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As pet owners know, summer in Sydney is the peak season for fleas. Whilst owners are endevouring to fight off the attack of fleas, it’s important to ensure both cat and dog treatments are used correctly.

Some spot on flea products sold at supermarkets, pet stores and veterinary practices contain a chemical called permethrin. While very effective and perfectly safe for dogs, these products can be lethal when used on cats. Small differences in the way a cats liver functions means they are unable to tolerate even small doses of this chemical.

Most cases of permethrin toxicity occur when owners apply a dog flea treatment to their cat. However if you have a cat that actively engages in grooming your dog or participates in close physical contact, there is a risk of exposure in these instances.

The clinical signs that may be seen are in-coordination, muscle tremors, ear flicking, seizures, coma and even death. Clinical signs usually occur within a few hours of exposure but in some cases may take up to 48 to 72 hours to appear.

Unfortunately, there is no antidote for this type of poisoning. Treatment involves controlling the clinical signs and providing supportive care until the body recovers, generally two or three days. Medications are used to control the muscle tremors and seizures and in most cases anaesthetic drugs are also required to help control symptoms. Once the seizures are controlled, the cats are clipped at the application site and bathed to remove any remaining product. Cats are then given supportive care with intravenous fluids.

Whilst serious, there are a few simple steps to ensure this toxicity is easily avoided, including:

  • ALWAYS read product labels and never apply dog flea treatments to cats. It’s best to keep flea treatments in their original packaging so labels can be clearly read every time you apply the product.
  • If you have cats and dogs and use a product containing permethrin on your dog, it is recommended that you separate both animals for several hours until the flea product is dry. Also, it’s important you don’t use the same brush for grooming both animals.
  • If you know or suspect any exposure, wash the site immediately with tepid water and dish washing liquid and then seek immediate veterinary attention.
  • If you have questions, call or drop into your local vet. They will quickly give you all the information you need on the safest and most effective way of dealing with your pets’ flea issues.
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