I’ve been writing about the dangers of spot-on flea and tick treatments for years, and recently I ran across yet another report illustrating just how toxic these products can be.
Four Cats Die from Misuse of Spot-on Flea and Tick Products
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, four family cats died in a recent four-week period because their owners treated them with spot-on products intended for dogs. In one tragic case, the owners noticed fleas on both their cats, so they applied “just a drop” of a topical spot-on flea treatment on each kitty. Within hours both cats were very sick and one was having convulsions. The owners immediately took both kitties to a veterinary clinic, but neither survived.
In this case, the owners knew the flea treatment was intended for dogs, but figured a small amount would be safe for cats.
The practice manager at Greentree Animal Clinic where all four cats were taken said, “I am very upset that the warning on the canine flea topical – ‘Do not use on cats’ – is so very small. I wish it said ‘This product could kill your cat’ in very large letters.”
The staff at Greentree contacted the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to help spread the word about the extreme danger of using spot-on products indiscriminately.
Why Spot-on Flea and Tick Products Can Be Hazardous to Your Pet’s Health
It would seem, based on the deaths of these poor cats and the comments by the Greentree practice manager about problems with spot-on product labeling, that perhaps not much has changed since the EPA issued its first advisory about these products over four and a half years ago, in April 2009. What prompted that advisory were over 44,000 reports of adverse reactions during 2008, including 600 deaths. This was a 50 percent increase in reported incidents in a single year.
In March 2010, the EPA published the results of a year-long study of spot-on products. Their findings included the following:
- Most adverse reactions were seen in dogs weighing between 10 and 20 pounds.
- Reactions in mixed breed dogs were most commonly reported, however, the Chihuahua, Shih Tzu, Miniature Poodle, Pomeranian, Dachshund, Maltese, Yorkshire Terrier and Bichon Frise seem particularly at risk.
- Products containing cyphenothrin and permethrin were especially problematic for small breed dogs.
- Most incidents occurred in dogs under three years old, likely at their first exposure to a spot-on product.
- Adverse reactions for both dogs and cats were primarily skin, GI tract and nervous system related. Skin reactions included redness, itching, hair loss, sores and ulcers. Gastrointestinal symptoms included vomiting, diarrhea and excessive salivation. Reported nervous system symptoms included lethargy, nervousness, ataxia (movement problems), tremors and seizure.
- A number of adverse reactions in cats were the result of the cat either being treated with a product intended for dogs, or through exposure to a treated dog. Cats treated with products intended for dogs had an especially high rate of serious reactions and fatalities.
- Inert ingredients in spot-on products were generally assumed to contribute to toxicity.
- Dosage ranges were considered to be too wide in some cases.
- Product labeling was identified as needing a revamp in many cases.
EPA Recommendations and Drug Company Responses
Based on their findings, the EPA determined that spot-on product labels needed to provide clearer warnings against using treatments meant for dogs on cats. The agency also recommended that manufacturers lower recommended dosages for some pets to prevent over-medicating.
In September 2011, the EPA sent a letter to companies manufacturing spot-on products requesting that they submit a draft of label and packaging changes to include:
- Larger font sizes on labels and images of animals that allow users to quickly determine whether the product is for a dog or a cat.
- Precise language on labels of products for dogs that warns against use on cats, plus repetition of the word “dog” or “cat” in product instructions, plus the addition of a “cat prohibition icon” in the lower right corner of canine product packages.
- More language about the potential for adverse reactions and instructions on who to contact if a reaction occurs.
- Narrower weight ranges, appropriate pictures of weight ranges, and more clearly defined species, age and weight ranges.
The EPA asked for the new label drafts within six months, which would have been April 2012.