane) and hope that she recovers soon. Thanks again.
Amber (author) from Earth on July 17, 2018:
I agree, Dr Mark. My dog is also part of my family, and I also agree that there is a lack of regulation of pet medicine. I did file a complaint with the FDA about Bravecto, but I don't exactly trust the government right now, not with a literal traitor as 'President.'
Nickipgh - My vet strongly recommends Bravecto to her patients, but it made my dog so sick that I can't believe I am the only person who has told my vet that my pet experienced adverse reactions from the medicine.
Mark dos Anjos DVM from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 16, 2018:
It is sad that the big Pharmas like Merial test these things, find adverse reactions, and still pawn them off on an unsuspecting public. Are you familiar with Apoquel, a relatively new medication for itching in dogs? The drug was only tested for one month, and vets are putting the dog o the drug for life since there were few side effects.
Any idea what will happen to a dog when he is taking the drug for the rest of his life? No? No one else does either, but they still think it is okay to market it.
After all, the most we can sue them for is the loss of properrty. My dogs are not property, they are my family.
Nickipgh on July 15, 2018:
This is the second time I’ve heard of a dog getting very sick from taking Bravecto. The first one was not a purebred but her owner said she had almost every side effect listed! Both our trainer and our vet - both of whom I love and respect - recommended Bravecto. Thankfully I heard the first horror story before their recommendations and stayed with the tried and true Seresto collar for our 3-year-old mixed breed rescue. Thank you for confirming I made the right decision!