ROCKVILLE, Md., July 14 /PRNewswire/ -- "Severe illness
and fatalities can occur in cats when their owners apply flea products
intended for use on dogs only," said E. Kathryn Meyer, VMD, coordinator
of the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) Veterinary Practitioners' Reporting (VPR)
Program. The VPR Program identifies product quality problems, medication
mishaps, and adverse reactions with drugs, pesticides, chemicals, and
biologics used in veterinary medicine. Most recently, USP's VPR Program
published a report on this important issue for pet owners in the July 15
issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA).
Given that fleas are a warm weather problem, this is a
timely warning for America's 28 million cat owners. They need to know
that, although many flea products are packaged very similarly, the
active ingredients can vary greatly. For example, "spot-on" flea and
tick products are popular alternatives to the traditional flea sprays,
dips, powders, and shampoos. A small amount of liquid is applied
directly to the animal's skin, often behind the neck or along the spine,
usually on a once-a-month basis. Although some "spot-on" products have
been approved for use in both dogs and cats, products containing
concentrated permethrin (45% to 65%) are approved for use in dogs only
and can be highly toxic to cats. In contrast, flea sprays intended for
cats contain lower concentrations of permethrin (e.g., 2%) and are
generally well tolerated.
"It is critical for owners to be aware of the severe
consequences of using flea products incorrectly -- particularly when
cats are involved -- because cats can be very sensitive to certain
chemicals," continued Dr. Meyer. "Cat owners should read labels
carefully before purchasing any flea or tick products. The products are
considered safe when used properly; however, if owners do not follow the
directions, severe harm to their pets can occur. For example, if a
product label states that it should be used only for dogs, the product
should never be used on cats, even in small amounts. Furthermore, people
who own both dogs and cats should be aware that 'dog-only' flea products
applied to their dogs can cause illness in cats that are in close
contact with the treated dogs."
As documented in the July 15 issue of the JAVMA, the USP
VPR Program received 11 reports between August 1997 and September 1998,
involving 12 cats that required hospitalization following exposure to a
concentrated permethrin "spot-on" flea product. Despite hospitalization,
four of the cats did not survive. Additionally, secondary exposure to
permethrin can occur when cats are in close, physical contact with dogs
treated with the chemical. The VPR Program received one report involving
a cat that became ill simply through contact with two household dogs
treated with a "spot-on" permethrin product. In addition to reports
received by USP, the JAVMA article reviewed cases reported to the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA received reports
involving 125 cats that became ill or died following incorrect direct
application of permethrin and 24 cats that were sickened or died due to
contact with permethrin-treated dogs in their households.
Concentrated permethrin "spot-on" products for dogs are
available under a variety of different brand names in retail
establishments (e.g., grocery stores, pet stores, department stores,
hardware stores, etc.) and through mail-order pet supply catalogs. All
products include a label warning that they are for use on dogs only, and
should not be used on cats. Some labels even suggest separating
household cats from treated dogs; however, the length of time the
animals should be separated is not specified.
Unfortunately, in several cases reported through the VPR
Program, the owners admitted that they saw the warning against use in
cats, but thought a "small amount" would not be harmful. It is essential
for pet owners to know that even a few drops can result in severe
illness or death to one's cat.
"Labeling changes designed to educate consumers may help
reduce the incorrect use of permethrin products by pet owners," said Dr.
Meyer. "These changes could include stronger warnings against the use on
cats -- with a description of the potentially fatal consequences of
exposure -- and explicit directions on how to prevent secondary exposure
to cats when the product is used on dogs."
Signs of permethrin toxicity in cats often include
excitability, twitching, and seizures. Quickly bathing the cat in a mild
dishwashing detergent and seeking veterinary care will maximize the
cat's chance of survival. Prevention, however, is a far simpler task.
Pet owners should carefully read and heed all label information on
pesticides before purchasing and applying to pets.
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