Keeping Cats Safe Campaign - make sure you get flea treatment 'spot on'

As part of the International Cat Care campaign to keep cats safe, this month we discuss why you should take care with flea treatments, especially with those made for dogs.

Permethrin poisoning is still one of the most common poisonings of cats worldwide and it can be life threatening. Even worse is the fact that loving owners can accidentally poison their cats by using dog flea spot-on products containing permethrin because they do not recognise the dangers.

What is permethrin?

Permethrin is a pyrethroid, a synthetic pyrethrin. Pyrethrins are naturally occurring insecticides extracted from the flowers of Chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium. Permethrin is used in some flea spot-on products made for dogs, and occasionally (in lower doses) in flea powders and collars for cats. Unfortunately exposure to concentrated permethrin (as in some dog spot-ons) can result in serious illness and even death in cats.

How are cats poisoned by permethrin?

The most common way cats are poisoned is when owners use a dog flea product on their cat in error. They perhaps assume that the dog product is simply a higher volume of the chemical and that if they apply a small amount to the cat, that will be fine. Unfortunately this is not the case and cats can become very unwell even after tiny doses of permethrin.

The other way cats are exposed to permethrin is by coming into contact with a dog which has recently been treated with a spot-on containing permethrin. The permethrin will stay on the dog’s skin and coat for some time and when a cat grooms or even rubs against the dog, or simply sits on the same furniture, it can be poisoned.

What signs do affected cats show after contact with permethrin?

The signs of permethrin toxicity are very unpleasant. The chemical affects the cat’s nervous system causing tremors/shaking, twitching, oversensitivity to touch and sound, walking as though drunk and, in severe cases, seizures or fits. Less commonly, cats may have trouble breathing and may even become blind.

How are affected cats treated?

If you think you may have applied a flea product containing permethrin you need to contact your vet IMMEDIATELY. The same applies if you think your cat has been in contact with a treated dog.

What is the prognosis for cats with permethrin poisoning?

Thankfully the majority of cats, if treated promptly by their vet, will make a full recovery. More severely affected cats, especially those suffering from fits that are hard to control, have a poorer prognosis and sadly may die or are put to sleep.

How can we prevent cats suffering from permethrin poisoning?

Permethrin poisoning is a very distressing condition and completely preventable.

  • Make sure you buy flea treatment solely designed for cats – it can be easy to pick up the wrong pack when dog and cat treatments are displayed side by side in shops

  • Be very careful if shopping on-line. Many product descriptions do not include the active ingredients and any warnings may not be noticed in the small picture

  • Always read the instructions carefully and take note of any warnings

  • Never use a dog product on a cat

  • If you have dogs and cats in your home, choose a treatment for the dog which does not contain permethrin

  • If dogs are treated with flea products containing permethrin then they should be kept away from cats for 72 hours.

  • If you have any concerns about any medication, always contact your vet for advice.

This post first appeared on International Cat Care, please read the original post: here

For more information contact International Cat Care at

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