Cats are not small dogs. This is a phrase that is used a lot in veterinary medicine and it holds true when it comes to flea products for cats. Thanks to differences in dog and cat physiology, not all medications made for dogs are safe to use in cats. Flea products that contain the ingredients pyrethrin and permethrin are very dangerous to cats. Some common brand names that contain these ingredients are Advantix, Adams, Hartz, Mycodex, Paramist, Raid, and Zodiac. These ingredients are found in some topical flea preventatives, flea shampoos, dips, and sprays. While safe at the recommended doses for dogs, the same product applied to a cat can cause severe tremors, disorientation, vomiting, and even death if not treated. Always be sure to carefully read the label on all flea products to be sure they are safe to use on cats. The most common scenarios of flea product toxicity that I see as an emergency veterinarian is accidental application of a dog’s flea medication to the cat, people simply not realizing that a certain product is not safe for cats, and people who think that if they apply just a small amount of a dog medication to a cat it will be ok.
If cats are treated with a flea product containing pyrethrin or permethrin they should immediately be bathed with Dawn dish detergent to wash off as much of the product as possible. Cats that develop tremors or vomiting should be rushed to a veterinarian for immediate care. Cats exhibiting tremors should be monitored by a veterinarian for at least 24 hours. Typically multiple doses of a muscle relaxer called methocarbamol (also called Robaxin) are needed to stop the tremors. If there is vomiting, a medication to help prevent further vomiting may be needed. Cats exhibiting symptoms of flea product toxicity should have blood work done to be sure there are no increases in kidney or liver values and to be sure that their electrolytes are normal. Most cats will need to be supported with intravenous fluids to maintain hydration, blood pressure, and to help flush the toxins out of their body while they are symptomatic. Luckily, most cats that are treated promptly have a good chance to make a full recovery, however if they are not treated they could die.
There are plenty of safe and effective flea products for cats so I in no way intend to discourage you from treating your cat for fleas. I always recommend that you purchase flea prevention from your veterinarian. He or she will make sure that the product that is recommended is safe for cats. These products are also usually more effective than the products that you can purchase over the counter at the pet store.
So, be safe, read all labels, and talk to your veterinarian about products that are safe to use in cats. If you do find yourself in a situation where your cat develops a flea product toxicity, we at REACH are here for you and your cat.
REACH has also instituted a newer treatment derived from human medicine which has successfully treated more severe cases of Flea Product Toxicity.
If you have questions regarding flea product safety, talk with your veterinarian or call REACH Hospital, 828-665-4399.