Hundreds needing treatment after being exposed to chemical permethrin

Sharing a bed with or even licking a dog who’s been treated for fleas could be enough to leave a cat seriously ill, emergency vets have warned.

Vets Now sees scores of cats every month who have been exposed to dog flea medication containing permethrin, with cases spiralling in spring and summer when fleas are at their worst.

In some cases, they were poisoned after coming into contact with a dog who’d recently been treated.

Permethrin is found in many “spot-on” flea medications for dogs but is highly toxic to cats.

One cat, Jess (see picture), needed emergency treatment at Vets Now in Guildford after her owner accidentally treated her with a dog flea product containing permethrin.

She said: “I accidentally muddled up an over-the-counter flea product for dogs and put it on my six-year-old cat who had a fit, started foaming at the mouth and staggering around as the chemical attacked her nervous system.

“The prompt action of the vet and the honesty with which she explained what was happening was exceptional.

“We were in a very tearful state, but nothing was too much to ask. My own vet said the emergency vet’s actions and treatment saved Jess’s life.

“We’d like to warn all pet owners of the dangers of dog flea products to cats, and to ensure they check the product as it’s not always clear.”

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Permethrin is an insecticide that’s found in flea and head lice treatments, ant killers and fly sprays.

Although only mildly toxic to most mammals, it can be deadly for cats due to a metabolic deficiency.

One study by the Veterinary Poisons information Service (VPIS) found one in 10 cats referred to them after being exposed to permethrin died as a result.

It has previously called on manufacturers to make the warnings on dog flea treatments more visible.

Some pet health care brands have since removed flea products containing permethrin from sale in supermarkets.

Dave Leicester, Vets Now’s head of clinical intelligence, said: “Permethrin is very toxic to cats and unfortunately at Vets Now we see numerous cases of poisoning every month.

“Cats are most commonly poisoned after their owners mistakenly use a dog product on them, but they can also show mild signs after close contact with a recently treated dog.

“The effects of poisoning are usually rapid in onset, including drooling, tremors, twitching and seizures. Always contact your local vet immediately if you think your cat may have been poisoned.

“Cats who receive immediate treatment usually suffer no long-term effects.”

Vets are also calling on owners of dogs and cats in shared households to avoid using products containing permethrin.

If they are unsure they should keep their cats and dogs apart for 72 hours after they have been de-flead.

The pet emergency clinic in Guildford — where Jess received treatment — is one of a nationwide network of Vets Now clinics and hospitals that are open through the night, seven-days-a-week, and day and night on weekends and bank holidays, to treat any pet emergencies that may occur.

All of Vets Now’s out-of-hours clinics and 24/7 hospitals have a vet and vet nurse on site at all times.