Can Flea & Tick Preventives for Dogs Be Used on Cats?

PetMD Editorial
Updated: January 22, 2021
Published: April 12, 2012
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Preventive Product Basics

If you have a dog and cat at home you have been tempted before to get one flea and tick treatment for both, but did you know that these products affect them differently? In fact, canine formulations of flea and tick preventive products can be lethal for cats. Here are some tips for learning which products can be used on cats, and which on dogs.

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1. Watch for Adverse Reactions

After you have given your cat the flea and tick treatment -- either pill, spot on or otherwise -- watch the cat for a time after to monitor for any adverse effects, such as drooling, stumbling, loss of coordination, seizures, etc. If any unusual signs appear, or if your cat behaves in any way out of the ordinary, wash the cat off with a light soap and rinse the coat thoroughly with water. Follow this immediately with a visit to your veterinarian for a check-up and treatment if needed.

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2. Read Labels Carefully

When considering a flea and tick preventive product for your cat, always read the label carefully to be sure the product is labeled for use in cats too. When treating very young animals, those that are very old or debilitated, and those that are pregnant or nursing, always ask for your veterinarian's advice before choosing a product. The instructions on the label should be followed closely when applying or giving any type of medication to your cat.

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3. Avoid Organophosphates

Another class of chemicals that can be found in flea and tick treatments are the organophosphates. These chemicals are very toxic to cats. You may find that some household sprays contain organophosphates as well; these sprays should not be used in homes where cats are present. Examples of common organophosphates used in flea collars and dips (as well yard care insecticides) include diazinon, chlorpyrifos, fampfhur, coumaphos, cyothioate, malathion, terbufos, and fention.


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4. Use Caution with Citrus Extracts...

Other plant-derived flea and tick products need to be used with care around cats too. Citrus extract products (such as limonene and linalool) are made with oils from citrus. Cats are much more sensitive to citrus oils than dogs are. These products are found in shampoos, sprays, dips, and insect repellants. Toxicity with these products occurs at a very low dose in cats and can result in liver damage, liver failure, and even death.

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1. And Pyrethrins/Pyrethroids

Cats are notoriously sensitive to pyrethroids, a common synthetic ingredient used in flea and tick products. These man-made chemicals are related to the pyrethrins, which are natural products derived from the flower of the chrysanthemum plant. While pyrethrins are safe to use in the proper dosage, cats have a low tolerance for the synthetic pyrethroid products.

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