Fleas and ticks can be a real nuisance for your kitty. With all their biting and itching, who wouldn’t want a simple way to banish these bugs for good? Proceed with caution, however. Many flea shampoos contain pyrethrin or pyrethroids. These chemicals can poison and even kill your kitten.
What is Pyrethrin?
Pyrethrin is an insecticide commonly used in pet flea and tick control products. It's a natural, organic compound derived from the seed casings of chrysanthemum flowers. Pyrethrin itself is actually not toxic to mammals if the dose remains very low. The danger with pyrethrin and your kitty occurs during improper use of flea and tick products, especially over-application. Cats are much more sensitive to pyrethrin than dogs, which is why canine flea repellents and shampoos contain larger amounts of the product. Absolutely never use canine flea prevention or shampoo on your young kitty. The larger the dose of pyrethrin, the more likely your kitten will have a toxic reaction.
Danger, Danger: Pyrethroids
Pyrethroids are the synthetic form of pyrethrin. Because pyrethroids are the synthetic version of pyrethrin, they are much longer-lasting than their organic cousins. This makes them more dangerous for your kitten. Always use flea and tick repellents formulated specifically for cats. Take a further step in protecting your kitty by checking the label for the following toxic pyrethroids: allethrin, cypermethrin, deltamethrin, fenvalerate, fluvalinate, permethrin, phenothrin, tetramethrin and etofenprox.
Signs and Symptoms of Toxicity
Cats can have a variety of reactions to pyrethrin and pyrethroids ranging from mildly allergic to serious. Cats with lower body temperatures, such as those who are recovering from anesthesia or have just had a bath, are at greater risk of developing toxicity. Because kittens are still struggling to maintain body temperature, they too are at greater risk. Signs and symptoms of pyrethrin toxicity include hives, congestion, itching, shock, drooling, ear twitching, paw flicking, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle tremors and seizures.
If you suspect your kitten has come into contact with any flea or tick shampoo containing pyrethroids or canine flea medication take her to a veterinarian immediately. The most urgent course of action depends on her level of toxicity. If she’s exhibiting a mild allergic reaction, your vet may choose to thoroughly bathe her in order to remove the toxin and reduce the amount absorbed. If your cat is having a severe reaction, medications to control her seizures and fluids are often administered. She may have to stay overnight for observation if she’s had a severe reaction. It’s imperative to seek veterinary care as soon as possible with these cases. If left untreated, cats experiencing pyrethrin toxicity may die.
There are usually no long-term effects of pyrethrin toxicity. However, your kitty may exhibit mild symptoms such as light drooling up to 72 hours after treatment. In the future, avoid flea and tick preventatives and shampoos that contain pyrethrin, even if they’re formulated for cats, if your kitty has experienced a previous reaction.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Christina Stephens is a writer from Portland, Ore. whose main areas of focus are pets and animals, travel and literature. A veterinary assistant, she taught English in South Korea and holds a BA in English with cum laude honors from Portland State University.