A few words about spot-on topical flea products that you should be aware of. In our after-hours emergency hospital we routinely see a few cases each month of cats that have been unintentionally poisoned by their owners. Do not use any product on your cat that is labeled for use in dogs only. “For Use in Dogs Only” and “Do Not Use in Cats” are a less offensive way of telling you that the product may kill your cat. Manufacturers are evidently more concerned with offending buyers’ sensibilities than with providing an effective warning. Don’t take a chance with any of these insecticides. Most of the time the offending ingredient is a type of synthetic pyrethrin. Advantage is safe to use on your cat. Advantix is not. Although the flea-killing component is the same in both products, Advantix contains a separate synthetic pyrethrin that is intended to provide additional protection against ticks. That ingredient is harmful and potentially deadly to cats. ALWAYS READ THE LABEL THOROUGHLY.
Many over-the-counter topical flea products contain ingredients that are toxic to cats. READ THE LABEL. If it says “For Dogs Only” or “Do Not Use on Cats,” then don’t even think about putting it on your cat. Pet-owners often have a cat and a dog in the same household and inadvertently apply the dog product to the cat. Once again, READ THE LABEL before you apply it! Make sure you are using the right stuff. Some owners try to save money by buying one product and applying it to the dog and then applying just a tiny amount to the cat. Don’t do it! Trying to save a couple bucks may end up costing you hundreds. One other thing, if you apply your dog product to your dog and your cat likes to groom the dog, you should be prepared for a problem when the cat licks the dog. It’s a good idea to separate the cat from the dog for several hours after applying a flea product to your dog, just to be safe.
If you should happen to screw up and accidentally use a “dog only” product on your cat, you should immediately bathe the application site with some Dawn (or other) dishwashing detergent. Apply the detergent, lather it up well, and rinse thoroughly; then repeat and blow dry when done. Then get to your veterinarian before any symptoms are visible. Symptoms are generally neurologic. Tremors are the first thing usually seen. It may progress to stumbling and an inability to stand up and possibly even seizures. Prolonged seizures or tremors may result in hyperthermia, which can lead to permanent brain damage. In really severe cases a cat can die. In most cases the symptoms will gradually subside over 24 to 48 hours but don’t take the risk. Get to your veterinarian as quickly as possible for proper symptomatic treatment.
Occasionally symptoms similar to those seen in cats can be seen in dogs that are unusually sensitive. In that case, treatment should be similar to an affected cat, bathe it and get to the vet right away. Prompt attention and treatment lessens the likelihood of any serious injury.
Because of continuing increasing resistance to insecticides in the flea population, older, established products are becoming less effective at flea control, and new products are continuously coming onto the market. The older extremely safe products like Advantage and Frontline are becoming less effective and therefore less popular among both veterinarians and pet-owners. In an effort to find new things that work, the ongoing parade of new products, both veterinarian-only and OTC type products, increases the likelihood of your encountering a less familiar product or of using something that has had less than extensive testing and marketing trials. Buyer beware.