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Vets Warning as Thousands of Pet Owners Are Mistakenly Poisoning Their Animals

01 August 2014

UK - Vets have reported that they are seeing around 20 cases of accidental poisoning every month after flea treatment intended for dogs has been applied to cats instead.

Flea products intended for dogs can be fatal if given to cats due to a highly toxic insecticide called permethrin, found in some products. Some owners are also mistakenly failing to follow the on-packet guidance relating to dosage.

The vet charity is backing a campaign by feline welfare charity, International Cat Care, which is calling for a change in licensing of permethrin-containing products by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate.

PDSA Senior Vet, Sean Wensley, said: “Despite packs now containing warnings, many cats are continuing to fall victim to accidental poisoning by certain flea treatments. This is due to lack of awareness of the dangers of using products intended for dogs on cats.

"This oversight is having devastating consequences, with many much-loved cats suffering terrible reactions including respiratory and neurological problems, convulsions and tremors. Tragically, the poisoning even results in death in many cases. Whatever the outcome, it also causes great distress to their devoted owners.”

Cats can even be poisoned through contact with dogs in the same household who have been recently treated with flea spot-on products containing permethrin.

kittenOne such case was a kitten from Stoke called Scratchy who almost died after he was poisoned by licking some flea product containing permethrin off the fur of his canine companion, a Doberman called Coco.

Scratchy needed emergency treatment from vets at Stoke PDSA pet hospital, which included the administration of IV fluids.

Scratchy’s owner, Debbie Barker 26, from Stoke, said her family were devastated when he fell ill.

She said: “I had bought some flea treatment for my dog as usual to prevent her getting any infestations. I knew I had to keep her separated from the cat for a while as it can be dangerous for them.

“After a couple of days I allowed Scratchy and Coco to play with each other as they are big pals and even sleep in the same bed together!

"But the following morning, Scratchy became really poorly; he was being sick and was foaming at the mouth. I knew straight away that it was poisoning so we rushed him to PDSA.”

PDSA vets say Scratchy was one of the lucky ones as a number of cats they see are unable to be saved. Thankfully treatment was successful and he was able to go home within 24 hours of being admitted.

Debbie added: “I can’t thank PDSA enough for saving our cat. I would advise other pet owners to be careful about which products they buy and to make sure they are aware of the dangers, especially if they own a dog and a cat.”

Vets advise that in homes where there are cats and dogs living together, dog flea treatments which contain permethrin should be avoided; there are many flea products for dogs which do not contain this chemical which owners can use. But if owners do use this type of product on their dog, they should keep the cat and dog completely separated for 72 hours to ensure there is no risk of accidental poisoning.

International Cat Care is petitioning to change the rules so that permethrin-containing flea products would legally require verbal advice at the point of sale from a suitably qualified person. This would help to prevent unsuspecting pet owners from purchasing unsafe products from pet shops and online sites.

International Cat Care Chief Executive, Claire Bessant said: “These cat deaths are totally preventable. This is simply down to mistakes at point of purchase, with pet owners mixing up cat and dog products, or just unaware that you cannot use a dog treatment on a cat. International Cat Care strongly feels that these treatments should be reclassified by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate so that they may only be purchased if advice is given about their correct use.

"As well as checking its intended use, pet owners should be asked if there are cats in the home which may come into contact with a recently treated dog, so that they can be warned to keep the dog and cat apart, or advised to use a different product. The saddest thing of all is that cats are dying because owners are trying to do the right thing and treat their cats for fleas. They could be forgiven for not knowing that even a few drops of such a product for dogs could kill their cat.”

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