As I conclude this series of posts highlighting some of my Miami Herald columns from 2009, I'll offer up the one that got me into hot water with the legal department earlier this year. 

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 products that might prove fatal to 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 them, 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 accidental 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 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!

***

After this article ran I got hate mail from Hartz asking for a retraction and apology. Though I was careful to point out that the toxic reactions I was addressing arose from human error in product application, my assertion that these toxic chemicals should be kept out of feline households altogether, "lest the unthinkable occur," was apparently too much for the Hartz legal team. Sigh...

Image: Mrs eNil / via Flickr