I was recently asked for an opinion on the effectiveness of EM® flea and tick collars. I couldn’t be of any help, because I had never heard of them. However, I was interested in the discussion and decided to do some research into what they are and the theory behind them. I’d like to share what I found out after going down that particular rabbit hole.
Initially, I assumed that EM stood for “electro-magnetic”, and that the collars were battery-powered and emitted some sort of low magnetic field that would supposedly discourage insects (fleas) and arachnids (ticks). This assumption turned out to be incorrect. These collars turned out to be a whole new type of pseudoscience.
What is EM®?
EM® stands for Effective Microorganisms. This is a product that was developed in 1982 by Professor Teruo Higa, and consists of various organisms, including yeasts, lactic acid bacteria and phototropic bacteria[i]. It is used as an additive in soil and composting, and aids in fermenting and breaking down organic material, thereby enriching the soil for farming and gardening. This produce is also used in aquaculture and water purification, but the manufacturer has never claimed that it is effective at repelling fleas, ticks or any other insects or arachnids.[ii]
What are EM® flea and tick collars, and how do they work?
According to the internet sites that sell these collars, the collars consist of strings of tube-shaped beads, including ceramic beads in which Effective microorganisms are embedded. In these beads, an EM® product is mixed with the clay or silicon material, formed into tubes, and baked at high temperatures, resulting in a ceramic product. These are marketed as safe, effective and “natural”, with one vendor claiming that the Effective Microorganisms are “the only active ingredient in these collars”[iii]. At this point, I should point out that these beads are baked at high temperatures, up to 1200C[iv], and that yeasts and bacteria are killed at 60C. They cannot possibly be “active ingredients, as any live cultures that survived being mixed with the ceramic materials would be killed during the baking process.
Marketing claims include statements that the beads emit a “bio resonance” at a frequency that is unpleasant to ticks and insects[v]. The majority of marketers also claim that these beads emit Far Infra-Red waves that are said to repel harmful insects.
What is Far Infrared (FIR)?
Infrared (IR) radiation is essentially radiated heat, nothing more. FIR is a subset of the electromagnetic spectrum waveband at the lower end of the IR waveband. Putting it simply, FIR is radiated heat that you can feel on your skin. It is used therapeutically as a heat treatment for certain medical conditions.[vi]
There are certain ceramics that function as FIR emitters, by absorb the heat radiated by animals and other heat sources, and re-radiating it. Nanoparticles of these ceramic have been embedded in fabrics and used as wraps and clothing to generate heat and provide thermal treatment for injuries or other heath benefits. The efficiency of the ceramic material in emitting FIR depends on its chemical composition.
Does FIR repel ticks and fleas?
In a word: No. In fact, research has shown that both fleas and ticks are attracted to light and heat [vii] [viii]. They are drawn to the heat radiated by animals, as their food sources. If FIR repelled ticks and fleas, then your pets would naturally repel them simply by being warm blooded and having body heat.
Summing it all up:
These things are a gimmick that cannot possibly protect your pet from fleas and ticks. Not only is there absolutely no research or evidence to back up marketers’ claims of effectiveness, their claims are basically self-contradictory. These are nothing more than necklaces made of inert ceramic beads. They won’t harm your pet, but they will provide no protection. In that regard, they are no better than homeopathic “remedies” Alternative Veterinary Medicine – Homeopathy | The Animal Nerd.
From my own experience, I can tell you that tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are extremely dangerous to your pets, and I strongly recommend that your dogs and outdoor cats be protected against ticks, fleas and mosquito-borne illnesses. The best way you can do that is to have your vet prescribe oral or topical treatments appropriate for your pets’ size and breed, obtain them from reputable sources and administer them as directed.
[iv] How do EM Collars Work? (no date). Retrieved from How do EM Collars Work? – THE LAKELAND DOG WEAR CO
[v] The EM® Ceramic Anti Tick Collar – How it works and why we love them! (2021). Retrieved from The EM®Ceramic Anti Tick Collar – How it works and why we love them! – The Woof Club
[vi] Vatansever, F. and Hamblin, M. R. (2013). Far Infrared Radiation (FIR): Its Biological Effects and Medical Applications. Photonics Laser Med 4 (1). 255-266
[vii] Mitchell, R. D. III, Zhu, J., Carr, A. L.., Dhammi, A., Cave, G., Sonenshine, D. E. & Roe, R. M., Infrared Light Detection by the Haller’s Organ of Adult American Dog Ticks, Dermacentor variabilis. (2017). Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases 8 (5), 763-771