I write a weekly column for the Miami Herald. I’ve been doing it for two years with nary a glitch. Yesterday, however, I received word that Hartz took offense at a mention of their supermarket-brand, flea product line in one of my recent columns. They subsequently sent a cease and desist letter to the Herald asking for a retraction, an apology and an errata notice. Here’s the column for your consideration:

A meow for help with poison flea products

Q: Last week my cat Ginger spent two days at the veterinary hospital after my daughter mistakenly applied the dog’s flea medication to her back. I immediately gave her a bath to get it all off but within hours she started convulsing. After intensive care she recovered, but not after a couple of sleepless nights and a whole lot of guilt. Please let everyone know that some flea products are deadly poisons!

A: Will do! 

Not all flea products are created equal and they’re never one-size-fits-all. Some are actually very safe for both dogs and cats, but they should always be dosed carefully, according to weight. 

That said, cats are especially sensitive to some flea products. Smart owners (especially those with children) should consider a household free of any such products. Even in households with dogs, it’s a great idea to steer clear of those that might prove fatal to  your cats. After all, accidents happen. 

The chemical ingredient that more than likely led to your cat’s seizures and hospitalization is permethrin. Veterinary-only flea medications don’t contain it, save for Advantix, a flea and tick killer labeled for use only in dogs. But the preponderance of supermarket brand flea medications for dogs do. 

Adams Spot-On and its Hartz-brand counterpart are two of the items most commonly implicated in feline flea product toxicity. I recommend that households with cats steer way clear of them lest the unthinkable occur accidentally––or after close contact with a recently dosed dog.

And here’s what the unthinkable looks like: Tremors (trembling), ear flicking, leg shaking, and full-blown seizures (convulsions). 

Should you suspect exposure to permethrin-containing, topically-applied flea products, your first impulse should not necessarily be to rush your kitty to the vet. Believe it or not, even seizuring cats should first receive a bath with a degreasing soap before rushing to the animal ER. Dawn is best, but other grease-cutting dish-soaps will do. This will help curtail the exposure to the toxin. Just be careful not to expose your cat’s open mouth to the spray of water.

Immediate medical attention is then necessary to stop the seizures with drugs, flush the blood of its toxins with fluids and relax those twitchy muscles. One or two days of hospitalization usually does the trick, but not always––so watch out!”


So you know, Hartz is a wee bit sensitive to negative publicity. It’s been stung by law suits with respect to its flea products’ safety, websites that scream of its ills, and has been forced by the EPA to make major changes to its labeling of products...to help protect cats and dogs.

Sure, most of the onus is on pet owners to make sure the products they apply are labeled for their pet’s species and weight, but my take is that without publicity, people won’t necessarily sit up and take notice of the harm they might do. After all, medically speaking, cats are still considered small dogs by a significant majority of pet people. And fleas are fleas, right? Why not use the dog stuff on the cat? 

Hence, most people need to be told to steer clear lest they mess up on their own. Since I witness a lot of “messing up” in my daily practice, I consider it my job to keep screw-ups at a minimum any way I can. The Miami Herald is a great way to do that.

Yet Hartz wants me to stop casting its product line in a negative light, regardless of the pesky facts. After all, nothing I wrote in my column was factually incorrect. 

Its case? That no topical Hartz product carries permethrin, the chemical ingredient I had openly surmised the questioner’s cat more than likely was exposed to. (Note: I did not say that Hartz brand topicals did so.) And that I claimed, “Adams Spot-On and its Hartz-brand counterpart are two of the items most commonly implicated in feline flea product toxicity.” (Which is true in terms of the accumulation of past information referencing Hartz’s topicals as permethrin-containing products.)

Though it’s now also true that Hartz no longer markets permethrin as a topical, it continues to do so as a home spray and fogger. And it’s safe to say that, as a veterinarian, I would never recommend their use for any feline household, regardless of the EPA’s comfort zone. (Remember my permethrin premise spray toxicity in last week’s kitten?)

Furthermore, the Hartz-brand topical for dogs now contains a new product the ASPCA’s Poison Control has informed me has significant side-effects for cats. Phenothrin. Plenty of cases of phenothrin toxicity have been reported. No, not nearly as bad as permethrin, but another feline toxin, nonetheless. It’s labeled for dogs only because of these adverse feline effects.

So no, I’m not wrong. But I do apologize for the inference of high toxicity––especially now that Hartz has properly responded to the consumer demand for product safety across the species. I applaud it for making the switch to a safer, non-permethrin chemical. I only wish others would follow suit. 

Trouble is, talking Hartz in almost any terms (unless, perhaps, they’re glowing) has a way of getting people into trouble. In fact, I fully expect to receive another cease and desist notice in which I’ll have to apologize for having mentioned permethrin and Hartz in the same blog post––let alone in the same sentence. 

That’s why I’ll spare it the legal time and trouble and apologize right now: 

Dear Hartz,

Though I will never use any of your products or advise my clients to do so as long as safer products are available, I recognize that your products can be helpful to those who cannot afford more expensive alternatives. You have every right to market your products to animal lovers everywhere.

Yet how can you blame me for choosing to make cats safer through my warnings against the use of dog products on cats? After all, what I desire is your professed goal as well: to make animal lives better through science and technology. Throw me a bone and call it a truce, OK?

Dr. Patty Khuly

PS: Thank you for removing permethrin from your topical products. I have issued a similar statement to the Miami Herald referencing this gratitude.