Pet Poison Prevention: Understanding Flea and Tick Preventive Toxicity in Cats

Pet Poison Prevention: Understanding Flea and Tick Preventive Toxicity in Cats

The warm summer months are often accompanied by an abundance of pesky insects and pests that hitchhike on you and your pet. Fleas and ticks can transmit dangerous diseases to your pets, and itching and scratching pets are also at risk for secondary skin infections—and sleepless nights for pet owners. However, choosing a flea and tick preventive with all the available options that fill your TV screens and pet store shelves can be overwhelming. Plus, many over-the-counter (OTC) products contain ingredients that can be toxic to pets when used incorrectly, and cats are highly sensitive to some common ingredients used to kill fleas and ticks. Our Animal Emergency Care team wants to ensure your feline friends are safe and insect-free and we describe flea and tick preventive toxicity signs, treatment, and prevention. 

What is flea and tick preventive toxicity in cats? 

Flea and tick prevention medication is a vital component of your pet’s health and prevents uncomfortable itching, skin infections, and infectious disease. However, pyrethrin and pyrethroid-containing insecticides which are used in many commercially available OTC preventives are the culprit for many cat emergencies. Pyrethrins are naturally occurring ingredients derived from chrysanthemum plants and other pyrethrum-related plant species. This ingredient is also used in many gardens to prevent insects from destroying plants and flowers. Pyrethroids are synthetically made insecticides that have a longer-lasting effect. Pyrethrin-containing flea and tick prevention products may be safely used in dogs, but cats metabolize medications differently than dogs and they lack the required enzymes to safely break down pyrethrins. The most common cause of flea and tick preventive toxicity in cats occurs when dog-specific flea preventives are accidentally given to a cat. Additionally, cats who lick or groom excessively after receiving spot-on prevention, or cats who groom a dog who has topical flea medication on their fur, have an increased risk for toxicity. Young kittens, senior cats, cats with underlying health issues, and cats with hypothermia also have an increased risk for flea and tick preventive toxicity. Pyrethrin and pyrethroid toxicity affects your cat’s nervous system, and can be deadly without treatment. 

Flea and tick preventive toxicity signs in cats 

Toxicity signs can occur immediately or more than 12 hours after exposure. Signs are variable and depend on the cat’s age and weight, and the type and amount of toxin exposure, and may include:

  • Ear twitching
  • Paw flicking
  • Muscle tremors
  • Incoordination 
  • Fever
  • Hypersalivation
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Hives
  • Respiratory distress
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures

Flea and tick preventive toxicity diagnosis and treatment in cats

Your pet needs immediate veterinary care if they have flea and tick preventive toxicity signs. Diagnosis is based on their history of flea and tick preventive exposure and clinical signs. Additional diagnostic tests may include a complete blood count and serum biochemistry test to check overall organ function and rule out any underlying medical problems. Pets with severe signs who receive immediate veterinary care will usually recover. Treatment may include:

  • A warm water bath with liquid dish soap to remove remaining residue
  • Monitoring their heart rate and blood pressure
  • Monitoring and regulating body temperature
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Antihistamine medications if hives are present
  • Anti-nausea medications 
  • Gastrointestinal protectant medications
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Anti-seizure medication

Financial planning for treatment of flea and tick preventive toxicity in cats

Cats who are experiencing flea and tick preventive toxicity may require hospitalization for several days, which can result in a large veterinary bill. Fortunately, multiple payment options are available to ensure you can cover the cost of your pet’s emergency care for an accidental poisoning. Care Credit and Scratch Pay allow you to spread payments over longer periods with delayed interest rates in some cases. Additionally, pet health insurance providers like Trupanion offer policies that can pay your veterinary clinic directly which eliminates the need to submit paperwork and wait for reimbursements. Pet health savings accounts and short-term loans can also be used to pay for your cat’s emergency veterinary care. 

Flea and tick preventive toxicity prevention in cats

Many accidental cat poisonings occur from giving a cat a dog-specific preventive. Ensure you read all directions carefully before giving your cat any medications and never apply any dog products on your cat. Other prevention tips include:

  • Consult your family veterinarian on the safest flea and tick prevention method for your cat.
  • Keep household animals separated after applying any spot-on flea medication so the treatment can absorb and dry on their fur.
  • Prevent your cat from accessing any yard that has been treated with an insecticide.
  • Ensure you give your cat the correct amount of flea and tick preventive according to their weight and age because some products cannot be given to young, small pets.

If your cat is showing flea and tick preventive toxicity signs, immediately bring them to Animal Emergency Care if it is after hours, or call your family veterinarian. #AECprevents